Brand recognition is so important to any business. It builds trust with loyal customers and becomes instantly recognisable to potential future customers. Even if you don’t buy a certain product yourself, a big enough brand will be recognisable to you, think about the Colonel at KFC, the golden arches of McDonalds, or the simple green and white colours associated with Starbucks. Branding, or re-branding can have long-term consequences for your business that are at both extremes of the spectrum. When branding of any kind is done well it can become a long-term marketing strategy that takes care of itself, but when rebranding fails it can cost millions in lost revenue, lost custom and wasted marketing funds. Let’s take a look at some branding and re-branding disasters that did not work out, at all, for each brand. 

Pepsi Black Lives Matter Fail

A Pepsi advert from April 2017 resurfaced again last year during the protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing by Police in the US. The advert saw Kendall Jenner having her photo taken alongside a protest with protesters holding up signs saying “peace’ and ‘join the conversation’. She then removes her blonde wig, wipes off her lipstick and joins the protest, walking to the front of the protest before picking up a can of Pepsi and walking over to the line of riot police. She hands the can to a police officer, who takes the can and has a sip, causing the protesters to all cheer in celebration.

At the time there was a lot of push-back from all sides, criticising Pepsi for seeing legitimate protest as a trendy demonstration to take advantage of for monetary gain, rather than the essential activism where protests allows us to fight for important issues. The advert made references to iconic images from Black Lives Matter protests of the recent past, and in 2020 when mass protests sprung up around the world, the comparisons to the advert and how it trivialised such important matters, resurfaced. The fact that Pepsi thought that this type of advert would resonate with its target audience was a massive misstep and shows a real lack of research, understanding and empathy to consumers, the wider political issues of the day, and the importance of protest as a tool for positive change.

McDonalds Filet-o-Fish Mistake

Emotional advertising can work wonders when it is produced well. In 2017, McDonalds really missed the boat with their Filet-O-Fish TV advert that was launched close to Father’s Day. In the advert a young boy asks his mother what his late father was like. As they walk through town, they stop at various points as the mother describes her late husband as tall and good looking, a hit with the ladies, a good football player and then they reach their destination, a McDonalds. You can see throughout the advert how the boy wants to be like his dad so much but doesn’t see the comparison in any of the stories, but when he sits down with a Filet-O-Fish his mother tears up, as that was her husband’s favourite.

There are a few problems with the advert; first, that McDonalds were attempting to sell products based on the grief of a child. A specific product should never be used as the emotional answer to a problem as heartfelt and deep as grief. Aligning your brand with certain ideals and advertising those, can work with the right type of marketing campaigns. After complaints, the global fast-food behemoth apologised for any upset caused and pulled the advertising spot. Also, let’s think about the Filet-O-Fish and how the only reason any person should cry about it, is that it’s the worst item on the entire menu at McDonalds and no one should order it.

Tropicana Rebrand Fail

Your branding encompasses many things, but for the most successful and well-known brands even the colour of the packaging used for the products is enough for a consumer to instantly recognise it. Think of the specific red of a Coca Cola can for example. Packaging plays such an important role in building brand trust and when rebranding comes around for a company it can cause all sorts of problems if it isn’t dealt with carefully. Tropicana faced this issue when rebranding its orange juice cartons back in 2009. 

The idea behind the rebranding campaign was to create a simple packaging for the product that the logo design and the new colour pallet would sit nicely on. Tropicana invested a lot of money in an advertising campaign to get the market ready for the change. It didn’t work though. Customers really didn’t like the new look and took to social media to complain that the new packaging looked, well, basic. Many thought the new orange juice cartons looked like a generic store brand or a cheap knock-off of Tropicana itself, and sales dropped by 20% within a few months of the change. Rebranding can be a costly mistake.

Coco Pops name change in UK

We often see how brands can look markedly different in different parts of the world (think about how Walkers Crisps in the UK is Lay’s everywhere else in the world), and back in early 1998 the British arm of Kellogg’s decided that it was time to rename a popular brand. Coco Pops has always been a favourite on the British cereal market and in 1998 when it was decided that the name should be changed to Choco Krispies to bring it into line with how the cereal was branded in other countries, the British public did not like it, at all. 

There was a national outcry about the brand change. Even though the cartoon monkey and the adverts would remain the same, the fact that the name had changed was enough. In most cases, people don’t like change, they want familiarity and the warm recognition that their favourite brands provide. Sales of Choco Krispies declined rapidly and by the spring of 1999, 92% of those polled via telephone and Internet, over 1 million people, said that they wanted the name changed back to Coco Pops. The tasty chocolate cereal has been known as Coco Pops ever since and will likely never change again. 

Pizza Hut name change

Another re-branding failure came back in 2009 when Pizza Hut decided it needed to make a change. Instead of the world-famous Pizza Hut name, the marketing department behind the deep pan giants wanted to change to just ‘The Hut’, as a way of encouraging the “texting generation” to use ‘The Hut’ when talking about the brand. It was a spectacular misfire, with the general public really turning against the idea and there was a very quick turnaround from Pizza Hut stating that they were proud of the name and heritage of the brand and would continue to use that name. They also said that the term ‘The Hut’ would continue to be used in some marketing campaigns but not as the primary brand name. 

This embarrassing climbdown after a pretty fast negative response from the public came just a year after another failed experiment with rebranding Pizza Hut. Several locations in the UK in 2008 had changed the name to Pasta Hut. It was in fact an April Fool’s joke but actually went so far as to change the signage of those restaurants and part of a promotional campaign to boost sales of a new pasta menu.

Branding the right way with Candy

At Candy Marketing, we understand what it takes to build a recognisable brand that speaks to the target market and has positive connotations whenever and however it is viewed. If you are undergoing a rebranding process, you’ll understand what a delicate balancing act it is to be successful and to reach a new audience whilst maintaining your loyal customer base. 

To find out more about Candy and our range of services, please feel free to contact us on 0161 826 0123 or hello@candymarketing.co.uk and we’ll help you put together branding that speaks volumes for your company and speaks directly to your intended audience.