ANA: A Swirl of Change Is Pushing More and More Companies to Consider Rebranding
Jim Heininger featured in this Association of National Advertisers story on rebranding.
Why Folgers and Stoli, among other brands, have changed their look and feel recently
May 27, 2022
When the war in Ukraine triggered a backlash from consumers against brands doing business in Russia, marketing leaders at the Stoli Group — producers of Stolichnaya Vodka — huddled to discuss the best course of action. Stoli, in fact, distills its vodka in Latvia, and the company's founder, Yuri Shefler, is a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin. Nonetheless, "because of the brand's name and the look and feel, consumers still associated us with Russia," says Tim Szonyi, global vodka category leader and global innovation leader at Stoli Group. "We decided that we need to change the name from Stolichnaya to Stoli — and it was time to do a rebrand."
Stoli's marketing team started to rebrand everything from the labels on Stoli bottles to the organization's brand purpose. They launched a limited-edition, Ukraine-branded bottle as a fundraiser for war relief and are developing new creative around the theme, "liberate your spirit."
"It's about making sure we hold on to the quality and integrity associated with our heritage in Russia — but translating that into a story that is more about unity, liberation, and freedom," Szonyi says. "When you have a big global brand, the risk of getting it wrong is significant."
Stoli Group released a limited-edition bottle of Stoli Vodka to benefit Ukraine, with proceeds going to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that is providing meals to Ukrainian refugees. The limited-edition bottle accompanies a rebranding of the famed vodka brand in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It's one of a growing number of rebranding efforts due to global events and changes in society.
Stoli is just one of several companies that have rebranded in the past several months. Facebook renamed itself Meta to stake a claim on the metaverse. Following years of criticism that its previous moniker was racist, the Washington Football Team officially changed its name to Commanders. And cooking oil brand Wesson introduced a refreshed brand featuring a new bottle design.
According to Forrester's 2021 "Charting a New Path to Growth" survey of 204 brand managers, 54 percent of respondents said the pandemic was pushing them to change their brand, and 41 percent said they planned to increase brand spending this year. "The rebrand trend accelerated in the last few years," says Ian Bruce, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. "The pandemic, as well as a focus on brand purpose, have both been factors fueling this."
The temptation to rebrand can be powerful for marketers, as it represents an opportunity to reset and redefine a brand, appealing to both existing audiences and, with any luck, new ones. But the risk is significant, including the potential to alienate customers who are resistant to change.
A Brand-New Brew
The term "rebrand" can describe everything from subtle tweaks to a logo to a wholesale renaming that jettisons any remnants of the former brand. No matter how radical the change, it needs to make sense from a strategic perspective, experts say. "The most important thing is to connect the brand strategy with the business strategy to make sure that everything aligns," says Peter Knapp, group chairman at Landor & Fitch, a global brand and design agency that has helped Kellogg's and Renault with rebranding efforts.
For instance, Folgers Coffee introduced a rebranding earlier this year, spurred by flattening sales and consumer research showing that younger consumers associated the 172-year-old brand with older generations.
"We stepped back and said, how might we celebrate the story of Folgers in a new way, give ourselves a new attitude, and tackle the misperceptions?" says Tina Meyer-Hawkes, VP of marketing, coffee at the J.M. Smucker Co., which owns Folgers and is an ANA member.
Folgers continues to make a variety of updates, including new package design debuting this fall, to help the brand stand out on both physical and virtual store shelves.
"We didn't always get it right along the way because we were asking, 'How far can we push to make sure we're relevant to new consumers?' but not so far that our [loyalists] will say, 'Where's my Folgers?'" Meyer-Hawkes says. "We've found a nice, sweet spot to ensure we can show up differently."
Key takeaway: Rebranding requires maintaining a sense of the past while demonstrating to consumers that the brand embraces the future. "Make sure you're committing to the right degree of change," Knapp says. "If you don't go far enough, you might find that you have to go through this whole process again, sooner than you would want."
Shout It From the Rooftops
The "big reveal" of a revamped brand is a crucial opportunity for marketers. When introducing its new brand image, Folgers spread the word across "the full funnel and multiple channels," Meyer-Hawkes says. The company released a video spot called "Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves" to the tune of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation."
They also tapped social influencers like Rod Thill who has 1.5 million followers on TikTok, and the Try Guys, who have nearly 7.8 million YouTube followers, and started posting content on TikTok. "It was really important to us to make sure that we were targeting our consumers where they consume information, because we know how much noise there is in the marketplace," Meyer-Hawkes says.
Key takeaway: Go big with the launch of a rebrand to maximize the impact. "You might get cheap shots from some of the press, but it's an important thing culturally for a company," says Hayes Roth, founder and principal of HA Roth Consulting, a brand consulting firm that has done rebranding for Dartmouth Health, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, and Mount Sinai. "You should really orchestrate that well and take full advantage."
In order for a rebranding to be a force multiplier, CMOs must have a deep understanding of their consumers. For example, Stoli is orienting its rebranding toward a well-defined persona the marketing team calls "Dillon," a unisex name that the company uses to think about its core consumer in terms of who they are, where they live, and when they go out to drink.
"We always start with the core consumer that we really want to win and try to be crystal clear in terms of how our brand is going to live within their lives." Szonyi says. "If you're trying to win with everyone, you won't resonate with anyone."
Equally important, marketers need to invest in building buy-in from the C-suite. "Understand going in that this is a long process," Roth says. "You have to be willing to invest the money, and you have to have the CEO completely on board with it."
It's also crucial to engage the company's employees, who can help bring the rebranding to life. "You can have a great promise and put it out there for consumers, but if it isn't backed up by the behavior of people at the front line, you can lose credibility very quickly," Knapp says. "It's as important to focus on internal engagement as it is to drive perception in the marketplace."
Key takeaway: Rebranding is not only about logos or taglines but redefining a brand's purpose and making it tangible for consumers. "The key to doing it successfully is change management," says Jim Heininger, founder and principal of Rebranding Experts, a brand consulting firm that has helped rebrand companies like ReUp (formerly United Electronic Services), Bravanti (formerly BPI group), and 1Concier (formed by the merger of T-Y Group, Harbor Linen, and Riegel Linen). "You have to budget fully for post-launch marketing efforts. You can get to that finish line, but then you have to keep going."