The Latest Victims In Famous Logo Rebrands

The Gap. Microsoft. USA Today. Now Arby's. Why the sudden glut of all these rebranding disasters?

Rebranding must ask certain questions to be successful. It isn’t a whim or a cosmetic facelift. It’s strategic and intelligently conceived, not just something the spouse of a CEO has demanded during pillow talk.

When Did Branding Get Stupid?
In recent history, there have a series of major missteps of well-known logos of major brands that are in fact giving branding—and rebrands—a bad name. And it frustrates me that clients are not being better taken care of.

The first in this series was the Gap’s rebrand which, after about 8 days, reversed its soft rollout to its original iconic brand (shown below).

Short-lived rebrand: Right

Geometric Hell
USA Today recently changed its logo to.... a circle. That’s right. Their logo, which previously was a globe made up of stripes has now become a circle, something that was controversial enough for Steven Colbert to do a segment on it. I understand it changes to different things internally in their different sections of the paper, but still... a circle?

New Logos: Right

Microsoft also recently changed its identity to four squares. Yes, four squares.

New Logo: Bottom

I suspect speaking with the designers (this was developed in house) would involve terms such as "minimalism" and "stripped down to its fundamentals." But if we're redefining a brand, what do four squares convey about Microsoft as a brand in today's market and what it stands for as a brand?

With this rebranding epidemic, one has to ask, "Is there a conspiracy to destroy the integrity and value of brands, brand identity and rebranding as a discipline?"

Graphic Indigestion
The latest victims are two time-honored brands in the same week: Wendy’s and Arby’s.

Wendy’s went from the logo that has served the company for three decades to a more "modern" look. For the first time since 1983, the Dublin, Ohio-based fast food company, it just unveiled this new updated logo.

New Logo: Right

In the Associated Press release, it stated, "In a move intended to signal its ongoing transformation into a higher-end hamburger chain, instead of the boxy, old-fashioned lettering against a red-and-yellow backdrop, the pared down new look features the chain’s name in a casual red font against a clean white backdrop."

Personally, I do not get the higher-end aspect in this rebrand effort. I also don’t understand why the word hamburger is gone and how a girl’s portrait with this script type style connotes "higher-end" when in fact it comes across as something for children. It could be for a toy store as much as a playground.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of market-speak (referring to the AP comment above) to justify something that doesn't add up, no matter how you slice it. So talking about slicing it...

Along came Arby’s this week, one of the most disheartening examples of a recent rebrand:

  • the use of an outdated font (with uneven kerning),
  • the choosing of a lower case "a" for the name in this design,
  • the rendering of the top of the 10-gallon hat that looks more like an "M" than a hat (and given McDonald's dominance in the fast-food category, this is unfortunate), and
  • a poorly executed 3D effect serving no purpose on this revamped cowboy hat accompanied by an apostrophe that is confusing at best (I read someplace that this was alluding to a slicer since Arby's meat is sliced fresh in its stores).

New Logo: Right

Even Armin Vit from the revered design blog Under Consideration chimed in, "The new logo retains the hat shape, along with some unfortunate 3D extrusion, but replaces the typography with some flavorless, sans serif with a lowercase "a" and the sharpest, biggest (and is that shiniest?) apostrophe that no logo ever needed."

Hi-yo silver.

"McArby's"

Something Easier to Swallow
With all of those issues, I propose a simpler solution: McDonald's should purchase Arby's and take full advantage of the subliminal "M" with a newfangled slogan as follows:

Can We End The Madness?
If it’s understood that branding is a strategic solution and a random cosmetic "update," then yes, there is an answer.

If it’s understood that committees do not make branding decisions, then yes, there is an end.

And as I recently outlined in the article, "How to Rebrand: 19 Questions to Ask Before You Start":

  • Will this solution work in 5, 10 and 15 years from now based on what we can anticipate?
  • Have we assigned some committee to manage the project versus someone (or at most, two people) who is focused, inspired and can lead?
  • If we were starting our business today, would this be the brand solution we would come up with?

Answer those and then, yes, there is an end to this madness and this endless tsunami of rebrands that diminish the profession of branding and the trust of our clients.

Follow David Brier on Twitter.

David Brier is a brand identity specialist, an award-winning package designer and branding expert. Besides creating the Defy-O-Meter, David is also the author of Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise. David's series of videos shed new light on effective, counter-intuitive branding in these videos and interviews. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel or request your own free copy of David's eBook, "The Lucky Brand, 10 Golden Rules of Branding to Outshine, Outperform and Outlast Your Competition" .

[Image: Flickr user Becca Peterson]

Add New Comment

25 Comments

  • David Glenn Taylor

    I respectfully disagree with just about everything you said here. Analyzing logos alone, outside of the context, is pointless, especially now. The major selling point of a ultra-simple logo is it's ability to carry "play," where a logo is actually encountered. We have to remember that you never encounter a logo alone. Even when it's printed alone, it's carrying a context (as on a t-shirt or a mug). This is where the real decisions are being made by the brand manager: where does the logo go and does THAT context fit within our brand spectrum. So the word "Gap" in Helvetica bold, printed on a t-shirt takes on the meaning that the product implies, not the other way around. If the CEO and the rest of the Gap executive team had stuck with it, it would have worked just fine. USA Today is already showing that... it's about commitment on the part of the client. 

