Ask any company owner how difficult it is to create a brand that resonates with consumers, one that that becomes synonymous with its products, ethos, and general business. In fashion, companies spend decades – even centuries, in some cases – building themselves into luxury brands (or better yet, houses) that can demand upwards of $3,000 for a purse (and even more, in many cases, for garments) and not have consumers blink an eye because they are so intrinsically synonymous with luxury, exclusivity, and well, fashion.
Such brand building does not occur overnight. Sure, this tends to happen more quickly today, thanks in large part to the widespread sharing of information, namely by way of the internet and social media. Having said that, it still requires no shortage of resources – financial and human – to build a brand that consumers recognize and one with which they associate good will – two different sides of the same coin.
Branding is far more complex than a logo, a font, and/or a fancy color palette, of course; for the user, a brand is defined by what it does, not solely by its aesthetic. Yet the different ways a company projects itself to consumers is certainly important, particularly with the ever-decreasing attention spans in our highly visual world in mind. Enter: the logo, a brand’s most immediate representation of themselves to consumers.
If designed and marketed effectively, a logo serves as a source indicator to consumers. It also allows consumers to make snap judgments as to the quality they can expect from that brand’s goods and services. Think: Louis Vuitton’s signature “LV.” Not only does that logo indicate that a bag is from Louis Vuitton, it suggests that the bag is also of high quality, as that is what Louis Vuitton is known for. As such, familiarity with a company (vis a vis its logo) enables consumers to make instinctive shopping decisions that would otherwise require research and also a bit of trial and error to determine quality. Moreover, without such branding, it would be far more difficult for customers to differentiate between various competitors.
Thus, when well-known companies up and change their branding – by way of their logos, packaging, or other aspects – it always tends to be a bit surprising, considering that building a strong and identifiable brand is one of a company’s biggest investments in the first place.
So, why do brands revamp? Well, there are a few key factors that come to mind. They do it to evolve with the market and stay relevant (this includes but is certainly not limited to practical concerns, such as the need for a logo to register well in any browsing device, particularly given the vast shift to mobile), to reflect an expansion in product or service categories, to limit negative associations with prior logos, and to reflect a merging of companies – just to name a few common reasons.
Such changes are certainly not unheard of. Consider a few examples: Pepsi has undergone changes 10 times since 1898. Six changes have come from Barbie since it launched its original logo in 1959. Five changes for Apple since 1976 – including a recent reversion to an older logo. Four changes for Microsoft since 1975. And in the past year or so, alone, we’ve seen a number of extremely well known brands re-brand. Instagram introduced a new logo (along with a new algorithmic timeline), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MasterCard, Uber, and Netflix did, too. Since 1997, Google has updated its logo six times.
The television channel formerly known as ABC Family revamped to FreeForm, and on the fashion front, a few years ago, Yves Saint Laurent, under the creative direction of Hedi Slimane, renamed its ready-to-wear line simply, Saint Laurent.
Netflix dropped a new logo, dropping the "etflix" in favor of a simple red "N." Before this update, Netflix had been forced to cram all seven letters of its name onto social networks and the tiny icon of its iOS app. Uber debuted its new look alongside the latest Uber app update, version 2.118.8. A complete departure from its original icon featuring a stylized “U,” the new Uber icon is a non-distinct image of a square embedded in a circle. As for MasterCard, the fifty-year old company’s new simplified mark features retains the brand’s distinctive red and yellow circles, but gone are the teeth, the capital C and a “dated” italic font.
And don’t forget the Met’s new logo, of which famed graphic designer Michael Bierut, of Pentagram, says: “It reduces the name to two red three-letter words—THE MET—and composes those six letters in a complex arrangement, connecting each to the next, merging the verticals in the HE and ME pairs, all in a font with exaggerated serifs that border on flamboyant. It is a nervy, bold design that begs for a strong reaction, and that's what it got.”
As for why some of the aforementioned companies rebranded, here’s what their execs had to say:
Tom Ascheim, President of FreeForm: The real reason to change the name is to try to grow. There was a perception gap between the people who love us and the people who don’t know us. When I talked to fans they’d say, ‘We like you, but we don’t want to tell anybody.’ They ignored our name and brand and loved our shows. It was an interesting contradiction.
Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber: One of the big changes over the years is that Uber no longer moves just people; we’re now moving food, goods, and soon maybe much more. With the potential for many apps with many app icons, we needed one approach that connected them all. So we came back to our story of bits and atoms. You’ll see that both rider and driver icons have the bit at the center, and then the local colors and patterns in the background. This is a framework that will also make it easy to develop different icons for new products over time.