Like the Bob Dylan album title suggests, often the best move to make when all else fails is to go back to basics and return “home” to what made you great to begin with. Stemming from a recent blog entry of mine highlighting Twinings Tea Company’s abrupt revamping and then reappearance of its classic Earl Grey tea blend, here are some other rebranding efforts that were each met with equally negative sentiment, spurring a return to the original.
Netflix, to Qwikster, back to Netflix: On September 18, 2011, Netflix announced its intentions to rebrand and structure its DVD home media rental service as an independent subsidiary company called Qwikster, completely separating DVD rentals and streaming. However, less than a month later, after a flood of negative reaction from customers and losing hundreds of thousands of subscribers, Netflix announced that it would retain its DVD service under the name Netflix and would not, in fact, create Qwikster for that purpose.
Coca-Cola, to New Coke, back to Coca-Cola Classic: On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola, amid much publicity, attempted to change the formula of the drink with “New Coke.” Follow-up taste tests revealed that most consumers preferred the taste of New Coke to both Coke and Pepsi, but Coca-Cola management was unprepared for the public’s nostalgia for the old drink, leading to a backlash. The company gave in to protests and returned to a variation of the old formula, under the name Coca-Cola Classic on July 10, 1985. Fellow beverage company Tropicana should have learned from Coca-Cola’s mistake and known better before redesigning its cartons in 2009. Sales quickly thereafter plummeted by an unprecedented 20 percent. Two months later, Tropicana was back to its original design. As noted by colleague Amanda Hoffman in a previous blog entry of hers, the simplistic, short-lived design of the revamped carton looked an awful lot like the generic store brands, making it difficult to market a generic product at a brand-name price point.
Orchard Supply Hardware, to OSH, back to Orchard: It’s back to basics as well for the hardware store that, for decades, has been known as OSH, as the San Jose-based retailer tries to distinguish itself from big box stores. That means a return to an emphasis on customer service, hardware and home décor. As part of the changes, the company is giving its stores a variation of its original brand name: Orchard. It is also laying plans for new stores in the Bay Area and Southern California and renovating existing ones. The moves come as Orchard is about to be spun off as an independent public company from its current owner, Sears Holdings. Orchard, which now has 89 stores, is counting on an updated look and feel to differentiate itself from larger rivals such as Atlanta-based Home Depot and Mooresville, North Carolina-based Lowe’s Companies. Orchard also wants to set itself aside from small retailers such as True Value and Ace Hardware.
KFC, to Kitchen Fresh Chicken, back to KFC: Commercials in 2004 tried to imply that the abbreviation for KFC stands for “Kitchen Fresh Chicken.” You’ll recall that KFC at one time stood for “Kentucky Fried Chicken” – that is, right up until 1991, when they ditched all of the actual words and just went with a monogram. Dieting trends had made “fried” a dirty word, and the plan was to banish it from view. The “Kitchen Fresh Chicken” move went one step further. However, the public largely didn’t buy into the cheap marketing ploy, and KFC was quickly reinstated.
Prince, to , back to Prince: In 1993, as a response to his record label Warner Bros. “limiting his artistic freedom,” musician Prince changed his stage name to the “Love Symbol.” Because the symbol is unpronounceable, he was often referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” On May 16, 2000, Prince ceased using the Love Symbol moniker and returned to using “Prince” again, after his publishing contract with Warner expired. Not coincidentally, his following albums back under the “Prince” brand name surpassed the sales of those previously released under the Symbol.
Guns in E.T., to walkie-talkies, back to guns: Like the failed effort to replace cigarettes in old movies, director Steven Spielberg swapped out the guns carried by the agents pursuing protagonist Eliot and his extraterrestrial friend for the 20th anniversary edition of E.T. For reasons even Spielberg himself doesn’t seem to understand now – likely sensitivity to criticism by parents’ groups, who didn’t like some of the language he used, and objected to the use of guns, period – the change was met with an extremely negative reaction from purists, who never like it when people tinker with their favorite films (ahem, George Lucas!). With the upcoming 30th anniversary Blu-Ray release of E.T., what’s most noteworthy is a change that Spielberg won’t be making – or, more accurately, changing back. He is, thank heavens, getting rid of the walkie-talkies he digitally inserted in the hands of the government baddies, and giving them their guns back.
So, take a page out of these books and have faith in your brand, as it is generally better off the first time. It’s not so different from sticking with your instinctive first answer on the SAT exam, or the old screenwriter’s tip, “write what you know,” or even the romantic plot point of going back to your first love. Whichever metaphor you prefer, don’t fall into the same trap as those listed above, or else you may end up regretting having made a change.
Photo credit: Vintagemax via Flickr