Why rebrands fail: The traps to avoid to get the best ROI

Published by Andrea Day on

Why rebrands fail

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Rebrands are a lot of time, effort and money. From the research to the design and messaging, a good rebrand can take months of work. But after that, many rebrands fail. Maybe customers don’t recognise the new brand and they fail quickly. Or, customer-facing teams simply don’t embrace the new brand and the rebrand slowly sputters out. 

In both of these cases failed rebrands can cost companies millions and can destroy a marketing team’s credibility.  

It’s rare that rebrands are total disasters. Despite this, when they fail the consumer is usually the first person to get the blame. If a rebrand fails it’s not the fault of the consumer but a failure to understand the consumer.

If you want them to see things differently, behave differently or buy differently, you need to help to that end. You have to take them on that journey, rather than assume they can find their way by themselves. 

Or equally, a failure to understand the people within the organisation and the shared sense of identity therein can have a similarly catastrophic effect.

Rebrands must take the customer into account

One of the biggest reasons why rebrands fail is brands not knowing their customers. Generally, this challenge arises when long-standing companies change their brand. Long-standing companies are those that have been around so long that consumers barely think about using their service or buying their product. Or, where consumers have a strong emotional connection to the brand.


An example in the US of a long-standing company that rebranded and failed is Tropicana. Tropicana is one of those post-war American companies that came to prominence during what some have called ‘the American century’, or what is better known as the 2nd half of the 20th century. 

If you ask Americans, they remember their parents buying Tropicana and their Grandparents as well. The brand was built to be synonymous with orange juice, Florida and sunshine. The brand was so popular that clubs have taken its name as far away from the sunshine as London! 

In 2009, Tropicana spent an undisclosed fortune changing its brand appearance. Following their rebrand, their sales fell by 20% in the first few months

Customers were so used to the old design, that they stopped buying Tropicana.  The rebranding failed. Tropicana was forced to reintroduce the old packaging a few months later.  The “old” brand is in the shops today.

Of course, there are some problems with the 2009 design. The original design (pre-2009) drove home the message that this was a healthy drink that was just oranges. They implied that the company did nothing to stand in the way of the great natural product. 

The 2009 redesign tried to highlight the ‘just natural message’ by saying “100% orange”. However, they showed the final product, not the natural orange. The graphics undermined the ‘we don’t do anything to the orange’ argument.  

The 2009 rebranded Tropicana looked similar to low-cost orange juice, but the real problem for Tropicana was that they didn’t know their buyers. They didn’t understand their buyer’s emotional connection to the brand.  

Rebranding isn’t just about designing good looking logos, it’s about knowing your target customers. How do they feel about the brand? Do you need to change how they feel? Or do you want to build on how they feel? With Tropicana, there was a real opportunity to build on the nostalgia that many feel and the emotional connection to the brand. Instead of building on that strong foundation, they tried to start from zero and move in a completely different direction. 

Actions speak louder than rebrands

Rebrands aren’t just about design, they’re about messaging too. Following a spree of acquisitions in 2001, British Petroleum (BP) changed their name to ‘Beyond Petroleum”. The problem is that, until recently, BP hasn’t focused on much other than petroleum.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill and pictures of wildlife covered with oil only underscored that BP was far from ‘beyond petroleum. Today, if you walked down the high street and asked people what BP stands for, how many of them would say British Petroleum versus Beyond Petroleum?

Rebrands fail when education fails

Companies spend millions on rebrands. But the conversations around them often don’t make it outside of the corner offices or C-Suite. Frontline, customer-facing workers, are just given a memo or a quick call to explain the new message and brand. 

If you aren’t sure your customer-facing team is using the new message, you can’t be sure your rebrand is working. 

The best rebrands include a strong education element. This ensures that the customer-facing teams use the new message and put the brand into action on the ground. 

This education element must include the behaviour aspect that we discussed earlier. Education is about changing the behaviour of a team. If you want to bring your team with you on the rebranding journey and you want your rebrand to succeed, you need this education element. 

At BestAtDigital we design digital campaigns, experiences and communications that can help organisations taking the leap into a rebrand give themselves the best chance of success.  We help their employees engage with that rebrand and understand what it means for them, their customers and their careers. Get in touch to learn more.

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