Rebrands of our time: the good, the bad and the unintentionally entertaining

With Telecom spreading its wings as Spark today, we decided to look at a few other rebrands of varying quality from here and around the world. 


Shell to Z

Erasing the more-than-a-century-old Shell logo from New Zealand’s landscape, in 2011 more than 200 petrol stations around the country were rebranded to Z, which was said to cost $35 million, saving Greenstone (licensee of the franchise in New Zealand) millions per year in Shell licensing fees.

Greenstone’s chief executive Mike Bennetts told the Herald at the time that research showed demand for a distinctly Kiwi identity. “It reflects our national identity and our commitment to New Zealand. To us, Z is all about New Zealand.”

The name had to be distinctive, easy to spell and pronounce. He said the new logo deliberately represents the infinity symbol which “celebrates the millions of journeys New Zealanders take every day.”

Z also undertook a “Good in the Hood” marketing campaign to firmly entrench itself in the community which by all accounts was successful.

Interbrand’s James Bickford didn’t like the rebrand at the time, writing in a blog post: “This is not a rebrand but an investment company’s indulgence. The bottom line is that New Zealand has lost a heritage service brand that helped build this nation and has replaced it with a rather cheap and painfully bad logo of an independent petrol station — a logo that belongs at the bottom of the world.”

National Business Review reported in May this year Z’s market share in New Zealand was down two percentage points from when it was bought from Shell, but for market reasons, not logo reasons.

Dairy Co-ops to Fonterra

Fonterra was born in 2001. The farmer owners of New Zealand’s two leading dairy co-operatives, the New Zealand Co-operative Dairy Company and Kiwi Co-operative Dairies, voted to merge the two, as well as the industry’s marketing arm, The New Zealand Dairy Board.

Fonterra means ‘spring from the land’, and the Fonterra logo represents this link to the land, with colours that represent land, water, sky and sun – “all the key ingredients of the dairy goodness we take to millions of people around the world every day”. A Herald article at the time recorded someone as saying: “It’s pretty nondescript and it might date quite quickly.”

Dating hasn’t really been an issue but it did take a couple of years Fonterra to become the global identity it is now. A 2003 Herald article said that when Fonterra was looking at using its own name as a brand to replace the NZMP trademark (it didn’t follow through with this), an industry commentator described it as a retrograde step, because NZMP is “a big brand. No one knows Fonterra.” The brand is incredibly successful though, and Fonterra is currently the world’s fourth largest dairy company, with turnover of US$15.3b, although recently Rabobank said further mergers may be needed to maintain growth.

Kiwifruit Marketing Board to Zespri 

The New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board rebranded to Zespri in 1997, in a multimillion pound European relaunch to differentiate New Zealand fruit from that of competitors, promoting it as superior and giving it a unique identity. The kiwifruit industry was before this almost bankrupt, with Italy, Spain and Asian countries starting to grow more and more of the fruit.

The name described the zest of the fruit combined with its life-giving properties (from French esprit). The name didn’t sound bad in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, or Japanese and sounds active, real, fresh and vibrant. New Zealand kiwifruit was also changed from a productivity-based industry to quality-based. Growers had certain criteria to match, and Zespri internationally marketed the qualities that made Zespri fruit superior.

“The Zespri brand is now one of the top five global produce brands in major world markets, with very strong rates of consumer recognition of Zespri fruit labels. In fact the brand is so highly regarded that counterfeiting of our labels and packaging is an issue in some of our markets,” says Zespri general manager of marketing Carol Ward.

The Otago Daily times reported that “between 1996 and 2006, the productivity per hectare of the average kiwifruit orchard rose only slightly, but the same number of producers earned nearly four times the revenue”.

Ward says since the brand was set up in 1997, volumes have gone from 56 million trays to 86 million trays last season, with 100 million trays forecast next year and strong future growth predicted as newly-grafted SunGold vines come into full production.

ANZ eats National Bank

It’s unusual for an unloved brand to take over a loved brand, but that’s what happened when ANZ swallowed The National Bank. Research showed that customers saw a brand shift as a highly emotional process and ANZ likened it to the four stages of grief – shock, anger, rationalisation and acceptance. This guided its approach to the messaging strategy, with the role of comms to try and move customers through this process as quickly as possible.

There were naysayers: a banking expert said the ANZ could potentially lose 30 to 40 percent of its National Bank customers by dropping the brand,

But all is well with ANZ. Very few customers swithced. And in May this year it was announced ANZ made a record $853 million profit after tax in the six months to March 31, up by almost a third from the previous corresponding period. It said the profit reflected reduced costs when the rebranded National and ANZ moved onto one IT platform (it used the National Bank’s system), with expenses dropping five percent, or $42m, while revenue went up eight percent, or $144m.

Kumfs to Ziera

New Zealand footwear company Kumfs Shoes rebranded in 2010 for NZ$8 million, changing its name to Ziera, launching a new product range and rebranding its 43 company stores throughout Australia and New Zealand. The name was meant to be more feminine, contemporary and would widen its appeal, leaving the comfy grandma shoe image and slightly dodgy sounding name behind. It also hired former Camper designer Laura Boulton to sharpen the look.

“We undertook extensive research into the development of the Ziera brand. The name better reflects the personality and essence of the brand and holds much greater appeal for the women who wear our shoes,” Ziera managing director Andrew Robertson said at the time.

