Two of the digital world’s most potent brands are getting a revise. According to a new story by The Information’s Alex Heath, Facebook will rebrand Instagram and WhatsApp as “Instagram From Facebook” and “WhatsApp From Facebook,” respectively. A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed Heath’s reporting and explained that the company wants “to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”
To be more specific, Heath says that the switch was borne of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s frustration with the fact that the company he founded doesn’t get enough credit for the popularity of Instagram and WhatsApp. It’s true that plenty of fans of those apps aren’t paying attention to who owns them: Heath references two 2018 surveys that found more than half of Americans were unaware of their connection to Facebook. But that arms’-length relationship has long been considered an asset for everyone involved. A few years ago, as teenagers decided that Facebook was no longer cool, the story goes, they showed their disapproval by abandoning it—in favor of Instagram.
In the past, the independence of Facebook’s subsidiaries was more than skin deep. After acquiring Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, the company left the startups’ founders in charge, encouraged them to preserve their own cultures, and generally seemed content with their brands remaining self-contained even if many back-office operations—from ad sales to server infrastructure—were provided by the mothership. But now Instagram and WhatsApp’s founders have all quit, with unhappiness over meddling by Facebook playing either an explicit or reported part in their defections. And while details remain sparse, Mark Zuckerberg has been waxing visionary about a new era in which Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are all more tightly integrated into a user experience that spans all three services.
Even before such integration is obvious, Facebook is prepping for it. Heath’s report on The Information says that the Instagram team working on that service’s Direct private messaging features is being folded into the group responsible for Facebook’s Messenger service–an act of consolidation that would have been unlikely in years past.
It’s hard to understand their motivation for this other than to assume they simply don’t understand that Facebook’s brand is dead. It would be more advisable for them to be changing the corporate name of Facebook to instagram. https://t.co/5DZuWcOoCH
— Brent Vanderbrook (@vanderbrook) August 2, 2019
The Twitterverse’s gut reaction to the rebrand has been a snarky thumbs-down, which isn’t a shocker. (Some raised the question of whether Facebook is trying to fuse its components before antitrust investigators can break them apart.) But the new naming convention may be of limited long-term significance. After all, teeming masses of actual human beings aren’t going to start dutifully referring to “Instagram From Facebook” or “WhatsApp From Facebook.” At best, they will pay marginally more attention to the two apps’ Facebook affiliation.
And in the tech world, branding decisions that stem from overarching corporate strategies don’t have a track record of sticking. More than a decade ago, Microsoft went through a period when it slathered the Windows brand on top of its online efforts, which led to such ungainly product names as “Windows Live Search” and “Windows Live Hotmail.” They lasted only until other priorities rose to the top, whereupon Windows Live Search became Bing and Windows Live Hotmail became Outlook.com. The chances that anyone—including Facebook—will be talking about “Instagram From Facebook” and “WhatsApp From Facebook” in a few years are slight at best.