Cotter Visual Synergist

Branding … Good And Bad

What makes one brand successful and another a failure? Think through these brand successes and failures and you will be able to see how the many variables of change contribute to their outcomes.

Branding Successes


Icons are built over time through consistent brand experiences, and once this status is reached a company can then minimalize a mark or identity system. Visual brand recognition is just that good with Starbucks. They dropped their brand name and the word ‘coffee’ from their logo. Broad brand awareness is needed if you are to remove a word mark and leave only the logo. That is, if you don’t want to confuse or lose customers. Starbucks was clever in keeping many of their iconic signifiers, and the result was a solid, refreshed visual identity (VI), which did not infringe upon the customer’s experience of the brand. More…


In the late 90s, Target was seen as just a discount retailer, much like Wal-Mart or K-Mart. By offering pared down versions of designer apparel and merchandise through exclusive deals with high-profile designers Target began to stand out from its competitors setting themselves apart with high-quality merchandise at lower prices. It now remains to be seen how and when they will recuperate from the credit card scandal which has tarnished their brand. Trust is at top of the brand list.


In 1997, Apple was dangerously close to bankruptcy. Today, stock prices have gone from $6 to $500+. What changed? They produce reliable and elegantly designed creative products which are enhanced by a strong visual identity. Apple articulates its brand from its products down to the store level experience. Their brand creates a positive experience all around for customers.                             More… here and here


In the late ’90s, UPS reminded customers of the ways UPS can meet their needs by replacing its slogan “Moving at the speed of business” with “What can brown do for you?” They created ads with characters like the “Mailroom Guy,” and the “CEO” to show that no matter where you are in the company hierarchy, UPS can help you. In 2001, UPS showed a profit margin that was roughly double FedEx’s.

UPS’s latest global slogan, “We [Heart] Logistics” is designed to highlight its position as a company that serves customers worldwide. UPS establishes a strong brand by using forward-looking slogans that tell customers they are continually adapting and providing new ways to meet their needs.

Lessons learned

The successes:  Acknowledge that a brand’s identity goes way beyond a logo – it’s about the experiences they offer. These experiences and brand signifiers weren’t altered to the point of being unidentifiable, thus making the transition easier for customers.

Branding Failures

When people are brand loyal, they are loyal to the product and its aesthetics. The danger of rebranding is that customers can be too attached to the old concept to accept any changes.

JC Penney rebrand

2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 were all years in which JCPenney sported a new logo. Sometimes a new logo reflects changes that are not necessarily better. The fact that the logo has changed this frequently tells you a bit more about the company than one might think. More…

Pepsi – Tropicana

In 2009, Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) changed their visual identity of their flagship product by replacing the image of an orange pierced with a straw to a picture of a glass of orange juice. They also implemented a vertical logo with a new typeface. Consumers complained that they found the product difficult to distinguish among the many varieties of Tropicana, and more importantly, very difficult to differentiate from other juice brands. It was reported that sales of the Pure Premium line dropped 20 percent between January 1st and February 22nd.

By the end of 2009, Tropicana reverted back to the old packaging, proving that they were listening. This is a good example of an iconic brand misjudging when a VI might be altered and, more importantly, to what extent. A VI overhaul has the power to be disruptive, and not necessarily in a good way. Sometimes, the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,’ rings true.

Pepsi – Logo rebrand

In 2008 Pepsi’s 11th new logo in its 110-year history was introduced. Five logos in 21 years, with the prior update being in 2002. this logo rebrand was not well-received and Pepsi was endlessly ridiculed for the amount spent and the Brand agency’s conceptual words around it which seemed too contrived.     More …


In 2010 the power of the internet forced Gap to retreat to its original logo just days after the launch of their rebrand. An interesting look at how the company was not afraid to admit they were wrong and listen to their audience.  More …


In 2000, BP updated its logo from a green shield to a green, yellow and white flower, adding the tagline ‘beyond petroleum’. The oil giant spent $7 million on brand research and $200 million in support of the rebranding. Environmental charities claimed it was spending more on rebranding than on research into renewable energy.

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster demonstrated the irony of BP’s green credentials. Greenpeace launched an embarrassing competition to redesign the BP logo. More …

New Coke

In 1985 “New Coke” was launched with a new formula in an effort to keep up with Pepsi. Consumers were unhappy with many US customers boycotting the “New Coke”. Within 3 months, they reintroduced Coke as Coke Classic which went on to outsell both New Coke and Pepsi.

Coke Color Change

In 2011, Coke withdrew a newly-branded can in the US. Focused on their $3 million pledge to the WWF to help save polar bears, the company launched a white can. Visually, it looked too similar to the Diet Coke alternative, and of course brand confusion set in, customers complained and within one month, the red can returned.


As of 2013 3M has been in existence for 111 years and has had 30 logo iterations! The most recent in 1978. That is an average of every 3.7 years. There is an undue need for change in this company that shows they have created their own brand confusion. More …

Lessons learned

The failures: Why change something that doesn’t need changing?

As you look around everyday you can see examples of successes and failures — I know you can pick them out.