Much as any early morning gym aficionado, I too tried to hit the bed when the night was still young. But the world of YouTube videos kept the sleep at bay for sometime and I found myself getting slowly immersed into the rich video essays and informative bites from TED and other science and history channels on the platform. This interested was almost at a point of waning when I stumbled across a brief three minute and three second video posted on a channel called "Bloomberg Quicktake: Explained", that talked about a recent corporate phenomenon called “Debranding.”
I needed to know more!
We have heard about branding. We have even heard about rebranding. The first one is primarily the practice of the development of the visual portion of a company; which includes adoption of a company logo, color schemes and even the definite or official font used to write the company’s name or even its letterheads and broader aspects such as the marketing style.
Rebranding refers to the changes a company may bring either to its name, logo, or even marketing style, and it can be something as minor as changing the color of a segment of the logo or something extreme such as completely renaming the entire company. One major and high-profile example of rebranding was seen with Apple Inc. which dropped the rainbow bars overlaid on the apple logo, and switching this in favor of a flat or chrome color scheme; but here is where rebranding blurs the line with Debranding.
One argument about Debranding is that, it is the complete removal of text from a product logo entirely, and retaining only the visual elements that are recognizable to consumers. However, the concept of Debranding has evolved into a wholly new form of branding strategy where companies are found to “overhaul” their entire visual identity. This may involve as mentioned earlier, the complete removal of the company’s or brand’s name from the logo, or even the logo itself getting a “makeover.”
Experts review this form of marketing is focused on establishing companies as more consumer-centric rather than corporate-centric – due to which this process is also sometimes referred to as “decorporation.”
Before the internet takeover, companies often had one major instruction for their respective logos; “make it bigger!” But with the technological advancements, the internet too has “constrained the dimensions of design.” There was a time when the smallest medium to which a company’s logo was put, was the business card its executives and top-brass used. Today, with a bevy of technological advancements to factor for, companies are forced to consider that their logos may no longer be confined to a business card as the smallest medium. In fact, today several corporations maintain a keen business strategy to present themselves on the internet; whether it is through their official websites or mobile phone applications. This came with the challenge for companies to redirect their attention to how their logos will appear, say if it were to be shown in a smartphone screen as the icon for an application; or how it will comply to the smaller dimensions within a smartphone web browser.
This is where Debranding is utilized!
Experts argue that there are three major types of Debranding, which are ‘modern debranding’, ‘decorporatizing’ and ‘transitioning into generic’.
This type of debranding is faithful to its widely accepted general definition, with one extra element added. It ensures that the original brand identity is ensured with respect to the local brands a company acquires. The main motive behind this type of debranding is to make the brand or the company look less aggressive, and allow for companies to establish local outlets and branch out their brand into newer territories.
This the more contemporary and major type of debranding, which involves the removal or alteration to the brand’s name or logo; which is done either temporarily or at times even permanently. The motivation for opting to this method of debranding is in its name itself. Usually such initiatives are strong, visible and at times gallantly flaunted through marketing campaigns. Companies do this to address their permanent transformation to the consumer base, and showing that they were repositioning themselves to become more consumer friendly.
Have you noticed the logos of Apple, KFC and even Pringles have actually become very simple; the designs are minimalistic in their aesthetics while the use of heavy colors, shades and gradiences have been entirely dropped in favor of flat color schemes. This is called ‘transitioning into generic’ which companies go through for a myriad of reasons. One reason for this could be that the brand is attempting to draw attention from some element in its name, and another reason for this is to accommodate the brand’s image and design into modern technological advancements such as smartphones, tablets and other digital platforms.
Simplifying intricate or complex logo designs allow companies to better utilize their brand identity in various platforms without having to limit themselves within any set design confinements; it also grants these brands a sense of flexibility given these logos can easily be used as application icons, pathfinder icons on websites and in other similar instances.
The concept of debranding utilized in professional capacity can be traced all the way back to the 1980s when American consumers shifted from using name "brands" to more affordable and generic alternatives that were regarded as "no-name" brands. This drastic shift was observed largely in household products when generic brands captured about two percent of supermarket sales in the States.
By 1981, generic brands collectively held four to 10 percent of the product category sales in which they were the strongest, while in certain instances their control rose as high as 16 percent. This sudden momentum in generic brands posed significant threat to the profitability of major brands; which pushed the more well-known and well-established brands to explore other possibilities to recapture the losing market momentum.
As such, Nike became the first and most prominent brand to seek the route of debranding and decorporatizing when it debranded its logo back in 1995. This trend picked up in popularity and in 2011 globally popular coffee chain, Starbucks removed its name from the logo while only retaining the center image – the reason for this was to make Starbucks appear more like a local coffee shop.
One of the most successful such initiatives was led by Coca-Cola in 2013, when it took the major step of replacing its usual branding. Coca-Cola debuted its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign in which its main brand identity was replaced with 150 of the most popular names in the United Kingdom. The campaign proved to be successful, with many claiming Coca-Cola managed to hit the ball out of the park with this bold move and saw consumption surges by 7 percent among young adults, and earned the brand more than 18,300,000 media impressions.
Now the pegged question is; why are some of the most renowned brands shedding the details on their iconic logos? The answer is simple; making their logos ‘mobile-first’ designs. When we say mobile-first; it means that the companies are opting to remove all the unnecessary or extra elements that make it difficult for these logos to be placed within small icon templates – thus the removal of most of elements.
This also leads to a contemporary requirement called "pixel pressure" which forced designers to return or revert to the two-dimensional look. The flat color approach is easier to register on the eyes when viewed through digital screens, while the use of vibrant yet flat color, dropping the use of gradience or sometimes applying gradience depending on the context of the logo, were proved to be more "mobile friendly".
One Bloomberg reporter claims this marketing phenomenon represents that brands were returning to “sobriety after a spasm of software-rebutted intoxication.”
The reporter further notes that this concept of debranding also represented that the companies or larger brands were seeking a sense of maturity through their simpler design approach. The reporter comments that many of the biggest brands “were born in a spirit of playful innocence that burst forth from their early branding” and that by seeking this simpler, more "mature" outlook of their respective companies identities also represent the internal and external evolution and growth of these companies.