People naturally resist change, especially in their beloved brands, but sometimes those changes go so far beyond inconvenience for consumers that they erupt into public relations nightmares. In the worst cases, brands backpedal. Here are seven of those rebrandings, all with various degrees of unfortunate consequences.
Coca-Cola's Special Holiday Edition White Cans

When Coca-Cola released its special Holiday edition white can, they didn't predict the mass eruption of anger and confusion it would create among loyal customers. Many confused the white cans with the silver Diet Coke cans, prompting one unsatisfied customer to write on Twitter: "PEOPLE! Don't be a victim!" Deli owners reported that people were returning open white Coke cans because they had confused it with Diet Coke. After only a month, Coca-Cola announced that it was pulling its white cans and replacing it with the familiar classic red. Although this mild snafu hasn't hurt Coca-Cola or its sales, it shows how ingrained branding is to most people. Most people identify red with Coca-Cola. On Twitter, many dissatisfied consumers even thought Coke tasted differently in a white can, which opens up a whole branding psychology door Coca-Cola might not have been aware of.

Gap Redesigns Its Logo

In an attempt to refresh the brand, in October 2010 Gap tossed its classic blue logo in favor of a new, modern design. Unfortunately, as soon as the new logo was revealed, there was a firestorm of criticism. Critics thought the new logo looked amateurish and didn't match the elegance of the original logo. Even a fake Twitter account emerged from the backlash, tweeting such gems as, "This is what happens when you take a company field trip to a screening of Helvetica. Damn you Gary Hustwit!"

While others, thinking they could create a better design, started unofficial redesign contests. Surprised by the passionate response (and looking to exploit all the designers jumping to redesign the logo for free), Gap took to their Facebook account where they wrote a baffling response calling the new logo a "crowd sourcing project" and asked for free design help. But by then the damage was already done and their crowdsourcing efforts looked more like a cry for help than a smart marketing strategy. A few days later, Gap scrapped everything and announced on their Facebook page that they were returning to the old logo. "We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community,” they wrote on their Facebook page. By undermining their social media presence, Gap turned what could have been a smart marketing campaign into an embarrassing mistake.

Netflix Rolls Out Qwikster

Netflix was already on thin ice with customers when they announced their 60% price hike in July. As thousands of subscribers began to flee, Netflix cofounder and CEO Reed Hastings posted an apology on the official Netflix blog and tried to explain why the price hike was important. "My greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming," he wrote. He decided the solution to this conundrum was to spin off a separate DVD-only company called Qwikster. Customers were furious at the idea and found the whole concept, maintaining separate profiles, separate bills, and separate queues on two separate sites, confusing. "I actually defended Netflix to my friends during the price hike uproar. But this... This is just idiotic," said a commenter on Netflix's blog. The furor even crossed over into pop culture with Saturday Night Live poking fun at Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a skit where Hastings (played by Jason Sudeikis) apologizes for the price hike and then continues to offer a list of baffling and absurd solutions. Instantly Netflix went from being an untouchable giant to a punch line.

It appeared Netflix had completely forgotten that their old business model, which allowed flexibility between DVDs and streaming, was what customers loved. Moving all DVDs to Qwikster and making Netflix streaming-only was the equivalent of Netflix taking an axe and cutting off its left hand. Needless to say, the company announced a few weeks later that they were scrapping Qwikster all together. But the damage was already done. After undergoing a public relations nightmare that sent more than 800,000 subscribers fleeing, in October Netflix's stock price plummeted to its lowest point in more than 20 months and continues to fall as the backlash continues.

NBC Brings Jay Leno To Prime Time

When Jay Leno stepped down as host of The Tonight Show, NBC wasn't quite ready to let him go just yet. After all, Leno had always been a successful ratings juggernaut, and NBC thought they could carry that success into prime time. In September 2009, The Jay Leno Show premiered, which echoed The Tonight Show format except it came on earlier at 10:00. The show was universally panned by critics and performed terribly in the ratings. But NBC maintained that they never expected The Jay Leno Show to echo the success of The Tonight Show. Leno's show was cheap to produce and didn't need to pull in the same type of ratings NBC's expensive scripted dramas needed.

