The 10 Most Successful Rebranding Campaigns Ever

old spice man chainsaw

Rebranding a company's goals, message, and culture is hard -- many have tried and most fail.

A successful campaign requires more than a revamped logo. It demands a vision that inspires customers, investors, and others to see the company in a new light.

Through savvy marketing and better quality control, some companies discovered new ways to revive their brands and in some cases, made them stronger than ever.

J.Crew's sales were plummeting; now Michelle Obama is an endorser

J.Crew's sales were plummeting; now Michelle Obama is an endorser

When Millard Drexler, the man who turned the Gap into a multi-billion dollar icon, showed up as J. Crew's new CEO in 2003, sales were plummeting.

Under Drexler's guidance, J. Crew rebounded dramatically, earning $3.8 million in 2005, its first profit in five years and between 2003 and 2008 revenues rose 107 percent, according to the Wall St. Journal. In 2009, revenues exceeded pre-recession levels and same-store sales climbed 11 percent. 

Drexler re-energized J. Crew by rebranding it as a store that sells basics like tank tops and capris that are well-made with a hint of luxury (think cashmere sweaters).

J. Crew also got an extra boost from the first family: all four wore the brand during the inauguration festivities. In addition, the First Lady provided her own endorsements. When Michelle Obama appeared on "The Tonight Show" and told Jay Leno that her yellow sweater, skirt and blouse were a "J.Crew ensemble," the company's stock shot up 8.2 percent.  

The Lesson: Offer quality products while always looking for new ways to meet customer demands. J.Crew's new bridal line reportedly came about after Drexler learned from a sales rep that customers were buying simple sundresses in different colors to serve as bridesmaid dresses.

Note: Private-equity firms TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners are in talks to buy J. Crew, in a deal valued at about $3 billion. The PE firms have the cooperation of J. Crew CEO Mickey Drexler, reported Bloomberg News.

Burberry was considered gangwear; now it's worn by Emma Watson and Kate Moss

Burberry was considered gangwear; now it's worn by Emma Watson and Kate Moss
Mario Testino

Even if you don’t know the name Burberry, you would probably recognize its trademark black, tan and red check pattern. Founded in England more than 150 years ago, the once small brand, which introduced the waterproof fabric gabardine and trench coats, has been embraced by celebrities, royalty and preppies alike.

Not too long ago, Burberry was at risk of being dismissed as frumpy and over-extended, however. It was even considered gangwear. Due to rumors that the Burberry brand was popular amongst hooligans, two pubs in Leicester famously banned anyone wearing the label.

New leadership and savvy product design are what transformed the brand into one of the hottest fashion labels, say retail experts. Christopher Bailey, Burberry's creative director since 2001, overhauled the brand with a mix of modern and classic looks that included a sexier trench coat and swimwear, and snapped up high-profile celebrities like Kate Moss and actress Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame.

An increase in Burberry's sales is proof that luxury brands are staging a comeback with shoppers, according to analysts. Sales rose 27 percent to $747 million in the third quarter ended Dec. 31 and may expand 11 percent in the fiscal year ending March 2012, reported The Market Oracle. Burberry has also been steadily expanding in China and built 50 stores in 2010.

The Lesson: Brands can be successfully revamped by adapting current styles while celebrating its history. "Burberry is about heritage, but about making that heritage relevant for today," said Bailey in 2009. "You have to make sure what you do is right for the moment you live in. What makes things relevant? Without wishing to sound flaky, it's a sensitivity to the spirit we live by today."

Pabst Blue Ribbon was cheap and fratty; now it sells for $44 in China

Pabst Blue Ribbon was cheap and fratty; now it sells for $44 in China

The blue-collar Milwaukee lager -- best known for being a cheap beer and the drink of choice among college students and hipsters -- popped up in China last year. Americans may not recognize their PBR, however, since the beer retails for a an eye-popping $44.

