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Rebranding: a masterclass

In the 1980s, the march of  globalisation led to a raft of products rebranding themselves for continuity across international markets. Marathon was renamed Snickers in 1990, Opal Fruits became Starburst in 1998, Oil of Ulay became Olay in 1999, Jif was renamed Cif in 2001, Immac turned into Veet in 2003. Naming or renaming brands is not without its problems, as Mazda discovered in France with the launch of its MR2 and Coco Pops realised after renaming its milk-troubling cereal Choco Krispies, bringing it into line with the rest of Europe. It changed the name back in 1999.

It is not just products that are rebranded, companies frequently do the same thing. What usually happens, is that a company merges with another and the resultant entity is given a new name, or a company might change name for no apparent reason and sports stadia change name as soon as a new sponsor comes along.

Anderson Consulting became Accenture in 2001, AT&T Broadband Internet became Comcast in 2002, Bournemouth’s football ground was called Dean Court but this year it was renamed Goldsand’s Stadium.  Landsdowne Road became the Aviva Stadium in 2010. Borland changed its name to Inprise in 1998 and back again to Borland in 2001. Datsun became Nissan in 1983, Fedral Express became Fedex in 1994.

One company that has amazingly refused to rename itself is Carphone Warehouse, a very successful mobile phone company with 1,700 stores in Europe. Changing its name might simply be too much hassle but its refusal to change is quite admirable.

Earlier this year, a media conglomerate, following a series of scandals, changed its name. News International has quietly changed its name to News Corporation UK, a move which is part of a wider campaign to break the links with the organisation’s toxic past; the phone hacking and bribery.

Rupert Murdoch is splitting up his business into two new companies, with News International rebranded as News UK. Like the Roman Empire, the Murdoch empire was too large and cumbersome to be controlled by a single central state and both had to take radical steps to ensure survival.

News Corp is undergoing a methodical detoxification of the brand, to let it function properly again. The PR team sent out a release which announced a new logo “based on News Corp’s visual identity and draw(ing) on its heritage of producing world-class news, sport, opinion and analysis and pioneering new developments in the industry”. David Hillman, a newspaper designer said: “They can’t be serious, it looks like the local corner newsagent.”

The change of logo came after David Dinsmore took over from Dominic Mohan as editor of the Sun. News UK has now changed all its editors and senior executives and the strategic brand positioning was carefully timed, ahead of the debut of the Sun paywall (with online access to Premier League highlights) on 01 August and of autumn court appearances by former NI journalists and executives, including Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, on charges of alleged phone hacking and bribery.

Robert Thomson, CEO of Murdoch’s newly separate newspaper business, said in the Financial Times, the company was “expecting a certain amount of publicity over the coming months”.

The company’s brand cells are being sloughed away and replaced. For a brand to accelerate change, it must turn its back on its toxic past and create a new narrative to silence topical engagement and public discourse. If it is convincing, it opens the way for new and intriguing avenues of engagement.

Guto Harri is NI’s director of communications; he was previously a BBC political correspondent, who arrived after a stint as Boris Johnson’s PR. On his appointment he said the past NI was “extremely robust and arguably brutal about cleansing the past”. All good PR people know it is not a good idea to take on a successful brand; there is greater scope to rebuild and restore greatness in a failing institution and the rewards are extremely high.

Harri and his team might be able to deliver success in the manner of Paddy Harverson, Prince Charles’ former PR man, whose remodelling of the image of the the then failing royal household was awesome.

There is now a new brand narrative for News Corp, though whether the new story will undo the damage that sent the Murdoch empire into freefall, will be seen only with time. The tactics suggest the power structure has an incentive both to support the new brand and to profit from its rebirth.

Nigel Phillips



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