“The existing Kumfs brand has built tremendous equity and a strong customer base. But we’re also the first to admit the name had some negative connotations. Our aim with Ziera is to demonstrate the evolution of our brand… our styles have been more fashion-forward and on trend for a while now, but the Kumfs name has been a barrier for many women.”

Brand and marketing consultant Bella Katz wrote last year that “Kumfs had high brand awareness in a niche market with fewer competitors. As a speciality shoe they could command a premium and translate that into higher margins. By rebranding as Ziera Shoes and launching a completely new advertising strategy and in-store look, the company has gone head-to-head with a multitude of other brands, many of which have been well established in the fashion category for years.” 

She wrote if Ziera can’t get a foothold in the contemporary market, it’s another step away from the older, loyal customer base.

Time will tell, and looks like they’re actively working the market with innovative store design.


Royal Mail to Consignia

Often there is initial outrage at a rebrand or logo change, as there was with Spark, and then everyone gets back to not caring and those companies often go on to be quite successful. So it’s hard to find rebrands that went horribly wrong. But in January 2001, the UK’s biggest mail carrier, the Post Office, rebranded itself as Consignia at a cost of £1.5 million, because it didn’t identify anymore as just a domestic, mail-only company. It now had logistics and customer call centre operations, and was planning foreign acquisitions.

“It’s got consign in it. It’s got a link with insignia, so there is this kind of royalty-ish thing in the back of one’s mind. And there’s this lovely dictionary definition of consign which is ‘to entrust to the care of’. That goes right back to sustaining trust, which was very, very important,” said the boss of the consultancy who renamed it. Mike Verdin of BBC News called it “The most ruinous decision since the biblical scam that saw Esau swap his birthright for a bowl of stew.”

People didn’t like it, and the name change coincided with one of the company’s worst years financially, so after just a year with the name the company reverted to Royal Mail at a cost of £1 million. Chairman Allan Leighton told the Daily Mail the service was being “smashed” every time the name was mentioned so he decided to drop it from the end of the year, partly to boost workers’ morale after job cuts.

From shield to sunflower

In the year 2000 BP replaced the strong shield logo it had had for around 70 years with the “Helios” – name of the Greek sun god. BP’s slogan was also changed from “British Petroleum” to “Beyond Petroleum”. The cost of the Helios logo design and its rollout was rumoured to be US$211,000,000. BP said the new slogan represented its focus on meeting the growing demand for fossil fuels, manufacturing and delivering more advanced products, and to enable transitioning to a lower carbon footprint.

While the logo in itself was not offensive, it may have helped fuel the already-terrible PR disaster that happened with the Horizon oil spill. And the internet went to town on it with some creative versions of the new logo

A blog post points out the failure was positioning themselves as a renewable energy leader when something like the Gulf of Mexico disaster came along.

“Positioning” the brand where the core business isn’t (in BP’s case, “beyond petroleum”) puts the brand at risk. The BP oil catastrophe may herald the end of artificial “brand positioning” as an element of brand strategy. Under its striking Helios logo BP claimed a high-profile positioning as a “green” renewable energy leader “beyond petroleum.” As such, the BP brand was aiming for a make-believe category in people’s minds, since BP’s business was petroleum for the foreseeable future. Instead of being an enlightened brand of innovative and responsible oil production, where 99% of its business resided, BP apparently let its “beyond petroleum” positioning blind it to a disturbing pattern of  risky design practices and short-cuts over a decade of operations. In the real world, it’s the vision and values at the operations level that position the brand—and the business—to succeed.” 

A brief fling

GAP crowd-sourced a logo and put it up without warning its fans at all, spurring a massive backlash on social media. It put the classic blue box back just a week later.

The Huffington Post said the company had wanted the new logo to coincide with what it says was its updated image, including having more modern designs of jeans, pants and other clothing.

“The company got itself into a jam by putting out the new logo without explaining the change.”

The unintentionally entertaining

A branding balls-up? 

Airbnb rebranded last month, changing its logo to a ‘Belo’, something it says can be drawn by anyone, recognised anywhere, symbolises belonging, represents all of us, and stands for four things: people, places, love and Airbnb.


It’s also something social media users everywhere likened to various body parts.

As discussed in a Forbes article, the way to handle something like this is to laugh at yourself, not defend yourself, unlike the Airbnb CTO: “It’s just like: Go ahead, laugh all you want, guys. We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator”. And a tip from Forbes is to listen to your junior marketers before running anything past your senior marketers, as they are closer to their consumer instincts.

There are many stories of brands, products or slogans meaning different things in different locations, like the Chevy Nova, Nokia Lumia, Nissan Pajero, or even finger licking good, so it’s obviously very hard to make up a new name that works everywhere. In 2012 Kraft renamed its international division Mondelez, which apparently sounds a little bit like the Russian word for oral sex. Kraft thought instead that it evokes the idea of “delicious world”. “Monde” derives from the Latin word for “world,” and “delez” is a fanciful expression of “delicious”. 

Forbes article also warned of the danger of having to provide a phonetic spelling of your new name to the public. In a press release, Kraft said: “Kraft Foods Inc. today announced plans to change its corporate name to Mondelez International, Inc.  ”Mondelez” (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ’)…”

However, there are no reports of Mondelez suffering financially from this decision.

Impropitious bits

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. And it’s amazing how many brands, logos and ads feature unintentional genitalia

  • Any others that stick out? Go on, add them to the comment wall. We dare you. 

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