White Coke Cans and 5 Rebranding Disasters


There are few more iconic marketing images than those famous red cans of Coca-Cola, so you'd think them crazy if they changed them, right? They'd no more change the colour than reformulate the contents, surely (oh, hang on...).

But that's what's just happened, as Christmas-themed white cans of Coke rolled out across the US a few weeks ago. What, white? I mean, it was Coca-Cola who popularised the red Santa in the first place, back in 1931 — before that, the colour of his coat was somewhat variable.

But the white ones haven't gone down well, and are being, er, canned, before the festive season has even arrived. Part of the problem is that the white colour is too close to the famous silver of Diet Coke, and blubber-conscious consumers have been accidentally grabbing helpings of sugary nastiness rather than the chemical sweeteners they crave.

That, and the fact that reaching for the red can is practically a Pavlovian instinct for millions.

But what other branding disasters have there been in corporate history? Well, the obvious one, alluded to above, was the major clanger that was dropped in the form of New Coke in 1985. But there have been quite a few around the globe.

Fly the flag

In a horrendous misjudgment in 1996, British Airways rebranded its fleet and got rid of the Union Jack on its tail-fins -- to try to look more "international".

Considered unpatriotic, the move came at a disastrous time. Transatlantic aviation was under intense competition, with Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic snapping at the heels of BA. And the Union Jack was a big plus for American customers, who love their quaint British ephemera, and ditching it had the effect of anonymising the planes.

But surely the most hurtful effect of the blunder was that it handed BA's beardy rival an unprecedented PR coup, which he made full use of -- it didn't take long before Virgin's jumbos were proudly sporting their own Union Jacks and stealing the "Fly the flag" slogan.

Stalwart posties

Think "Post Office" and what comes to mind -- I mean, other than misdirected, delayed, and lost letters? The image of the brave postie struggling through all weathers to deliver the mail, and a world-leading tradition that harks back to the days of Sir Rowland Hill himself.

What would you do with such a precious brand were you in charge in 2001? Change it to "Consignia", that's what. Unsurprisingly, the name didn't last.

New Ken

How could anyone mess with the clean-living image that is Barbie and Ken? That's what Mattel did, to much amusement, in 1993.

The company has been updating the looks of the legendary Barbie since her introduction in 1959, bringing her into line with what each generation sees as a role model for successful young women who still like a bit of fun.

The same goes for her perennial plastic boyfriend, Ken, but the "New Ken" quickly became an embarrassment. Keen to bring him into the swinging nineties, Mattel gave him a revamp that included a string t-shirt, purple leather, and an earring.

Quickly dubbed "Gay Ken", which was not what the mums and dads of conservative America wanted to see, and New Ken was soon discontinued and recalled.

The shop with the spotty yoof

One howler that hasn't properly unfolded yet lies at the hands of Dixons Retail. Their shops didn't have the best reputation for expert guidance, though at least everyone knew the name and where they were, but a change was thought to be best.

And they went for Currys.digital. Now, who goes round saying they've just been to "Currys dot digital"? Nobody -- people still call it Dixons, or "You know, the shop that used to be Dixons, whatever it's called now".

Even a brand that's not best in class is worth more than a stupid name that few can remember and fewer actually use.

And finally...

And talking of branding failures, who can forget Gerber's cultural blunder in Africa? The company was surprised when its tins of baby foods, sporting images of happy smiling tots on the labels, sold badly.

It turns out that, due to few people speaking English and there being such a large number of languages spoken across the continent, all the other manufacturers showed pictures of the contents on their tins!

Have you got any good examples of failed rebrandings? Let us know below...

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