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There you go again, Facebook, …uhh, “Meta” now. Mark Zuckerberg can call it “rebranding”, but at best it is a “facelift”, – doesn’t do much if you are diagnosed with cancer.
The timing is not coincidental for Facebook’s announcement of their rebrand, while Facebook whistleblowers are disclosing thousands of pages about how Facebook has profited from algorithms designed to cause divisions, disinformation, and misinformation. (Facebook made $86 billion in profits last year and its social platforms are used by nearly 3.5 billion people.)
Questions for Mark Zuckerberg: Can a name change fix Facebook’s brand’s DNA? What is it with the way Facebook’s been operated that you must come face to face with, own up to, and fundamentally change, so that your “new” Meta will not repeat the same problems Facebook had?
Mark Zuckerberg claimed that it is in Facebook’s DNA to be in the “metaverse” of AR and VR, rather than a two-dimensional social media platform. In fact, Facebook is only one of many companies in this increasingly crowded metaverse. Companies such as Nvidia, Sony, Microsoft, Disney, Alibaba,…have been in AR and VR and the next generation of gaming, some longer and deeper than Facebook’s Oculus. (The digital metaverse world of AR, VR, avatars is said to reach $800 billion by the middle of this decade, and by 2030 that figure is expected to multiply to $2.5 trillion.)
Before analyzing Facebook’s rebranding, let us first study two legacy brands’ successful rebranding.
In 2021, Harley Davidson’s net worth is more than $5 billion. The brand is as American as apple pie and baseball.
But in the 1980s, the company was near bankruptcy. Its quality was declining, its negative brand image and messaging relating to motorhead gang members did not lead to great sales.
Amidst increasing competition from new foreign brands of motorcycles, Harley Davidson focused on two things to resurrect their brand:
1) improving quality and reliability of its motorcycles, and
2) CONTINUING (not ditching) its unique American classic heritage dating back to WWI, with a rebellious cultural trait.
Just like what it did in catering to GIs who returned home from WWII, by associating the Harley Davidson brand as a way for them to escape the suburban lifestyle, the company targeted yuppies to sell them the carefree lifestyle.
As former yuppies age into boomers, now Harley targets young millennial men and women. Again, the 100-year-old brand is continuing its original heritage and the user experience associated with freedom, excitement, counter culture, and a cult-like brand loyalty.
Harley Davidson’s CMO Mark-Hans Richer said: “The journey we’re on is about taking a strong brand equity centered in one customer type and growing that to many other customers, to scale that passion. The important thing is not to obsess with the logo. A brand is what it means in hearts and minds of customers.”
In January 2019, Dunkin’ Donuts transformed itself into a beverage-led, on-the-go modern brand, by linking Dunkin’ with beverages like cold brew coffee, nitro coffee and iced teas, unique products like Donut Fries, and emphasis on on-the-go mobile ordering, a simplified menu, and other space designs to meet the needs of mobile order consumers.
Even though the word “donuts” is dropped out of its logo, each Dunkin’ franchise restaurant is required to offer the most popular donuts as well as seasonal flavors and local favorites daily. As the #1 donuts retail restaurant in the US, Dunkin’ sells more than 2.9 billion donut treats annually.
While retaining its 70’s bright orange and hot pink colors and its iconic font, the company’s rebranding focused on improving the SUBSTANCE: speedily serving great coffee.
According to Dunkin’ Brands’ CEO and Dunkin’ U.S. President David Hoffmann, “Our new branding is one of many things we are doing as part of our blueprint for growth to modernize the Dunkin’ experience for our customers. From our next generation restaurants, to our menu innovation, on-the-go ordering and value offerings, all delivered at the speed of Dunkin’, we are working to provide our guests with great beverages, delicious food and unparalleled convenience. We believe our efforts to transform Dunkin’, while still embracing our incredible heritage, will keep our brand relevant for generations to come.”
“By simplifying and modernizing our name, while still paying homage to our heritage, we have an opportunity to create an incredible new energy for Dunkin’, both in and outside our stores,” said Tony Weisman, Chief Marketing Officer, Dunkin’ U.S. “We are bringing the iconic name Dunkin’ to the forefront in a bold way that brings to life how we refill optimism with each cup and bring fun, joy and delight to our customers each and every day.”
Notice these words used for the Dunkin’ experience: fun, joy, delight – it is the customer EXPERIENCE which the newly rebranded Dunkin’ is selling, just like what Harley Davidson is selling as their riders’ experience of excitement, freedom, counter culture, commoradeire.
Both Harley and Dunkin’ EVOLVED from their original DNA with a rebrand, instead of casting it away completely with a dramatic name change. They shed their old skin and grew upon the old foundation a new life. Their DNA did not mutate, while both brands underwent their own metamorphic evolution.
Mark Zukerberg’s approach of when-in-trouble-just-rebrand will NOT get Facebook out of the deep water of questionable and unethical behaviors at the cost of public interest and societal unity. So Mark, changing your name can only go so far. It does not get you out of your PR crisis and fundamental problems with ethics. It does not change your brand DNA. Getting a facelift will not cure cancer. What you called rebranding cannot be an easy shortcut to escape your own troubled waters. (It is also an insult to brand strategists and branding experts like myself.)
When you mutate your brand’s DNA, you get cancer. Think about the old brand Tiffany. It used to represent class and beauty, symbolized by Audrey Hepburn’s classic style. Fifty years later, it lost its soul, by cheapening both its style and price with metal ornaments worn by teenagers, and using Lady Gaga brandishing crude metal chains in its brand’s ads.
No surprisingly, Tiffany was acquired in January 2021 by the French luxury goods conglomerate, LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton), after LVMH was having second thoughts, tried to back out, and eventually haggled to pay a lower price to buy Tiffany & Co., after Tiffany sued LVMH to go forth with their original purchase offer.
Mark Zukerberg: be careful playing with your own brand DNA, – you risk losing your own identity and soul (if Facebook had one at all.)
Mark, calling “cancer” by a different name will not reverse its DNA mutation. There is no such thing as a “magic touch” of rebranding by a mere renaming. To rebrand, you must do the hard thing: make your “meta” into “metamorphosis”, a fundamental change of the ethics of Facebook. Take responsibility for all the harm Facebook has caused in dividing American society. Change your profit-first algorithm that has artificially and arbitrarily exaggerated one-sided views and even recommended people to join a group to only hear from similar-minded people, which have all deepened the divide in a civil democracy.
The kind of “meta” Mark Zuckerberg needs is metamorphic transformational change–not “metaverse” vs. “universe”, or even the “protoverse” vs. the “multiverse” can fix Facebook’s cancerous DNA. Time to do some serious chemotherapy; otherwise Meta will be repeating the same cycle of destruction to itself and to humanity.
The kind of branding or rebrand that WILL work, in short and long term, is to dig deeply and decode your brand’s true DNA – what your brand stands for. Then faithfully adhere to it, and relentlessly execute.
Good luck Facebook… “Meta”.
© Joane Z. Tan 2021
Edited by Susan Olson
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