  • Arrowsthruapples

    Arby's and Gap messed up. But the rest are fine. There is nothing wrong with a minimal logo. Some logos are minimal and some are not...I feel weird explaining that. It's like telling somebody some people are blonde and some are not; it's just the way it is. It's also like how...you can recognize Charlie Chaplin by hat and mustache alone. When you have a successful brand that has been around a long time, you can afford to edit down the logo, and that's what a logo is, a minimal mark of your company. It also suggests the company is "clear/clean...concise." This article...I get it, but it's silly.

  • Sds

    to much about your own personal preference here, the wendy's logo is better as is the microsoft as it goes with the brand logo it has on all its computers to remain consistent. Wendy's dropping hamburger means its diversifying away from its original product. 

  • Bea Stanford

    You are absolutely right David, the problem starts when companies see rebranding as a some kind of cosmetic refresher not a part of their business strategy. Great writing, I´m looking forward to the next post.

  • jerryketel

    I agree on all the choices except for USA Today. If you look at the context in which the circle is being used, I'd say it's the triumph of function over form. The logo is rarely used outside of the paper/website and the overall design of the paper itself is vastly improved. The typography of the logo is better overall. It's true that as a "mark', it fails, but as part of the overall redesign of the paper and the website, it's a great improvement.

  • SubQ

    Sorry, David, but for someone who calls himself a "branding expert" this is a very poor written piece. You completely seem to ignore that branding does not equal logo design when there's a context to take into consideration. A logo by itself might seem silly but once but its put into context things may change a lot. USA Today is a great example. At first glance the logo looks like a very lazy effort, but when you see how it fits into the entire newspaper layout, and look and feel it fits perfectly. So, again, to talk about logo rebranding without talking about the entire strategy you're missing most of the picture.

  • David Brier

    SubQ,

    Context is key and I do not ignore it.

    I simply gave my first impressions in the marketplace of the first ambassadors of any brand: the logo. Logos are the most visible and seen "ambassadors" of a brand, hence the focus on them in this piece.

    Sorry, but I don't see eye-to-eye with you on the USA branding.

    As a point of context, since I wrote the piece and have seen how Microsoft is integrating their new brand, I see the integration (which was not all released at the same time). So I can see value in the new logo now seeing the branding context and how it integrates with their user interface.

    We agree on context, yet that was not the focus of this piece, just on a trend where many of these global brands, in my opinion, are not taking steps forward and definitely losing site of their role in the bigger, noisier and louder marketplace. And their logos have been the most obvious victims.

  • WendyFan

    I'm not saying that the new Wendy's logo is great, but it's a huge improvement over the blocky, busy, weirdly-angled mess that they've used for decades. It's a logo with 8 words in it! What a mess!

    As for why the word "hamburger" is missing, the answer is obvious. Look at their menu. I eat at Wendy's all the time, but I haven't had one of their burgers in over 20 years. (I don't eat beef.) They have a big variety of chicken sandwiches and a nice variety of salads. I doubt that half their menu is about burgers.

    So Wendy's dropped the word "hamburgers" for the same reason that Apple Computer dropped "computer." It simply doesn't describe the business anymore!

  • David Brier

    I understand. And your point is valid. BUT if that was their goal, why did their Press Release state, "“In a move intended to signal its ongoing transformation into a higher-end hamburger chain..." THEIR words, not mine.

  • Xypho

    I just must be young. I think microsofts new logo fits the whole new style their pushing on windows. I've always thought their old logo was a bit to retro looking for a company trying to push the idea they have clean modern operating system. I also like the new Wendy's logo. It makes for a cleaner happier appearance which is the kind of vibe you want from a burger joint. The old logo always looked boxy, and dirty. Arby's is a disaster however. Looks like somebody got crazy with the word-art button in microsoft word. USA todays logo looked like AT&T's old logo (Their new logo is an improvement in my mind) and I think they don't want to have that old look associated with them. Newspapers already have a bad rap as being old school. They want to be more modern I give the new look a thumbs up.

    So really.. in my opinion Gap and Arby's should probably talk to the other guys logo designers.

  • Lauralainhowell

    You have mistakenly called Armin Vit's blog "Under Construction", the title is "Under Consideration".

  • grabra

    I have always thought the Arby's logo had, rather than a 10-gallon cowboy hat, a large penis, phallic symbol.  That's more what it looks like.

  • Addison Whitney

    Rebranding is, of course a viable tool to help elevate ones brand to a higher echelon or to help keep relevance. However, it obviously needs to be executed correctly. New and modern doesn't necessarily correlate to a happier customer. Sometimes, the older ways work- with a few tweaks here and there. www.addisonwhitney.com

  • Wayne

    It's amazing how many companies spend big money on stupid branding decisions. Do they ever show new logo concepts to ordinary people and get their reaction? Maybe the bad decisions are a result of inbreeding--agency and marketing people making all the decisions in a vacuum.

    The new Microsoft logo is OK to me; it's a riff on their Windows logo. The Wendy's logo, however, looks like it belongs on Etsy, not a burger joint.

  • ingo

    good article, david. however, there's a new big failure missing: ebay. the new logo is a typographic catastrophy with no statement. in fact, i think a lot of rebranding decisions are done at the ceo's home and there's no way to end the madness!

  • David

     Ingo, you're totally right. There are too many, so I picked one's that were most dramatic and were easier to follow for those not as visually oriented.

    Plus, I realized in the Arby's logo, another reason it fails: The old logo had one width for the stroke of the hat compared to the thickness of the Font, whereas the NEW one has ALL the strokes (from the font to the hat) being THE SAME! The only resolution? Add that completely out-of-place (and horribly executed) 3D effect.

    Thanks for your comment Ingo!