Ask the Artists: The Best and Worst Rebrands

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When it comes to brand reinvention, two paths exist. On one hand, you could create a fresh, new look and send your business rocketing into the stratosphere. On the other, you could throw all knowledge of design out the window and release a rebrand nightmare onto unsuspecting audiences. To get a better understanding of the elusive artsy factors at play here, we asked our designers to weigh in on their personal favorite (and least favorite) rebrands. Here’s what they had to say:

Burton Durand – Senior Art Director

Bad: DC Comics

DC Logos

There’s been some sort of identity crisis at DC going on for quite a few years now. Ever since they moved away from Milton Glaser’s classic 1976 “DC bullet” logo, they’ve been undergoing a rebrand every few years. The 2005 update wasn’t bad, but a legal battle with DC Shoes forced them to abandon it. Bye bye, star icons. The 2012 “peeled” mark was polarizing; many didn’t like it because it was a big departure from the previous icons. It did, however, have a great application system in context of each of the major comics in the DC line-up.

The rationale behind this new mark is that it harkens back to elements from DC’s past, taking in pieces of Superman’s mark and Wonder Woman’s mark, etc. But it just doesn’t work. Almost everything about it is bad. The weird constriction of the stroked circle. The aggressively chunky lettering. Lettering that has an off-putting mixture of angular and curved joints. It all feels very forced and unrefined, which is very surprising considering it came from the international design firm, Pentagram. 

Good: Old Spice

old spice guy holding shampoo

Old Spice used to be a brand for older men, as the name would imply. In 2008, however, the company decided that it wanted to revamp its line to target younger males. Wieden + Kennedy pitched the “Old Spice Swagger” campaign, which transformed nerdy youths into suave, cool personalities like LL Cool J and other popular athletes and celebrities (again, as the name would imply). There was an interactive online component on SwaggerizeMe.com. There was enough cleverness, quirk and attitude behind the new messaging and the redressing of their product line to blow past expected sales goals and usher in a new era of Old Spice.

This new brand continued to push their creativity. In 2010 they launched the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, which showed ladies “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” From there, a mixture of using the instantly-beloved shirtless  “Old Spice Guy” and healthy doses of bizarre, absurdist humor and gags drove brand recognition and perception way, way up. It even inspired an entire library of social comments and video reactions from fans. If a rebrand can inspire a brand’s audience to react, share and help shape the persona and story, then you know it’s been dang successful.

 

Kellie Viola – Art Director

Bad: The Met Rebrand

the met logo

The Metropolitan Museum of Art underwent a rebrand in February 2016 and was met with harsh criticism – and rightfully so. First of all, the original mark was so iconic. Everything about it reflected the essence of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Modernist time periods, which are housed within their walls. To completely ditch that mark, rather than adding a modern take on it, is disheartening. The new mark utilizes the common moniker ‘The Met’ to create a typographic solution. It may seem odd that one of the largest and oldest museums in the western hemisphere (one that prides itself on housing 5,000 years of art and culture) would take such a casual approach to their historic brand. However, given that this is the most common way the public refers to the museum, it’s an acceptable solution. But far from the best.

The most troubling aspect is the messy typographic treatment with no symbolism behind it. The inconsistency of hard and curved angles in the letterforms, the odd angled middle serifs in the E’s and the mashing of all the letterforms together is so baffling. Then, with the addition of red, those irregularities stand out that much more. Their explanation for this solution? “The goal was to combine contrasting characteristics of The Met — bold and elegant, modern and classical, accessible and wise.” And while doing so, they completely ignored the historical reference of their original mark that turned a museum into a nationally recognized brand.

A great rebrand will refresh your company and add perceived value to your business while still honoring elements of your original mark. But this does nothing but water down their brand and values. As my favorite critique of the rebrand reads, “The Met? More like The Meh.”

Good: Google Rebrand

7-google-logo-stylegoogle logo

Choosing Google as an example of good rebranding might not be a popular opinion, but I stand behind it. Despite their rapid growth over the years, the Google logo had remained in logo hell with various bevel, drop shadow and gradient effects applied to their dated serif typeface since the late 90s (the equivalent of your one aunt who refuses to stop feathering her bangs). As the world’s most popular search engine site, conducting an average of 3.5 billion searches per day, you just expect a more modern solution to their brand. As of September 2015, they did just that.

The logo was updated to a clean, san-serif solution that retained their trademark primary colors. Though some interpreted this as a safe solution, it’s actually a very strategic decision, and here’s why. A brand update is much more than just adding new bells and whistles to a logo – it’s creating a solution that remains true to your business’ personality and also works on all applicable platforms. For a company as large as Google, that means a mark must be legible on everything from a paper system and smart watches to a television or bus wrap. To achieve this, Google created three logo variations that include the full logotype, a dot pattern and a stand-alone G to give them the flexibility to adapt their brand to any platform, no matter the size. It also gave them the opportunity to create a cohesive system for their additional services, such as Gmail, Drive and Docs.

Updating a brand is a lot like fashion. Despite the hours of work that goes into planning and decision-making on the back-end, you still want to appear effortless and cool. And Google was able to achieve just that. Bravo!

