When does a ‘refresh’ become a rebrand?

There are a whole host of reasons why businesses talk about ‘refreshing’ their brand instead of ‘rebranding’. But there’s actually a pretty clear definition argues brand strategist Sandy Belford.

When is a rebrand a rebrand and not a brand refresh? Well, it’s a little bit in the eye of the beholder. Generally, if you’re significantly changing the logo or the name, it’s a rebrand. If you’re changing anything else, it’s a refresh. But often when people are doing the latter, they call it a rebrand. And then the waters are muddied by advertising agencies that put out a new campaign and call it a rebrand.

Case in point is Vodafone. Last week the telco apparently “rebranded” its logo in an attempt to reposition the business as “looking to an exciting future”.I’ll give you a moment to take in the change.

As one commenter on Mumbrella quipped: “You’ve published the current logo twice instead of the new one.”

The font may have changed and the colours been inverted but it doesn’t look like a rebrand to me. It’s too subtle a shift. To claim it heralds the company’s ability to “innovate for the future” is pushing it. 

Besides, a change in the logo is never going to be the strongest evidence of that. That can only be demonstrated by actual efforts to reverse the brand’s dire financial and marketing predicament of recent years. It would have been much smarter and more credible for Vodafone to say it has come a long way; that the business is back to being innovative and giving customers what they need. And now, here we are cleaning up our act when it comes to visual identity. 

Regardless, it’s just not a rebrand.

I would say, however, that the update to the visual identity of Qantas late last year can legitimately be called a rebrand because the airline changed the core elements of its identity. The logo changed quite a bit, as did the fonts.

Telstra, on the other hand, launching the Thrive On campaign, and people calling it a rebrand, that’s nonsense. From a branding perspective, it’s working with the same principles as the rebrand that was done a couple of years previously. It’s another example of people bandying about terms willy nilly without thinking it through. 

If you want an example of a true rebrand, take a look at AGL. Admittedly, we worked on the repositioning of the energy provider but the change coincided with a major shift in their strategy – getting out of coal. It was a significant change within the business that needed to be communicated externally.

Claiming something is a rebrand when it is clearly not is actually less common than businesses that try to play down the fact that they are rebranding. More often than not, rebrands are being called refreshes. That’s usually because someone in the organisation is frightened senior stakeholders will think they’re about to spend vast amounts of money and upend the organisation unnecessarily.

And the difference between a rebrand and a refresh is not cost. A business could spend just as much money doing either.

Of course, if you have an organisation with a major consumer presence, especially retail, the cost will be vast due to changing signage and other collateral. The investment involved with that will be much more than you will ever spend on fees for a branding agency.

The rebrand/refresh debate is rarely being driven by us. Organisations will come in and say they want to do a refresh, that they don’t want to change the logo. At some point, we may push them to do just that. But we tend to park that issue until the strategy and positioning is right. Then we decide if the logo really needs to change based on how far we end up from where we started. This means that when we get to that point, people are more open to changing the logo than they would have been if you had just said they should at the outset.

Still, when they go out to market, whether they tell people they’ve undergone a rebrand or a refresh is entirely up to them.

Sandy Belford is a director at independent branding agency Principals.


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