Devina Joshi and Anushree Bhattacharyya

Rules of Rebranding

Rebranding is never an easy exercise. afaqs! speaks to stalwarts in the industry to figure out the top 10 things marketers and agencies need to be careful about while recreating a brand's image.

Rules of Rebranding
When a girl walks into a salon for a makeover, there is a reason. She may have taken a hard look at herself and decided that, for too long, she has been sporting the 'same look'. Alternatively, the 'influencers' and 'stakeholders' around her may have prompted the change.

When a brand decides to behave differently from its previous avatar, it becomes a little like the girl in the salon. Rebranding throws up an opportunity to junk the values a company doesn't wish to have and adopt ones that it would like to include for the right reasons.

Indian brands have witnessed a spate of rebranding. From Taj Mahal Tea or Air India some years ago to Videocon, Airtel, Hero MotoCorp, Star Plus or Vodafone recently, many brands have felt the need some time or the other. And sometimes, things have gone wrong too.

afaqs! lists out the 10 factors that a marketer must adhere to so that a rebranding exercise doesn't go haywire.

Have a solid reason

Rules of Rebranding
ebranding doesn't happen because someone thought it up one fine morning. It can involve as functional a reason as a change in name because of acquisitions, realignments, breaking up of joint ventures or portfolio rationalisation - a need to consolidate many brands and align all offerings behind fewer names to minimise spends.

In some cases, the attempt is to leverage on the equity of a master brand. The rebranding of the tea brand Agni to Tata Agni is an example. Sometimes, it may be about infusing energy into the brand - NIIT did it with the rebranded avatar of its GNIIT programme and the 'Cloud Campus' communication.

In most cases, though, there is a need to keep up with changing times, emerging competition or changing consumers. At a deeper level, rebranding could be an equation of wanting to shake off the old 'baggage'.

A brand needs to be careful and avoid the trap of attempting to rebrand if a drastic positioning change is all it needs. When Cadbury realised, in the early '90s, that it made sense to also appeal to the adult audience (common wisdom had it that only children eat chocolates) it changed its advertising to reflect this, but did not actually rebrand itself.

Listen to consumer speak

Rules of Rebranding
f a brand isn't undergoing a re-christening from within, it is probably doing so on a direct prompt from its consumers.

For instance, in the late '80s, Charminar Filter cigarettes became 'Charms' once the brand realised that students in metros had shortened the name to Charms for the coolness quotient while rolling the word in their mouths. Similarly, Federal Express renamed itself to FedEx on the basis of the popular 'nick name' people used for it.

Watch the environment

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
owards the end of the '80s, Indian advertising gradually shifted from being 'Westernised' to a more rooted, Indian form of communication. KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India, recalls his time at JWT Bengaluru, when he worked on the Taj Mahal Tea rebranding in 1987.

From ads featuring model Malvika Tiwari and aerobics, with a westernised look and feel coupled with a tagline Ha! Taj!, the brand changed to Wah, Taj!, with the now trademark tabla and Zakir Hussain.

It was a risk to launch a Hindi campaign at that point considering that Taj Mahal was a premium, lifestyle product. But the move proved successful as it reflected the way cultural dynamics were changing in the country. It did the job of bringing out the analogy of consistent blending of the tea done after hours of work with the consistency and hours of practice required in playing the tabla.

Don't change what worked

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
ebranding always involves striking that delicate balance between the past and the future. In most cases, it is pivotal for a brand to not lose its legacy. The opposite holds true as well. If a brand has not enjoyed the kind of equity it would like, perhaps it ought to stand for something else. For instance, Fiat Motors may not like to dwell much on its setbacks gone by, but its past tends to haunt the brand.

An example of holding on to a legacy would probably be that of Jet Airways. When it re-launched itself in a brand new avatar as an international airline, it didn't change its decade-old logo. That was probably a tough call to make. Several other changes took place - the yellow ribbon branding, a change in uniforms for the staff, some new service offerings and a more contemporary visual identity, but the logo was retained.

When Hutch became Vodafone, it took a rather big risk by retaining the 'pug', so popularly associated with the earlier brand, in an effort to provide familiarity to consumers that its core values stay the same. Some brands may even resort to the tried and tested technique of saying 'Formerly known as...'.

The key to successful rebranding is to not change what works for the brand. For instance, airline brands are not likely to let go of symbols that resemble nationality, such as flags or colours because these are a reflection of the airline's origins (where it is flying from, so to speak), which adds to equity and the trust factor. Hero went halfway with that when the partnership with Honda ended.