 

Christina Li – Social Media Strategist

Bad: Gap

gap logo change

The box. The type. The horror. Gap’s attempt at rebranding in 2010 fell so hard on its face that the company decided to revert to its old identity only one week later. So why all the hate? For one, the new design was bland and devoid of any of the effortless classic personality that the clothing brand previously embodied. Worst of all, upon hearing about all the outrage, the company asked their Facebook fans to submit their own designs. Listening to audience feedback to inform rebranding decisions is one thing. Straight up crowdsourcing a logo identity is another. #NeverForget #NeverForgive

Good: Axe Body Spray

axe body spray

Axe Body Spray is a great example of how rebranding isn’t just about a logo. Based on their recent “Find Your Magic” campaign, the company seems to be ready to cash in their sexist, macho card for good. In the ad, you’ll find voguing, disabled representation and even something for all the nerds out there. And while there are still women in the ad, they are no longer fawning over each and every man with their clothes falling off. Their new attitude is refreshing, and it’s a smart move if they’re trying to target the ever-inclusive millennial audience.

 

Terez Gautreau – Digital Designer

Bad: Animal Planet

animal planet logo

This rebrand has been a source of silent aggravation for me ever since it appeared on my television screen, and now I finally have a place to voice that. Animal Planet is easily one of the most well-known channels and everyone’s go-to for all things wildlife. While I agree that a rebrand could have been a great way to widen their audience and separate the channel from its association with dull documentaries, that is definitely not what happened.

When I first saw the logo I thought, “what?!” Then, I noticed all of the skewed, cringe-worthy, multicolored type treatment. What’s more, the designers removed all other items of significance and placed a huge, seemingly dead “M” right in the middle. Talk about give a designer a headache. I just had to seek an explanation and maybe some solace, so I did some research. It was designed in 2008 by Dunning, Eley, & Jones, a London-based design firm. The logo is supposed to evoke instinctive, primal urges and allow the viewers to catch glimpses of animals in the jungle. Welp, I’m not buying it! It feels stale. If they were going for a “animals could have actually made this logo” vibe then maybe…no, never mind. It’s still just bad.

Good: Airbnb

air bnb rebrand

Although it only launched in 2008, Airbnb has blown up. It’s really the only company pioneering global renting of spare rooms and whole homes. So, in 2014 they decided to rebrand in order to reflect their success. I love this new logo and rebrand idea as a whole. While their original logo had some character and gave off an on-the-go attitude, Airbnb really needed a mark that would give them a more iconic stance.

Thus, The Bélo was born. This symbol is quirky, clever and memorable. The color and typeface are friendly, warm, and modern. It clearly draws upon Airbnb’s three main areas of focus: people, places, and love…and also, its an A. Abstract enough to make you think but not enough to leave you confused (see the Animal Planet logo). I think it was a really smart move to give their mark its own sort of brand and storyline as well. The new identity was so successful that it trended at number 1 on Twitter for eight hours when it launched! As a whole, the brand took on a more personal, “we all belong” messaging approach that pulls right at our heart strings. They really played into everything that is great and unique about their business and the culture that surrounds it.

Airbnb also did an interesting rebranding campaign where they asked people to create unique symbols, stories, and even songs in relation to the Bélo. You can view a fun infographic and some of the creations here (http://blog.airbnb.com/belo-report-new-airbnb-symbol-infographic/) or participate here (https://create.airbnb.com).  

 

Andre Dugal – Designer

Bad: TBS

tbs logo

Man, I have no idea what happened here. There’s a part of me that wants to like this logo, and I think there’s potential for it to be something better, but for the most part I have hated this thing since I first saw it. The blocky letterforms feel really wonky and make the mark as a whole seem unbalanced. The diagonal cuts on each side always look misaligned and get distracting. Whether they’re off or not, I’m unsure. But visually, I always get hung up looking at them. Those are the parts of the logo that I want to like, and I might with a little refinement.

What really kills it for me, though, is that the new TBS logo makes me think of a ton of other television channels before I actually think of TBS. For some reason I immediately think of the MTV logo, a little bit of the VH1 logo and, oddly enough, the Spike logo? Not that the original TBS logo was revolutionary or anything, but it seemed to mirror its brand and just felt authentic. The new logo reeks of trying to fit in with the crowd, and in doing so it completely washes itself of identity, only reminding me more of the brands it’s imitating. I’m sure working on a large brand like TBS puts an insane amount of pressure and expectations on the design team, but I think this one needed to be pulled back and really re-examined before gracing the bottom corner of our screens during 7 hour Friends re-runs.

Good: Saint Louis University

st louis university logo

If you would have told me that one of my favorite branding jobs would be centered around a fleur-de-lis, I’d have told you that you were crazy. But somehow in a cruel twist of irony, I find myself in that exact situation. The team at Olson managed to expertly incorporate it into a system that is smart, gorgeous and best of all, subtle. So often with branding reviews, logos get judged on how much they stand out or what kind of splash they make.

Part of what makes this solution so great is that it isn’t overstated. It just does its job perfectly. The solution works in one color, and there’s a fun icon set for personality. Modern typographic elements give it some refined details, and the mark itself feels friendly yet sophisticated. While still following the natural trend of simplifying and reducing brands, the new Saint Louis University is a perfect update from the dated crest it comes from without simplifying so much that it loses its identity or feels like another modern san serif logo (looking at you Verizon). I really can’t say enough great things about this rebrand. I fall in love every time I see it.

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