Labeled "Blue Ribbon 1844" (the year the Pabst Brewing Company was founded) the beer is different from its American counterpart, says the company, since it is a special brew of German malts and aged in oak whiskey barrels. It's brewed and sold in China by a distributor who licensed the Pabst name.

China is the world's biggest beer market, reported Euromonitor and thanks to a new craze for high-end alcoholic drinks among the Chinese rising class, Blue Ribbon 1844 seems well positioned to take advantage of the Chinese taste for expensive beers.

The Lesson: Adding a foreign tag and fancier packaging can make a brand more appealing.

Harley-Davidson almost went bankrupt; now they are the most reliable motorcycle brand

Harley-Davidson almost went bankrupt; now they are the most reliable motorcycle brand
Harley Davidson Press Release

Back in 1985, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle was at risk of disappearing from highways when it almost went bankrupt. What saved the company, says Richard F. Teerlink, the former CFO turned CEO who championed the change, was a better product to match the well-known brand,

"In 1982, Harley-Davidson had no money of its own," Teerlink told Harvard MBA students in 2003. "We were $90 million in debt, and bankers weren't willing to loan us a penny. We had a good brand and loyal customers, but we weren't generating a profit because we didn't have a quality product at that point. We had to improve the quality of our product to be fair to the customer. If we hadn't improved the reliability of Harley-Davidson products, the company wouldn't be here today."

The Lesson: Support your brand with a high-performing product and weed out inefficient management. "Be aware of controls that are barriers to effectiveness," said Teerlink.

McDonald's made America fat; now it looks like Starbucks and serves salads

McDonald's made America fat; now it looks like Starbucks and serves salads
McDonald's Arch Times Squarekennymatic flickr

Over the years, McDonald's has been increasingly weighed down by the image of being a low-brow and unhealthy restaurant chain. The documentary "Super Size Me" both mocked and alerted the public to McDonald's food as a leading cause of obesity.

McDonald's has since then tried to rebrand itself as more health conscious with a greater variety of salads and other healthy meal options, in addition to offering lower-priced menu items. Under the slogans "I'm lovin it," which featured an original tune by Justin Timberlake,  and the newer "what we're made of," families and young couples are seen enjoying their meals at McDonald's. The company is also going after the coffee crowd with its fancier and more expensive premium coffee.

Despite the derision of critics, McDonald's makeover appears to be working. McDonald's Corp. reported a 5.3 percent rise in January sales at locations open more than a year, and topped the average forecast from analysts of 4 percent, according to FactSet Research.

The Lesson: Pay attention to what the public says about you and respond with products and services that counteract those accusations.

Target was just another low-brow discount store; now it's the favorite of the yuppie class

Target was just another low-brow discount store; now it's the favorite of the yuppie class
rondauphin via Flickr

In the late 90s, Target was seen as just another low-brow discount retailer, indistinguishable from Wal-Mart or K-Mart. By offering pared down versions of designer apparel and merchandise through exclusive deals with high-profile designers such as Issac Mizrahi, Mossimo Giannulli, Michael Graves, Fiorucci and more, Target began to stand out from its competitors.

Target is now the second largest discount retailer in the United States, after Wal-Mart. Its stores are in nearly every state and the company announced in January that it will be expanding into Canada with 100 to 150 Canadian stores by 2013.

The Lesson: Set yourself apart from competitors with high-quality merchandise at lower prices.

Walmart was considered cheap; now it's the first option for many Americans

Walmart was considered cheap; now it's the first option for many Americans
By mjb84 on flickr

In an effort to retool its image, retail juggernaut Wal-Mart threw out its “Always Low Prices,” tagline in 2007 and replaced it with “Save Money. Live Better.” Doing so put a positive spin on the company's reputation for offering merchandise at rock bottom prices and suggested that buying items at low prices will help improve customers' lifestyles. REBRAND, an organization that judges companies on their rebranding efforts, awarded Wal-Mart a REBRAND 100 Global Award of distinction for its marketing campaign.