As Anil Nair, CEO and managing partner, Law & Kenneth India, remarks, in the case of Hero MotoCorp the idea was to carry the strength of the older brand Hero Honda, while communicating the strong Indian-ness of the newer avatar. "What we call it is recalibration to new reality - the new identity borrows heavily from the past," he says. "So from Desh ki Dhadkan we changed to Hum hain hero for further building on the leadership quotient."

Let the idea be seen

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
any brands feel more comfortable going with a tangible signal of change rather than simply say "I am changing". Onida was a brand that had an enviable (no pun intended) store of value. But with international electronic giants coming in, the brand had to strengthen its tech credentials. The typography of Onida was not changed drastically. It was just placed in a red box with rounded corners, which added the cues of modernity without affecting the core of the brand too much. However, the dropping of its mascot - the devil - generated a hue and cry.

In the case of Shoppers' Stop, the rebranding witnessed a change in terms of positioning ('Start something new) and a logo redesign that had the words placed in a square instead of the usual oval-like shape it had. This was done for modernity, although some loyalists may feel it was fine in its earlier avatar.

If a positioning statement has worked for ages for a brand, the same positioning can simply be reinterpreted, tweaked or changed. Usually, it is changed because rebranding is a humungous step that involves a refreshment of the brand thought.

Brand consultant Kiran Khalap of chlorophyll has an interesting take on this - rebranding must strictly mean changing the very idea behind the brand, and not just an execution exercise. "Rebranding is often mistaken for changing only the most visible expression, that is, the logo," he says.

The original name of IBM was Computing, Tabulating, Recording Company. Changing the name to IBM meant a change in the very idea driving the company. So rebranding can be achieved without changing the most visible expression. When IBM changed from a predominantly computer manufacturing company to an information technology and services company, it made no drastic changes in its logo to announce this re-branding.

Take the consumer along

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
hen UTI Bank became Axis Bank, it was crucial for it not to unsettle its existing - and happy - consumer base. This led to the 'Twins' campaign, which told the world that, "everything else is the same, only the name is different". The idea here was one of reassurance. What this also did was to rub off onto the younger lot who had stayed away from UTI Bank because they thought it was a public sector bank and possibly had negative associations with the name 'UTI'. Over time, the rechristened Axis Bank started appealing to this group as well.

Axis Bank achieved a difficult but essential task by using conventional media (television, outdoor and print) as well as its ATMs, bills and branch premises to communicate effectively, and in time, to its existing customers.

"It's a little like gathering your employees and breaking some news to them before it becomes breaking news in the outside world. It's a case of the medium being a large part of the message," remarks Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, Ogilvy India, on how important it is for the brand to behave consistently in its rebranded avatar not just in its communication, but also in reality at the counter, and in the behaviour of back end and sales people.

Consolidate target groups

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
brand makeover isn't thought in isolation. The task of dressing up - or looking different - is to impress. As Agnello Dias, co-founder and chief creative officer, TapRoot India, puts it, a change in the 'target group' is almost always the only reason why rebranding is done. In some cases, it is also a change of stakeholders. "Sometimes, brands start getting taken for granted over a period of time and consumers need to be made to look at them again in a new light," he remarks.

Take the classic example of Marlboro. It started off as a women's cigarette brand, but with time, realised that it needed to talk to men. That's how the Marlboro Man was born. The word 'Man' in its communication was thrown in to underline the message. The brand had to be restaged practically from scratch and an entirely new target group was found.

The danger in consolidating target groups is that some times, unintentionally, brands end up exchanging the old target group for a new one. The biggest risk here is alienating the existing core. Airtel has taken this risk in its new campaign released recently.

For long, Airtel was considered a mass brand. It is neither as young as Docomo, nor did it have an elitist appeal like Vodafone. Now, it is trying to embrace both these qualities. Some industry experts opine that last year's rebranding by the telecom major wasn't as much of a rebranding effort - despite a new logo - as much as this year's manifestation with the 'Har ek dost' youthful communication.

The brand is behaving differently in this commercial and this communication is perhaps a reflection of the way society is evolving as well, with more nuclear families evolving and therefore, friends becoming more of your family than actual family. Whether this works in the long run is yet to be seen.


It is not always that consumers - or even stakeholders - accept a makeover wholeheartedly. Here are two examples that caused much heartburn.


