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Social backlash on brand identity: how brands handle it

Airbnb released a beautifully crafted new advert recently, which dramatises the brand promise of ‘Belong Anywhere’. And just a weeks ago, during the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a true story about belonging made for compelling viewing. To me, both these films displayed a certain confidence the brand has about the central theme and it’s power to have an universal appeal. However, just a few months ago there truck loads of negative comments and derision about the new logo. Yet, the brand has virtually ignored the feedback and marched on. In contrast, we have the case of Gap changing their logo, facing severe criticism for it and going back to the old logo. Airbnb did not change their logo and in fact re-inforced the thinking behind it through powerful TV ads. What worked in Airbnb’s favour?

There have been other instances of logo changes leading to negative commentary on social media. Airtel’s new logo was panned too. Why logo changes, even brand names and other creative elements attract attention and comments. Remember the many jokes around ‘iPad’?  Almost 5 years later the iPad has sold millions of units and people seemingly don’t seem to have a problem with the brand name.  It is interesting to see how these brands have handled the social media backlash.

Airbnb: in my view, what worked in Airbnb’s favour was that they had a powerful, seemingly plausible story behind the logo creation.  The execution of that story into a logo and a theme (‘Belong Anywhere’) is, as always, open for interpretation & criticism. But the fact is they presented the thinking behind the change well.

airbnb_logo_4things

Agency: Design Studio

While I don’t have any inside info on what the thinking was behind the campaign, it appears to me that the team is supremely confident of the new positioning and the power of the new logo to connect & engage with consumers.  In other words, they simply ignored the feedback and adopted the always-sound ‘bash on regardless’ attitude.

Gap: when you are dealing with a heritage brand with a strong equity and visual identity, any change is bound to lead to resistance. And when the change leads to a very unremarkable logo, it is asking for trouble.

Airtel: in Airtel’s case, the backlash did not really matter because we were bound to get used to the new logo because of its sheer visibility. The Airtel logo is everywhere – on TV, bills, billboards, shop fronts, signboards and more. Such a vast and constant exposure is bound to create familiarity and acceptance.

On Twitter, some asked if (a) would they have done better with better names/logos and (b) So, brand names/logos don’t really matter. To the former question, there is no way to know, is there? Unless the brand name & logo were really poor – both of which were not the case with iPad or Airbnb. Nowadays, many people refer to a tablet generically and they may well be using or referring to *any* tablet not necessarily that of Samsung Tab. That danger does not exist with the iPad. About the latter question, the brand names & logos definitely matter since they have the power to tell a story. But the qualifier is that product quality is first measure of success. A great name or logo can only sell a poor product to an extent – after which the brand will be caught out. On the other hand, a great product can survive despite sub-optimal branding cues – the operative word being ‘can’.

As far as criticism goes, it is a given for any creative product – be it a movie, book, piece of music or advertising. Sometimes it is argued that people who are not qualified to critique often do that the most. But that’s a futile argument – movie critics are unlikely to be filmmakers themselves and those who criticise logos are unlikely to be designers themselves. That’s only to be expected. If it is out there it will be commented upon by all and sundry. With social media such criticism has only been amplified, leading to a mob-like behaviour. Sometimes it is effective – forcing a change. But most often it is just time pass – with people joining in the fun because it is free. Strong brands with confidence in their product (be it the service or the creative output) learn to simply ignore and flourish.

Your views? And oh, I loved the new Airbnb logo and how they got consumers to get involved with it.

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