20 Rebranding Disasters You Can Learn From

By on May 2, 2016 in Design Trends
20 Rebranding Disasters You Can Learn From

Rebranding is a natural part of a company’s life. You don’t wear the same stuff you did in high school, so why should a business keep the same image in maturity that it had at the beginning?

More and more companies are engaging in rebranding campaigns. 20th century companies are beginning to hit their midlife crises, and as with people, that means lazy attempts to catch up with current trends. For a man, that might mean studying Urban Dictionary for too long and hitting up women his daughter’s age on OKCupid. But for a company, it means slapping on a flat-design logo and hiring that man to call their Twitter followers “bae.” That’s why most bad rebranding campaigns are of the trying-to-fix-what-ain’t-broke variety.

Sometimes it seems like certain designers are going above and beyond to screw up a rebrand. That’s why we’ve collected some of the worst makeovers since Jefferson Starship, and classified them as either "Too Bland", "Too Weird", "Good Idea, Bad Execution" or "Bad Idea, Bad Execution".

Too Bland

1. Gap’s 100 Million Dollar Gradient

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Gap used the same logo for longer than most graphic designers have been alive, so the decision to try out a new one was at least understandable. What I can't understand is their urge to replace their iconic stretchy serifs with Helvetica and a little gradient box capable of pleasing nobody. And wait, it cost how much?

The outcry on their surprise unveiling of this new logo was so bad that they had to return to the original after just one week. Lesson learned: If your current look works, a redesign should enhance it or put a new spin on it, not turn it into a tasteless mush.

2. Mastercard’s Color Blob

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In an era of all-flat everything, it’s nice to see someone still trying to use gradients, but, you know... not in the worst way possible. Surprised they didn’t toss in a few lens flares to finish it off.

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Worst of all, it’s not centered right. If you didn’t notice that before, you will now. In fact, it’s all you’ll see. Your eye is twitching.

Good logos have meaning. This one’s just a lazy redraw of the old one without its good qualities.

3. NBC Universal’s Text Box

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A loaf of white bread in text form, NBC Universal’s new logo looks like it took all of two minutes in MS Paint. In fact, even a design that literally took two minutes in MS Paint would look better if you paid attention to spacing.

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See?

4. Best Buy Doesn’t Even Try

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Best Buy’s logo encapsulates what they are: a big blocky building full of reasonably priced stuff. Their short-lived one from 2008 encapsulated jack squat. No meaning or purpose could be extracted from that chunk of flat design blandness.

5. The Buccaneers’ Vector Trace

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Maybe I just can’t resist the urge to get in a dig at my home city’s team, but their new logo is completely devoid of the original’s hand-drawn character and grit. It looks like something a first-year design student came up with in Illustrator on hearing the print shop next to the Chinese take-out will do a custom tee for 1/5 of the price of a jersey.

6. Whatever Sony Calls This

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Every now and then, in the world of marketing, you come across something that makes you think “they got college degrees for THIS?” Recently, the internet got a glimpse of Sony’s branding strategies that explain why movies not based on 80's cartoons will soon be a thing of the past — because they see film not as art or even entertainment, but “an ecosystem of content and brand initiatives.”

Too Weird

7. Cottbus, Germany’s... Uh...

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Going for complete abstraction isn’t a good idea for a logo. And neither is making something this complex. If you can’t draw it from memory, you should at least think twice about it.

8. Anything PricewaterhouseCoopers has Touched.

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When professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers, an odd name itself, dropped their consulting wing, it was left looking for a new name, it found “Monday.” Not even Monday Consulting. Just Monday. It didn’t last very long, possibly because no one could Google it.

But, as evidenced several years later, they didn’t learn: when you buy a company called Booz & Co, then the “Booz” guy leaves, it’s pretty easy to come up with something better. How about… Anything? Well, almost anything. It’s pretty impressive that PricewaterhouseCoopersCalifragilisticexpiolodocious managed to pick one of the worst ones possible: “Strategy&”.

What comes after the ampersand? Nothing but disappointment. They said they picked it because the company adds value to their brand, but that’s misunderstanding how ampersands work on a basic level.

9. That Whole New Coke Thing

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I didn’t want to do New Coke. New Coke jokes are the “What’s the deal with airline food?” of design articles. But due to that same ubiquity, paradoxically, no article on massive design failures would be complete without it.