In describing the campaign, Wal-Mart released a statement that the new slogan was demonstrated in "all aspects of the in-store experience -- from designing new interiors and signage to merchandising display concepts." Although few other changes appeared to occur, the rebranding campaign seems successful.

In 2010 Wal-Mart was the world's largest public corporation by revenue, according to the Forbes Global 2000 for that year. While other retailers suffered major blows from the recent recession, CEO Lee Scott said that Wal-Mart is doing "extraordinarily well," in 2008 and was built to thrive during downturns.

The Lesson: Customers want a better lifestyle and will respond to companies that they believe will help them achieve their goal.

There was nothing special about Old Spice; now it's a viral sensation

There was nothing special about Old Spice; now it's a viral sensation

Thanks to former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa who told women to "Look at your man, now back at me," Old Spice is suddenly a new Old Spice. Since the first commercial launched a year ago, the 70-year-old brand's ad campaign generated tens of millions of online views and a new catch-phrase: "I'm on a horse."

Old Spice followed up with 186 related videos in which Mustafa directly responded to digital queries from bloggers and celebrities including Perez Hilton, Ellen DeGeneres, and Alyssa Milano.

The company's efforts worked when sales of Old Spice Body Wash—the line touted in the Wieden + Kennedy-created campaign—rose 11 percent over the past 12 months in 2010, and sales continued to gain momentum, reported BrandWeek

Mustafa returned in the first of three new commercials promoting Old Spice's latest collection of sprays, body washes and deodorants as a "scent vacation" in exotic locales (including a grass skirt).

The Lesson: A clever ad + smart use of social media can produce a fresh identity, even for a brand that many associate with their grandfather's deodorant. "Old Spice didn't change its logo, it changed the experience," said Marc Shillum, principal at Method, Inc. a consulting agency for brand designs.

Apple was nearly bankrupt; now it's ruling the world

Apple was nearly bankrupt; now it's ruling the world

In 1997, Apple was veering dangerously close to bankruptcy. Nearly 15 years later, stock prices have gone from $6 to $350 and the company is stronger than ever. What changed? By producing reliable and elegantly designed products such as the iMac, iPods, and iPads, Apple became a juggernaut in technology. Nearly every product released has been an instant hit, and every move Steve Jobs makes drives a media frenzy.

"Jobs is a technologist with the heart of an artist," said Shillum.

Another thing that Apple does well, Shillum noted, is the way it articulates its brand from its products down to the store level experience.

"Actions underlie brands," he said. "Everyone from the CEO to a sales rep needs to understand the company's mission and be free to articulate it in their own way."

The Lesson: Build creative products that are well-made and enhanced by beautiful packaging. Also, create a positive experience for customers as Apple has done with its stores.

UPS was big and boring; now it is personal and innovative

UPS was big and boring; now it is personal and innovative

In the war between UPS and FedEx, UPS was desperately looking for a way to beat its competitor in the late '90s. It was FedEx, after all, who introduced overnight deliveries and the ability to track packages with computers. The solution: Remind customers of the ways UPS can meet their needs.

UPS replaced its slogan "Moving at the speed of business" with "What can brown do for you?" and created ads with characters like the "Mailroom Guy," and the "CEO" to show that no matter where somebody fell on the managerial ladder, UPS could help that person. The new approach started to show results. UPS raked in a profit margin that was roughly double FedEx's margin in 2001, prompting Bloomberg Businesssweek to declare, "on many fronts, UPS is winning the battles."

A decade later, UPS continues to show customers what it can do.

UPS claims its latest slogan, "We [Heart] Logistics" is the shipping giant's first global slogan, designed to highlight its position as a  company that serves customers worldwide.  "Each day, our customers count on us to choreograph a ballet of infinite complexity played across skies, oceans and borders," said UPS spokesperson Betty Wilson.

The Lesson: Use forward-looking slogans that tell customers your company is continuously adapting and providing new ways to meet their demands.

Need more inspiration? Here's what NOT to do:

Need more inspiration? Here's what NOT to do:

10 Major Rebranding Disasters And What You Should Learn From Them >>

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