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International - In with the old, in with the new: lessons in brand repositioning

By Jack Ellis
March 09 2012

Last week, Microsoft released a beta version of Windows 8, the latest edition of its flagship operating system. The new software has been accompanied by an extensive overhaul of the Windows brand, centred on a reimagined logo which offers quite a radical departure from its previous incarnations. Such rebranding efforts offer an opportunity to keep a brand relevant, redefine the relationship with consumers and simply help ensure an established keeps getting noticed. However, challenges do exist, not least the question of what to do with the trademarks that are being replaced.

Before any rebrand goes public, it is important to consider whether change is actually needed. “A logo is one of the most prominent associations consumers have with a brand,” notes Diane Prange, chief linguistics officer at brand consultancy Strategic Name Development. “Because consumers’ relationships with brands are highly emotional, changing a logo always runs the risk of unravelling the bond between user and brand.”

This was a lesson learned the hard way by Tropicana, which saw its sales tank by 20% when it changed its logo and package design. After a few months, the original insignia were reintroduced.

But there are several factors that may encourage a brand owner to change their logo. Prange expands: “It could accompany a product or company name change, such as in the case of a merger, or emphasize a change in product or company strategy.”

A competitive market and changing environment could also influence the decision to change a logo, for instance to highlight a change in the product mix. One example of this is Apple removing the CD element of the iTunes logo, reflecting the fact that the sale and storage of music has largely gone digital. A highly competitive market might also encourage brand owners to revitalise or refresh their marks and designs, as evidenced by the rejuvenation of the Old Spice logo to better align with a marketing strategy aimed at presenting the male grooming brand’s products as something ‘new’.

Although the new logo will become the distinct indicator of the product, brand owners may be running certain risks in abandoning or discarding previous marks associated with the brand. “Even after a logo has been replaced, it still carries some value,” says Prange. “This is especially true of consumer brands that are valued as nostalgia, such as automobiles, beers and sports teams, for example. As long as the company or product continues to exist, protecting old logos and marks is the best way to prevent future competitors from trading off of any retained equity.”

There are several ways in which disused trademarks, logos and designs can be resurrected. “‘Old’ logos for consumer brands have potential equity in a promotional setting,” says Prange. For example, General Mills revived its 1980s-themed packaging on several of its breakfast cereal lines as part of a promotion in conjunction with iconic 80’s video game brand Atari. “If nothing else, use of an old logo suggests that this is a classic or special edition of the product, which hints that it is only available for a short time.”

Another opportunity for re-using old marks and logos is to bring speciality nostalgic products to market. “‘Old’ logos can also be used to market and sell licensed nostalgia merchandise that not only provides a stream of revenue but strengthens the consumer’s emotional bond to brands,” explains Prange. This often relates to brand extensions which use historical logos for purposes different to those originally intended. Coca-Cola, John Deere and Harley-Davidson have all resurrected trademarks from their past to market clothing, toys and other merchandise.

Brand resurrection can also enable deeper market penetration in markets that have previously demonstrated a strong affinity with a disused brand. This month it was announced that Nissan plans to revive the Datsun nameplate in specific markets, including India, Russia and Indonesia. Reuters observes that Datsun remains a household name in the Middle East and many parts of Asia, providing the company with a significant advantage in its expansion efforts.

Therefore, it is important to consider how to keep marks alive, particularly in jurisdictions where use is required to secure and maintain rights over a trademark.

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