In a way, Coke is admirable for their willingness to keep throwing flavors at the wall and seeing what sticks. After all, when you’ve already built the world’s most iconic brand, why let it stagnate?

And by all accounts, it tasted better than the original. But the problem here is that they tried to fully replace it. However, people like what they like, and taking it away from them because you think your new thing is better isn’t a solid strategy.

Good Idea, Bad Execution

10. Yahoo Changes Very Little

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If any site needed a rebrand, it was Yahoo. From their boxy and cluttered web design to their AOL-ish compulsion to do a thousand jobs at once, everything about the site screams “90's”. (Except for the opinions of Yahoo News commenters, which scream “20's”)

They are the internet’s ultimate jack-of-all-trades-but-master-of-none, a throwback to the days when you went to one site for email, news, and your horoscope because loading another one would take an hour. So, why didn’t their rebrand address any of that?

Instead of finding what they do best and rebranding themselves with a focus on that, Yahoo just changed their visuals as if that was all it took to attract a new base. That’s putting a body kit on a car with no steering wheel, then wondering why it doesn’t turn heads when you fail to pull it out of the garage.

11. Seattle’s Best Blood Drive

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Overlaps with “too bland”. The idea to simplify Seattle’s Best’s busy old logo into something more iconic was a good one, but they ignored basic color and shape symbolism — when people see red and a drop, they think “blood”, even if the drop itself isn’t red.

12. DeviantArt

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This would be a decent logo for a company that starts with a Z, but as a D and an A, it comes off looking very forced. Not to mention the ongoing debate over whether it’s plagiarized, being almost exactly the same as Platzkart.ru’s.

13. Dr. Pepper’s Testosterone Overdose

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Problem: men aren’t buying enough diet soda, possibly because it has too womanly a stigma attached to it. Solution? If you’re Dr. Pepper, you make a Powerthirst ad, but without the charming silliness. Dr. Pepper 10 ads could have been funny if they hadn’t started the campaign out by declaring the soda “NOT FOR WOMEN” and pulling stunts like posting a flash game on their site where players shoot at makeup and other symbols of femininity. The ads alienated one gender and made the other not want to try it for fear of looking like the idiots the company thought they were. So treat your viewers with some respect instead of dumbing down for them.

14. Pepsi’s Dan Brown Novel

Pepsi’s new logo doesn’t look bad, per se, it’s just not different enough to justify the million-dollar price tag.

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Image from Canny Creative

So that’s what they tried to do with its absurdly overwrought design document, a collection of nonsense about the golden ratio, the cartesian coordinate system, “energy fields in balance,” the "Hindu tradition of numerical harmony as spatial organizer," the Mona Lisa…

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The moral? Don’t convolute your design decisions. It’ll cost you.

Bad Idea, Bad Execution

15. Heeeeeere’s Happy!

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“Your mascot proposal, Steve?”

”It’s a human being sealed for eternity in a smiling cardboard prison, in constant agony but unable to scream, only his eyes and teeth left as reminders of what he once was.”

“Bold. I like it. But he needs a motivation. Does he want to bring in new customers? To motivate kids to eat healthier? That’s popular these days.”

“To blink, sir. He wants nothing more than to blink.”

When McDonald’s debuted this creature last May, reactions were uniformly negative. We’re not sure if they tested this with their target audience first - but if they had, you think they’d have learned kids don’t like being reminded of what happens to those who defile Mayor McCheese’s tomb.

The lesson here could be that It pays to know your audience, but we can’t imagine any demographic embracing that foul thing.

16. The Z\\’>Z Olympics

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The problem with London’s universally hated Olympics logo is that it’s too bland and too weird simultaneously — it’s abstract, but when you boil it down, it’s just the year. There’s no interesting concept behind it: it’s, in the words of Moe Szyslak, “weird for the sake of weird.”

Wiggity Wack

Corporate culture and street culture are direct opposites, but they keep trying to blend them. So much that bizness attempts to get swaggy with 2day’s kids and their dank memes deserve their own #section.

17. The Sci Fi Channel Skips the Research

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Nothing’s cooler than alternate spellings — if it’s 1997 and you’re selling a cereal shaped like skateboards and dinosaurs. Unfortunately, it was 2009, the Sci Fi network was a TV channel, and they accidentally renamed themselves after a slang term for syphilis. The lesson we can take away from this is to keep context in mind. Whether no one bothered to Google the term or they knew what it meant but figured no one would notice, apparently, they’d never met the internet.

