5 of the worst rebranding disasters

From Radio Shack changing its name to “The Shack” to Dr Pepper trying to rebrand diet drinks for men, here are some big brands’ biggest mistakes.

You’d think we would have learned our lesson from the New Coke fiasco, yet failed attempts at rebranding continue.

One of the boldest experiments in marketing, rebranding has never been scarier than it is today.

Years of reputations and relationships can now come to a crashing halt within seconds of a rebranding mistake via the often unforgiving world of social media.

I decided to take a look at a handful of the worst rebranding efforts of the past few years. This isn’t to make a mockery of them, just to see what marketers can learn from other brands’ biggest mistakes.

1. Overstock.com becomes O.co (2011)

In June 2011, Internet retailer Overstock.com completed its transition to the name O.co. Only three months later the company returned to Overstock.com—but not before spending millions of dollars on a six-year naming rights deal with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.


A decade of brand equity wasn’t enough to get customers to warmly greet this rebranding effort. Customers swarmed the company with questions regarding the name change. They accused the company of moving too quickly in changing the name of a brand customers were still getting to know. Some marketing executives went so far as to question the use of the beloved letter “O,” which had long been associated with Oprah.

Overstock.com president Jonathon Johnson buckled under the pressure weeks later and admitted the company had been too aggressive with its initial rebranding strategy.

Although you can still use O.co as a shortcut to reach the deal-finding website, the still-planned switch to O.co doesn’t seem to be taking hold as much as the brand might have hoped.

At the beginning of March 2013, the brand closed the O.co Travel portion of Overstock.com. The O.co Cars, O.biz B2B, and O.info sections remain on the site—for now, at least.

2. RadioShack becomes The Shack (2009)

Sometime between the iPod and the iPad, RadioShack decided to get all hip on us. In August 2009, the iconic electronics retailer swiftly dropped “radio” from its name and chose to be known forevermore as “The Shack.”

Come to find out, the word the company’s marketing executives were sure was the brand’s greatest liability, “radio,” was instead one of its greatest assets. Of course, this realization came a bit too late.

The 92-year-old electronics store had already spent nearly all of its $200 million dollar budget on new television and digital ads to proclaim that “The Shack” was here to stay.

While the brand initially made the change to attract savvy shoppers in search of a wider range of electronic products, the retailer quickly learned it’s never fun to play with an iconic American brand or its loyal customer base.

Although “The Shack” ads are now at the bottom of some digital dump, the term is far from dead. Brand copy referring to “The Shack” remains evident within RadioShack.com.

The brand continues to deal with a long list of business challenges. The decision to focus on selling popular (yet lower profit-margin) items such as tablet computers and smartphones to help offset declining sales of consumer electronics is still hurting earnings in the long run.

3. Pizza Hut becomes The Hut (2009)

In 2009, hearsay became news when the public got wind of Pizza Hut’s plans to forever be known as “The Hut.” Attributing the change to the need to better fit within 2009’s texting generation, Pizza Hut officials spent many weeks claiming this name change was never set in stone.

“Pizza Hut is not changing its name,” Brian Niccol, chief marketing officer of Pizza Hut, said in a 2009 press release. “We are proud of our name and heritage and will continue to be Pizza Hut. We do use ‘The Hut’ in some of our marketing efforts. To the loyal fans of Pizza Hut and pizza lovers around the world, we’re happy to tell you that nothing is changing, we’re still Pizza Hut, America’s Favorite Pizza.”

The only problem is that the college junior who likes his pizza at 3 a.m. rarely reads press releases from marketing heads. The damage was already done.

The days of “The Hut” still sneak into Pizza Hut’s marketing plans in 2013. In January, Pizza Hut made news with its “Hut Hut Hut” campaign, which helped introduce the pizza sliders menu item during the Super Bowl.

4. Tropicana’s new packaging (2009)

Who would have thought an orange would stir up controversy?

It did in 2009 when PepsiCo partnered with The Arnell Group, a design and branding company, to launch a new look for the iconic beverage company.

The innocent intentions to repackage Tropicana products came dangerously close to a rebranding disaster. Customers left grocery store aisles perplexed and downright shaken by the new look of their orange juice, and a public outcry ensued.

Sales fell nearly 20 percent. Some people compared the repackaging to changing the Mona Lisa. The universe shifted—or so it seemed—for those few weeks before PepsiCo executives retreated back to the original logo.

The brand treads lightly these days. It moves to new bottle sizes and containers with caution-many people are still trying to get that bad taste out of their mouths.

5. Dr Pepper Ten (2011)

In 2011, customers called the No. 3 soft drink company, Dr Pepper, sexist when it attempted to bash the stereotype of diet soda. Its intentions were good; it wanted to create and promote a better-tasting alternative for men who disliked the image and taste of diet soda.

Boldly declaring that its new 10-calorie soft drink, Dr Pepper Ten, was “not for women,” the beverage maker angered a majority of its female customers. One television ad went so far as to promote a faux action movie in which men jumped off cliffs while proclaiming women should stick with their girly diet sodas.

So yes, the marketing surrounding Dr Pepper Ten did not get off to a great start. But here’s to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group for not giving up on the Ten concept. The company actually learned from its misstep.

In early 2013, the group rolled out 10-calorie versions of five of its biggest soda brands: 7Up Ten, A&W Ten, Sunkist Ten, Canada Dry Ten and RC Ten, in addition to its existing Dr Pepper Ten.

And guess what? The brand is marketing the new 10-calorie sodas to both men and women rather successfully. Being cited as one of the company’s biggest-ever national ad campaigns, the ads for the new drinks will target both sexes and play off the theme of learning to compromise via a shared love for the 10-calorie beverages.

Tricia Despres is a freelance writer. A version of this article originally appeared on iMediaConnection.com.


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