Branding Horror Stories

Branding horror stories. You read about them from time to time in the media and they generally lead to interesting discussions.

Always unintentional on the part of the marketer, but nevertheless damaging, they come in countless ways. This month, in the spirit of Halloween, we’ll be taking a look back at some frightful brand fiascos and hauntingly gruesome hiccups as we examine the inevitable backlash that resulted.

Chilling Corporate Identity Nightmares

Let us first examine one of the touchiest subjects, logo redesign. Corporate facelifts have been in vogue in recent years and they come about for various reasons. They may be implemented to refresh an outdated design, help shift public perception of a brand’s personality, to fit better within current trends, or perhaps due to a corporate merger or name change all together. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, many go astray.

The GAP Logo


The first casualty that you may remember from that fateful day in October 2010 is the now infamous GAP logo.

Birthed online October 4, 2010, the logo (that lasted for a mere 7 days) signified GAP’s transformation from “Classic Americana” to “Modern, Sexy, Cool” according to Louise Callagy, company spokesperson. The new identity was quickly the subject of much scrutiny and blasted by designers the world over. A website was created (and is still active) where you can create your very own Crap Logo. Given the rise in popularity of social media at that time, a satirical Twitter account for the logo was conceived.

Now this story gets even better.

GAP, rushing to the aid of its logo in light of the backlash took to the Facebook page on October 6 in a last ditch attempt at saving its 48-hour-old corporate mark.

“We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding!” said the post, “So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.”

GAP never followed through on the crowd sourcing (thank goodness) and less than 1 week later decided to pull the plug on their little logo baby.

“We’ve learned just how much energy there is around our brand, and after much thought, we’ve decided to go back to our iconic blue box logo.”

So yes, GAP returned to its original identity after much debate and backlash. Although, it should be noted that the company does still use the refreshed logo; they silkscreen it on the inside of some of their garments. Too stubborn to let it die, perhaps?

As a side note, crowd sourcing a logo (especially a company the size of GAP) is never a good idea. It’s bad practice as it devalues the experience, skill-set and education of professional designers. It is considered irresponsible for large corporations  to ask designers to work for free.




Think back to where you were during that fateful period when PepsiCo’s Tropicana line’s sales plunged 20% post-rebrand. And what’s worse? Orange juice rivals posted double-digit increases! So never mind the fact that this branding exercise upset a loyal consumer market, but it upset the brand’s bottom line as well.

This strut down the catwalk lasted a bit longer than GAP’s attempt, but not by much. The company scrapped the new packaging design after just two months in market.

The Tropicana Pure Premium line took the brunt of it. January 1 – February 22, 2009 saw the 20% dip that cost the brand tens of millions of dollars.

When a brand undergoes a refresh, it usually results in some short-term boost in market performance as the public takes note of the news and excitement surrounding the event. This was not the case this time around.

The New York Times reported, “Some described the new packaging as resembling ‘a generic bargain brand’ or a ‘store brand’.”

It would seem that thanks to the rapid reaction from PepsiCo, the Tropicana brand has re-established itself in the eyes of consumers. Although they lead the U.S. market today, their footing has never been quite as solid as it was prior to 2009 thanks to Minute Maid’s Simply Orange boost during those few months.

Grave Social Media Mishaps

Kenneth Cole #Cairo Fiasco

The designer took to Twitter back in 2011 to use a very serious global issue as a springboard to promote his high-fashion apparel.


It was seen as poor taste by many the world over. The people of Egypt were fighting for rights and freedoms and were clearly not concerned with a capitalist fashion company. It was considered exploitative as well as simply arrogant and ignorant on the part of Kenneth Cole. Perhaps #BoycottKC should have trended instead.

It would appear that Mr. Cole has yet to learn from this past Twitter demon, as he just recently made headlines again for making poor taste jokes on the sensitive issues of both gun control and the conflict in Syria.

Frozen pizza wasn’t #WhyIStayed in an abusive relationship

Many have witnessed the graphic elevator video of ex-NFL running back Ray Rice and his then fiancée. Shortly after that video surfaced, Twitter blew up with an outpouring of Tweets advocating an end to domestic violence, including some from victims themselves. Their purpose was to educate and inform the public about the very real dangers, fears, and challenges faced by those living in such a predicament. They rallied under the hash tag #WhyIStayed

Sadly, the social-media-ignorant, DiGiorno Pizza, are (like many marketers) guilty of piggybacking on trending hash tags to get eyeballs on its tweets. This resulted in them unknowingly making a comment in poor taste. No pun intended.



To be fair, once the erroneous tweet was discovered, the company not only quickly apologized for the tweet, but also fully admitted that they hadn’t researched what the trending hash tag was promoting, before crafting the witty tweet. We tip our hats to the DiGiorno brand and social media marketers for taking ownership of the mishap and offering a swift apology. Good recovery guys.

Creepy Cross Culture Boo-boos

As many of us know, adapting ideas and concepts into other languages can be challenging. But it’s not only language that we must be conscious of when communicating with foreign audiences, we must also be mindful of cultural beliefs and traditions.

This brief list is comprised of some unfortunate but playfully harmless mishaps.

1. Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA is dyslexic. When he named products himself, he needed to keep them easy to pronounce and remember. Was his dyslexia to blame for the notable mishap of calling a child’s bed “Gutvik”? In English it means nothing, but in German it refers to an activity not suitable for children, but results in children.

2. Wang, an American computer company couldn’t understand why its British locations were refusing to use its latest motto “Wang Cares”. It might be due to that fact that to British ears, this sounds too close to “Wankers”, slang term for… well maybe you best Google it yourself.

3. Now what is a company to do when choosing a name for their business or a new product? “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink), “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) were all flops in the German market. But why would that be, you ask? Well, we suspect that it may just be due to the fact that “mist” in German means dung/manure. I guess they’re mist out of luck.

So, Do It Right

In general, people are resistant to change, and any sort of re-branding is bound to conjure some criticism and negativity. However, with proper planning and a strong rationale and understanding of why a re-brand is undertaken and what the new brand represents can save your brand from being the next branding horror story.

Thinking of Resurrecting your Brand?

Don’t leave your branding and marketing efforts open to the potential pitfalls of becoming a horror story. Let the experts at Banfield help challenge and champion the growth of your brand, public image, or your next product launch.

Check out some of our successful case studies to see how we’ve helped numerous companies just like yours.

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