Unfortunately, NBC didn't predict the backlash from their affiliates, who, because of low ratings from Leno's show, were also experiencing low ratings in what was called the “Leno effect.” This forced NBC to make a drastic decision, to cut Leno's show from an hour to 30 minutes and then bump the show from 10:00 to 11:35, pushing The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien to 12:05. This ignited a late night war and made NBC look like an incompetent circus. After battling for several weeks, O'Brien left the network, giving Leno his old spot back at The Tonight Show. Although everything was back to how it was, the public criticisms against NBC not only damaged the network's image but also affected its ratings. And in September 2009, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker (who served as a public punching bag throughout the whole ordeal) stepped down.

Gawker Media Redesigns Its Sites

When Gawker Media decided to update its network of sites, they tossed out the old blog format they were known for in favor of a sleek magazine-like layout. When the new sites launched in February, unique page views reportedly dropped by almost half. Although the new design offered the option to switch between the new magazine layout and a more "blog-like" layout, many users simply couldn't get used to the change. "Because it can't be said enough: the person responsible for the Gawker redesign is a sadistic criminal that should be beaten in public," someone posted on Twitter. "Is there a place I can go bitch to them about it? I'd try their website but I don't know how to use it," said another.

In a blog post, Gawker founder Nick Denton admitted that, "We got ahead of ourselves--and now we’re rowing back." They fixed several of the biggest problems with the layout (for example, fixing the scrolling sidebar, making blog view more obvious and fixing comment notifications). Their traffic has been steadily increasing, rising from 200,000 visits to about 450,000 visits, according to Quantcast, but due to how sloppy the redesign was handled, many loyal visitors have yet to return.

Pampers New "Dry Max" Diapers

In late 2009, Pampers introduced new and improved versions of their popular Swaddlers and Cruisers diapers. The new "Dry Max" diapers were thinner and contained a special absorbent gel to help improve leaks. But as soon as the new diapers hit shelves, many parents took to Facebook in anger with criticisms that "Dry Max" diapers cause diaper rash. The "Pampers Bring Back the Old Cruisers/Swaddlers" Facebook page has more than 10,000 fans. The controversy also generated several cross action lawsuits from parents and ignited a federal investigation into whether the diapers were causing "chemical burns." Pampers' effort at damage control, which consisted of shifting the blame to parents, was seen as insensitive to most. "Unfortunately, diaper rash is very common, and sometimes severe, regardless of the diaper used," the company said in a press release. In June 2011, Pampers settled its lawsuit with parents, agreeing to pay $1,000 to each of the 59 parents in the case and cover the estimated $2.73 million in attorney's fees. In compliance with the settlement, Pampers changed how it makes its Cruisers and Swaddlers line and has removed the words "Dry Max."

Tropicana Redesigns Its Packaging

In early 2009, Tropicana scrapped its classic "orange with a straw sticking out" image in favor for a more simplistic design of just a tall glass of orange juice. Customers thought the new packaging was "ugly" and "generic," and they took to the Internet to angrily voice their opinions. Shortly after the backlash, Tropicana announced they were switching back to the old design. Tropicana admitted they had underestimated how loyal and passionate their customers were and decided to go back to the old design not because of dwindling sales but to appease the hardcore shopper. "Sometimes you land in a great place, and sometimes you don't," Pepsi's CMO, David Burwick told Fast Company. "And when you don't, you need to find a better place. Fast."

Lessons In Risk, Reward, And Failure From 7 Brand Disasters

A changed font, different colors, and even an additional service can erupt into public relations nightmares for brands. The strong ones might even try to ride out the initial hate. Some backpedal like mad. Here are seven examples of rebranding gone wrong—and the circumstances surrounding the companies' decisions to weather the storm of controversy and boldly plow ahead or return to their safe and sturdy old images.

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