Rebranding is nothing to take lightly. I'm not talking about the usual "once in a while" revamp of a logo/identity, or the "every few years" overhaul of a website. I'm talking about the "phoenix rising from the ashes", full-on rebrand, where a company takes on a whole new name, new look and often a whole new philosophy. They don’t happen every day, and they often end in disaster, but when they work right, they are really something to marvel at (and to learn from).
I’ll toss this out from the start: my definition of “all time” refers to what I can remember and easily dig up. Since the goal of this kind of rebranding is to become a whole new brand (with a clean slate), I’m sure there are a bunch of vastly successful rebrandings that won’t be in the list below. That’s because they have been THAT successful.
If you know one that is worthy of the list, please post a comment and share it.
The Nashville Network -> Spike For a cable network, identity is everything. It’s more than a name, it’s a philosophy that guides the programming choices and the ultimate character of the channel. The Nashville Network had done alright catering to a predominantly Southern audience, but when the channel was purchased by Viacom they realized some changes were needed if they wanted to grow. There were two half-assed attempts (The Nashville Network -> The National Network -> TNN) before they struck gold by completely rebranding the channel as Spike, "The first television channel for men". By not being afraid to potentially alienate female viewers, Spike was able to set a clear, strong focus for its programming choices and brand identity.
Andersen Consulting -> Accenture Once upon a time, massive accounting firms roamed the earth. They were the “Big 6” (then the “Big 5”, and now I think it’s down to the “Big 4”), and their names carried tremendous weight. From their accounting strenghts, they branched out into management consulting. Andersen Consulting split from the venerable firm Arthur Andersen and rapidly grew to the point that it matched (and exceeded) the revenues of the accounting firm. At the same time, the almost identical nature of the firms’ names created tremendous confusion in the market. Whereas once the cachet of the Andersen name had been an asset, it eventually became a liability. Enter “Accenture”, a futuristic name with a positive sound that maintains its alphabetic dominance (it’s good to start with “A”). Most importantly, it established a unique and distinct identity for the consulting firm. This particular rebranding probably also saved the company from the fallout of the Enron scandal which ultimately killed Arthur Andersen.
Phillip Morris -> Altria The smell of stale cigarette smoke is hard to get out of anything: furniture, carpets, clothing, brand sentiment. The American tobacco industry fought hard, but ultimately lost the battle of public sentiment (despite the fact that plenty of people still smoke). After Surgeon General’s warnings, lawsuits, public service campaigns and a massive settlement, the Phillip Morris name wasn’t going to lead the company forward in any good way. Enter “Altria”, a futuristic name accompanied by a modern, abstract logo. If you think about it, the company’s new identity is a polar opposite from the staid, old-world feel of the original brand. In other words, it’s designed to put as much distance between the new and the old as possible, so the company can have some breathing room to build its future.
Lucky and GoldStar Co., Ltd. -> LG It’s not every day that a new electronics company bursts onto the scene with major distribution deals and slick equipment. That’s exactly what DIDN’T happen with LG. It may have seemed like they came out of nowhere, but LG was a rebranding that merged two old Korean names: Lucky and Goldstar. I can’t say that I remember Lucky, but I remember seeing Goldstar TVs on the shelf, at low prices, but with a decidedly second-tier feel to them. Obviously, the company has made major headway in terms of product quality, features and innovation, but it would have taken them far too long and too much energy to raise the brand perception of the old names. As icing on the cake, the decision to combine and simplify to “LG” gave them the chance to associate the new name with a very powerful slogan: “Life’s Good”.
Patagonian Toothfish -> Chilean Sea Bass What’s in a name? Sometimes, everything. One of the biggest culinary rebrandings of all time was the decision by fishermen to rename the (descriptively named) Patagonian Toothfish and turn it into the exotic and tasty Chilean Sea Bass. Without changing the product, without creating a logo or a massive branding campaign, this rebranding has been so successful that the fish itself is now considered threatened. It just goes to show that a name may be a perfect fit, but that doesn’t mean its effective.
Constantinople -> Istanbul What discussion of “Top Rebrandings of All Time” would be complete without at least tipping my hat to the Turkish renaming of the former Roman capital of Constantinople to create the Istanbul that we know and love today? If there’s any doubt of the significance of this particular rebranding, just listen to the bards from They Might Be Giants.