Until the liberalisation of the airline industry in the early '90s, Indian Airlines enjoyed a monopoly in India's domestic air transport. After liberalisation, many private air carriers entered the Indian domestic airline industry and began gaining more and more market share. IA's bureaucratic management style caused it additional problems.

In December 2005, the airline was rebranded as 'Indian', in an effort to revamp for launching an IPO. However, this move was widely under the scanner for apparently being too 'cosmetic', as apart from a widely publicised logo change, the service offering and ground reality remained pretty much the same.

On February 26 this year, Indian ceased operating under its own brand and is now Air India.


Five years ago, one of India's biggest business houses, Reliance - Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-ADAG), unveiled a brand new logo as part of its 'corporate identity' makeover and roped in mega endorser Amitabh Bachchan for its corporate ad film.

The makeover gave R-ADAG a new symbol, the 'Reliance Apex', as also corporate colours blue and red, devised by branding professionals in the company along with global consultant Landor and Prophet.

However, this exercise came in for criticism. Some saw the logo as too simplistic. Others felt that it did not befit a brand like Reliance.

However, as brand consultant Harish Bijoor puts it, if a brand has deep pockets, scale and a high decibel campaign backing the rebranding effort, consumers land up accepting the effort by default in the long run.

Communicate clearly

Rules of Rebranding
hat has changed? Is the change inside the pack? Is it outside? These are vital questions that need clear answers.

When Britannia revamped itself, it didn't drastically veer away from its offering. It simply launched new variants for some products and new packaging for some others. One could argue about the need for rebranding in such a scenario. But, often, a brand 'refresh' could be an equation of market forces.

With its new packaging and variants, the company managed to excite the marketing, sales, and production people and trade channels. They in turn excited the consumer. "If you're excited, you can excite others, and the impulse category anyway thrives on rebranding," observes Sridhar aka Pops of Leo Burnett.

Proclaim the change

Rules of Rebranding
ebranding is best executed simultaneously across markets. The interim transition period when the brand is neither here nor there needs to be kept as short as possible.

Transparency is paramount too. It is of no use pretending that the brand is not changing when it is.

Furthermore, feels Dias of TapRoot India, in no other aspect of marketing or branding is prior market research more important and necessary than in rebranding.

Consider the reasons, again

Rules of Rebranding
Rules of Rebranding
few years ago Coca-Cola launched the 'new Coke', a rebranded avatar. But this turned out to be a product, as well as communication, disaster globally. There were protests and the old Coke was brought back.

Similarly, when Air India changed its symbol from the Maharaja to the Sun, Parliament was disrupted as members raised questions about the violation of a 'brand that stands for nationality'. The Maharaja was reinstated as part of the brand image. In the case of global clothes label major GAP, there were protests outside shops in Singapore against its rebranded avatar. Back came the old logo.

Rebranding disasters are common, and it ought to be ensured that the exercise is being done for the right reasons. As Khalap puts it, the risk is non-relevance: the new idea that will drive the brand must be checked through research with stakeholders. "Look at Hewlett Packard which is becoming a products plus services brand. Earlier, imaging and printing products brought the biggest share of profits, now services do," he says, "But will the brand actually stand up against brands with stronger service connotations? I don't know."

"The big risk is that a healthy brand could lose its franchise and end up poorer than where it was," chuckles Mohit Hira, chief marketing officer, career building solutions, NIIT. He adds that adequate understanding of a consumer's state of mind and relationship with the brand is one way of doing things, as is a high level of operational planning to roll out the changed brand identity across all touch points.

To sum up, reassurance, consistency and communication are the keys to successful rebranding. That encompasses everything from a tweaking of the logo to a change in name. Its intention often is to tell core consumers that all the good things of the old brand will continue and to attract but with the added promise of a better, more contemporary brand, in sync with the times and with their needs.

(Based on interviews with Agnello Dias, co-founder and chief creative officer, TapRoot India, Airtel spokespersons, Anil Nair, CEO and managing partner, Law & Kenneth India, B Karthik, GM, corporate brand management and business transformation, Mahindra & Mahindra, KV Sridhar, NCD, Leo Burnett India, Kiran Khalap, co-founder, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, Mohit Hira, CMO, career building solutions, NIIT, Sanjay Gupta, COO, STAR India, Saumitra Karnik, VP and ECD, JWT, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, Ogilvy South Asia and Vikram Grover, head, marketing, Tata Global Beverages).

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