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When Rebranding Goes South

After Elon Musk took over Twitter in March, Twitter has seen a significant decline in traffic, and ad sales were down 59%. Like many companies scurrying to renew interest after declining sales or loss of consumer confidence, Musk is clearly trying everything he can think of to steer his sinking ship. So with Twitter’s recent rebrand to X, I can’t help but think about how rebrands are an incredibly risky endeavor. Very few companies have successfully accomplished a rebrand that not only stuck, but changed their company’s trajectory in a positive way.

Apple rebranded in 2007 from its previous name, Apple Computers, so that it could be seen as an all-encompassing brand built around more than just computers, though computers remain a huge part of who they are as a brand. And when Phil Knight changed the name of his company to Nike in 1971, no one remembered the previous name he chose – Blue Ribbon Sports. In 1990, Mars’ Snickers bars became a huge hit after previously being called Marathon bars. In 1998, Mars once again rebranded one of its products – Opal Sweets – to what we now know as Starburst.

But, oh, those not-so-successful and, dare I say, terrible examples…

In 2009, RadioShack attempted to call itself The Shack, which not only brought about confusion, but customers didn’t really like it. In 2009, Tropicana tried to change their iconic orange with a straw in it to a different design, and sales plummeted as a result. They went back to their original design almost immediately after realizing their blunder.

And in 1985, one of my former employers, Coca-Cola, changed their product name to New Coke in order to compete with Pepsi, and the public’s outrage was monumental. They wanted their Coca-Cola Classic back, and their demand was impossible to ignore.

I can’t help but quote Shakespeare when he said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” when I think about the power of a name. Names are a source of comfort and familiarity. When a brand makes the big decision to introduce themselves to the public, that name is forever a part of the fabric of who they are. There should be no take backs in names, as it’s part of the value we ascribe to brands. We trust them. And part of that trust means we expect them to stay the same. We know we can always rely on them. We build a connection around that name and what it represents.

Imagine if Amazon was called Cadabra, as it was originally intended. Or if Google was the original name – BackRub. It’s hard to wrap your head around either. These names really stick with us, and that’s how Twitter was. It was a name that had a lot of traction, and a lot of history. It was one of the most iconic brands of our time. So to change it now, after so many other changes have taken place – job layoffs, paid membership and a new owner – is an incredible breach of trust to those who trusted the strength and legacy of this brand. Has Twitter left its most important members? What are your thoughts?