18. Vegemite’s Install Fails

Crowdsourcing your design decisions can be a decent way to connect with your audience, but picking the right idea can be just as hard as coming up with it yourself. When Kraft’s Australian wing wanted to name a new sandwich topping, they held a nationwide competition and received almost 40,000 entries. But unfortunately, they handed the list to an exec who said “name it after the most popular thing you can think of. You have three seconds.”

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Maybe the biggest problem with this is that it’s false advertising. The iSnack was a Luddite-friendly mixture of Vegemite and cream cheese: sound quality was awful, it had very little memory, and the only touch function was the ability to lick it off your fingers. The only thing it had in common with Apple is that its maps app worked just as well.

If we’re going to learn a lesson from this, it’s that coopting a trend for the sake of it is never a good idea.

19. O.co No Go

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Even more gratuitous and unnecessary than that “It’s all about the O” commercial was that time Overstock spent millions to become O.co, a term not even the laziest texter would’ve thought of to refer to them. Of course it flopped, due partially to the use of a ridiculously short URL with a non-standard extension. In general, we prefer when our URL’s are words, not the emoticon for a scared cyclops with a beauty mark.

20. Friday’s Takes a Bad Pun Way Too Far

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This is perhaps where my bias is showing. This campaign was launched just a few days ago, so it hasn’t had time to pull results yet. But it says a lot that, as of the time I’m writing this, Googling its name in quotes ("Appley Madison") brings just 18 results.

This is a bold move by Friday’s, at the least - one that’s either going to be a sleeper hit or quickly buried in the tryhards’ graveyard. But personally, I think it’s an example of how not to do “edgy” advertising — tasteless piggybacking on a lurid news story that has nothing to do with your field.


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C.S. Jones is a freelance writer, artist, and photographer. In the past, he co-founded an art gallery and worked at a product photography studio. These days, he does photo tutorials (and gigs), online copy, and content marketing for a living. He also writes about webcomics at Webcomicry.com.

18 Comments

  1. Not sure about the tone of the article. A lot of work gets put in the process and sometimes the clients can choose to ruin their own designs. While I may agree with a lot of the design errors mentioned in this article, I strongly believe that a good designer should always practice constructive criticism instead of being openly bitchy and slagging off other designers work. Could have been written in a more constructive tone.

  2. Great subject matter. I love the David Spadesque sarcasm, because why not (if you are going to fall on your corporate face publicly). I was surprised to see the NBC Universal logo - it looks a lot like a font I created.

  3. For a more UK angle, some years ago our beloved Royal Mail Service decided to change it's name to 'Consignia' at a cost of over £1,000,000. 15 months later, the idiots behind the decision to change one of the most trusted and well-known brands in the UK came to the conclusion that perhaps it wasn't such a great idea and changed it back to Royal Mail.

  4. In Mexico, both Safeguard (the soap) and Henkel tried to rename brands and failed. Safeguard wanted to bring their 'Escudo' soap brand in line with their international branding and renamed it 'Safeguard' (same logo, same font, same package design), but consumers wouldn't buy it anymore, so they changed it back after a few months. Similarly, Henkel bought Mexican glue producer Resistol (an icon in Mexico) and started rebranding it with their (at least in Europe) well-known brand Pattex. After failing to place Pattex in the market they went back to Resistol, which now only has a small hint 'con tecnología Pattex' on the package.

  5. Hmm.. didn't creative market just do a logo change that was only slightly different in the font detail? While I do agree that some of the designs are not great rebrands, I think the tone of this article was overly critical - especially when talking about client work. Pepsi for example did a great job maintaining the brand image that people identify with historically and also adding a new meaning to it. Sometimes the hardest redesigns are simple tweeks, that create feelings.

  6. 2012 Olympics logo is anything but bland. However, it is weird. I cannot get the vision out of my head every time I see it. That vision comes from someone in 2011 when it was released saying it looked like Lisa giving Bart a blowjob. Thanks for bringing back that memory. In retribution, I am sharing this terrible vision with you and your readers!

  7. Betty B. I completely forgot the gap logo ever looked like that, but yes, it did. They had a store in the local mall and that was the sign. Wowza - time flies.

  8. I hated the London 2012 when it first came out. I looked at it years later and thought, wow, that looks good. It took a chance on creating something that was new and not a standard visual trope. Seattle's Best was a crappy logo to begin with that looks like a beer logo and then it was made even worst. At least they did not try to copy Starbucks.

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