Rebranding in a Brave New World


As major rebranding efforts receive large-scale public pushback, we question the role of the punditry in brand decision-making. Should we really have a say in these matters?

In modern society, brands have become a huge part of our daily life, to the extent that we see something like 8,000 logos every day. Naturally, when one of those change, we experience a reaction — for better or for worse.

Lately, a few big brands have experienced major pushback from the public after changing their logotypes. But is it really up to us to decide what direction is right for a company or organization?


American Airlines branding, before and after

According to Wikipedia, “Rebranding is a marketing strategy in which a new name, term, symbol, design, or combination thereof is created for an established brand with the intention of developing a new, differentiated identity in the minds of consumers, investors, and competitors. Often times, this involves radical changes to a brand’s logo, name, image, marketing strategy, and advertising themes. Such changes typically aim to reposition the brand/company, occasionally to distance itself from negative connotations of the previous branding, or to move the brand upmarket; they may also communicate a new message a new board of directors wishes to communicate.”


UPS branding, before and after

When introducing a completely new look, American Airlines issued this statement: “We’ve changed our look on the outside to reflect the progress we’ve made on the inside, revealing our new logo and the refreshed exterior of our planes. Now, we’re taking the next step in our journey to create the new American.” This rebrand was brought on in much part due to AA’s merger with US Airways, but was a particularly hard one for the design community to accept since the previous American Airlines logo, which has been around since the ’60s, was designed by Massimo Vignelli, a design world icon in his own right. Much like the UPS logo, which was originally designed by the great Paul Rand and redone by Futurebrand (who also did the American Airlines rebrand and recently also rebranded themselves) in 2003, these are marks that designers have all studied in school, putting them in some kind of untouchable brand-pantheon. But, we have to stop and ask ourselves, are they still relevant in the 21st century? Was there something wrong with the old logos? Not really, but as times change, brands often choose to change with them; and instead of being overly nostalgic we can also choose to embrace that change with open arms.


The University of California branding, the real before and after

A few months ago, the University of California introduced a new branding system that stirred up serious emotions among university students, alumni and beyond. Although the system was (in my opinion) wonderfully executed (by the university’s in-house design team) the logo received an unfair amount of attention. Due to misinformation in the press, it was assumed that the newly introduced logo would replace the old (and seemingly beloved) seal. This was not the case; the logo was simply an addition to the system, introduced mainly to protect the integrity and value of the seal and ensure that it only be used in very special situations (think diplomas and official letters).

University of California Identity from University of California on Vimeo.

After a petition started by a student managed to get more than 54,000 signatures protesting the new logo, the University of California submitted to the pressure and withdrew it, and shortly thereafter, the entire visual identity system. The same thing happened to the a new logo for the GAP, which was introduced in 2010 and then, just 8 days later, quickly retired. Signing a petition, or posting critical blog commentary on a split-second reaction to something new is easy, but what we forget to consider is all the work that went into these rebrands.


GAP branding, before and after

We are used to having opinions about everything beneath the sky these days, but this becomes dangerous when we allow a mob of pundits to influence informed decisions made by professionals after months (sometimes years) of hard work. “To be perfectly honest, writes Armin Vit of the UC logo on his highly popular blog Brand New, “I don’t care if this logo withers and dies or if it survives and prospers. I have no vested interested in it. And I don’t know the designers behind it. What I do care about, deeply, is the danger this mob mentality poses to the practice of logo and identity design, which is, in no way, a democratic process: People in leadership positions make these decisions; it’s their responsibility to get buy-in from whatever number of people they feel is required to push their decision forward — sometimes it’s five people, sometimes it’s endless focus groups. But the process and the final decision is between client and designer. Not between mob and online petitions.”

It’s about time we step away from the snobbery and status quo. Things change, and, like in all other parts of life, we have to deal with it. It’s a brave new world, and if that world requires gradients and nondescript sans serif type, then so be it.

Images courtesy of the brands featured.

Johanna Björk

Johanna is a sustainable fashion writer currently based in Ojai, CA. Read her weekly On Trend column to learn what's new in eco fashion.