Changing the face of a brand is not for the faint of heart. Without having an intimate knowledge of your target audience, you run the risk of alienating the very people who keep you float.

A brand is a complex blend of elements that work together to stimulate the senses and evoke emotion. These intimate connections create feelings of comfort, familiarity and nostalgia, which is why changing a brand’s identity can be so jarring if not done with care.

Why we believe that every brand has the right, and often the necessity, to undergo evolution, there are enough case studies on botched rebranding efforts to wave a caution flag to anyone looking to embark on a substantial overhaul.

As a rule of thumb, heritage brands have a harder time with even the slightest tweaks to elements like a logo or tagline, while younger companies seem to bounce back from even the most disastrous mistakes.

Over the years we have seen many major brands undergo drastic facelifts, some for good reason, and others for no apparent reason at all. Some hit it out of the park, and others failed miserably; however, in either case we commend them for recognizing that transformative change is essential to maintaining loyalty and positive perception.

Here are some examples that show how 10 iconic brands chose to approach evolution. Some had more success than others, but there are lessons to be learned from each example.

5 Of The Most Successful Rebranding Campaigns Ever

1. McDonalds – The aftermath of the notorious documentary “Supersize Me” led McDonalds to unveil a healthier menu, and a revamped tagline: “I’m Loving It”. This helped to avert negative attention the company was receiving due to its unhealthy menu options.

2. Pabst Blue Ribbon – “PBR” was once at the bottom of the barrel in the beer industry. My how times have changed. Head to any Brooklyn watering hole and you’ll be surrounded by scenesters sipping Pabst Blue Ribbon from the can. A resurgence in the brand in the US prompted PBR to set up shop in China, where it brews German malt beer in aged whiskey barrels. “Blue Ribbon 1844”, as it’s called, sells for $40+ for a 750ml bottle. Not too shabby.

3. UPS – You may recall the “What can brown do for you” television commercials featuring quirky personalities like the “CEO” and the “Mailroom Guy”. This was UPS wiping the slate clean of the dreadfully boring “Moving at the Speed of Business” tagline and associated campaigns that ran for many years. The strategy worked, and in 2001 UPS reported double the profit over the previous year.

4. Walmart – When Target came on the scene and began stealing Walmarts more “sophisticated” customers, Walmart fired back by swapping its “Always Low Prices” tagline with “Save Money. Live Better.” By shifting the focus from cheap products to improving quality of life, Walmart experienced a major resurgence.

5. Old Spice – For over a decade prior to 2010, Old Spice was largely relegated to men who couldn’t afford more luxurious competitors or were stuck in the 80s. Then, something happened. The company created several outlandish and comical YouTube videos featuring former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa. The videos exploded and skyrocketed to millions of views within several weeks, putting Old Spice on the radar of the young and hip and dramatically boosting sales.

5 Of The Worst Rebranding Campaigns Ever

1. – After a decade of online dominance, Overstock boldly announced it was changing its name to “”.  Moving quickly through the process, they negotiated a $6-million deal to associate their name with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. After intense backlash from loyal customers and the media, the company reverted back to just three months after the brand overhaul.

2. Gap – Although this was merely a logo redesign, there are few examples of a logo re-do causing more controversy. The astonishingly corporate logo , devoid of personality or brand heritage, was the source of mockery in the design community and distaste among devoted customers. Thankfully, Gap came to its senses and scratched the logo just one week after its was made public.

3. Sci-Fi Channel – The beloved SciFi network infamously changed its name in 2009 to “SyFy”, which alienated drones of dedicated followers and generated worldwide backlash from loyalists who closely identify with the term “sci-fi”.

4. Royal Mail – The UK’s largest mail carrier decided in 2001 to change its name to Consignia. Wait…what? After a torturous year of media backlash and constant public outcry, the company went back to Royal Mail. The cost: 1.5 million pounds to rebrand as Consigia, and another 1 million pounds to revert back to Royal Mail. Ouch.

5. Netflix – Netflix was on cruise control for many years, until CEO Reed Hastings announced that its DVD-by-mail service was to be rebranded as “Qwikster”.

As reported by the Huffington Post, “Qwikster was pitched, in a blog post and accompanying video, as a way to offer users more convenience, though the entire concept of Qwikster seemed anything but: Netflix was all but forcing its 12 million customers with joint streaming-DVD accounts to create two accounts, at two different domain names, with two credit card statements and two different sets of ratings and preferences, all on a new website run by a guy who couldn’t even spell the word “quick” correctly.”

In Conclusion

A common thread in the above examples is that the success stories can be largely attributed to brands paying close attention to what their audience wants, while the failures reveal an overarching disconnect between brand and consumer.

The lesson: know and respect the wants and needs of your demographic, and think long and hard before you take away the aspects of your brand that people have come to identify with. It can be very difficult to rebound after alienating the very people responsible for your success and longevity.

by Fuze September 19, 2014