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2023's Rebranding Teachable Moments

Rebranding in 2023

Rebranding, a proven and pivotal growth strategy, regretfully took a very visible stumble in 2023. While some companies, like Kellogg's and Johnson & Johnson, successfully navigated the intricate maneuver of brand-led business transformation, the most noticeable rebranding of the year, Twitter's shift to X, became a prominent cautionary tale on how not to rebrand.

Each year, our team takes a look at successful rebranding strategies that provide teachable moments for the coming year. But 2023 was a departure from the norm. As we assess the year's trends, the spotlight is on both triumphs and setbacks, offering a comprehensive view of the evolving landscape. We try to avoid critiquing how well companies rebrand, but rarely do we see such a rebranding bellyflop on the national stage.

Teachable Moments

To start, rebranding means to start your brand anew—to stand up an entirely new brand that aspirationally embraces the future business strategies and potential of the company, grounded in the strongest equities of its past.

In the Twitter saga, the abrupt departure from a globally embraced name, tweets, retweets and the familiar blue bird icon marked a stark deviation from the norm, making headlines globally. The hastily conceived and haphazard execution, with a lack of a clear direction on the platform's nomenclature, left its half-billion users and the public at large perplexed.

Rarely does a rebranding gain such widespread general news coverage and discussion, but regretfully it was predominately negative. One study reported that 9 out of 10 of the surveyed 11,000 respondents from the U.S., U.K. and Australia were aware of Twitter's shift to X, traditionally a great achievement in shifting public understanding behind a new name, but business experts continue to pronounce the financial loss the transition inflicted on the company.

The rebranding was fraught with many missteps, starting with the fundamental question of: "Why rebrand?" The silver lining of this unfortunate experience underscored critical lessons for companies contemplating a brand transformation: the importance of customer focus and not leadership egos; leveraging existing brand assets as opposed to throwing them away; and implementing a well-thought-out announcement strategy that gains stakeholder support.

Success Tracks

Despite these challenges, many companies rebranded this year successfully, providing a road map for effective brand transformation.

  • Kellogg's spun off its snack business and unveiled the new name Kellenova. Johnson & Johnson also did it right with the renaming of its consumer product spin-off, aspirationally named Kenvue.

  • rebranded to as the legacy brand didn't enable its strategic growth plan.

  •, struggling with its liquidator image, orchestrated a remarkable rebranding strategy by acquiring the brand IP of bankrupt retailer Bed Bath & Beyond. This merger not only revitalized both companies but also created new opportunities for customers, showcasing the transformative power of strategic rebranding, especially for companies with outdated brands.

Leaving Past Associations Behind

In an era where associations increasingly matter, some organizations undertook rebranding to distance themselves from negative aspects of the past. Chapters of the Audubon bird conservation network this year began to distance themselves from namesake John James Audubon, a known slaveholder and anti-abolitionist. Likewise, a Brooklyn nonprofit dropped the word "foundation," as it felt the term appeared old and controlling.

Akin to ripping off a Band-Aid, these changes can seem insurmountable at the time, but the healing takes place quickly and often leaves no scars.

No Time For Jokes

April Fool’s Day is the time companies like IHOP and Volkswagen announced fictitious rebrands hoping to attract attention, often with unintended consequences. Oscar Mayer this year played a trick on customers by retitling its hot-dog-shaped traveling Wienermobile as the “Frankmobile” to refocus attention on its all-beef franks. But just four months later, the name was reverted to Wienermobile, conveniently after the end of the major summer hot dog selling season.

False rebrandings like this do not positively help the rebranding strategy as a brand-led business transformation and are best avoided. While they may draw initial headlines, the social media criticism leaves a lot of cleanup.

Rebranding Boomerangs

Speaking of reverting to original names, a series of "rebranding boomerangs" showed companies that retraced their steps, signaling a willingness to adapt—again.

  • Online news source Insider suddenly ditched its attempt at being a generalist news hub and reverted to the name Business Insider. A leadership change triggered the business strategy to return to its roots as opposed to trying to be all things to all people.

  • After PR firm Hill+Knowlton merged with Public Strategies, it rebranded to Hill+Knowlton Strategies. But this year it dropped "Strategies" and returned to its original name after learning the brand equity and value for stakeholders lies in the firm's history, which is nearly 100 years strong.

  • Impact Wrestling announced it is returning to its iconic TNA Wrestling name. After several name changes since its launch in 2002 as NWA: TNA, President Scott D'Amore declared: "We still hear the 'TNA' chants wherever we go. Fans have longed for TNA Wrestling, so that's what we're bringing back in 2024: TNA Wrestling, we're back!" It seems fans were vocal about wanting the wrestling equivalent of a throwback jersey.

The boomerang trend signals that one needs to be cautious about getting too far over one's skis during an original rebranding and must work hard to ensure that stakeholders evolve along with the new name and business direction.

As we anticipate the dynamic landscape of rebranding in 2024, these diverse narratives from 2023 will undoubtedly shape the future strategies of companies navigating the intricate terrain of brand-led business transformation.


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