Debranding - Why It Can Be Effective

A version of this article was first published on The Commit Agency Blog

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Today’s marketers find themselves in uncharted waters. The level of trust consumers have in a brand has never been more important, and yet, the level of trust consumers have in brands is extremely low. A Kantar’s Dimension study showed that, among 8,000 worldwide respondents, just 14 percent of consumers trust brands to be truthful in their own advertising. At the same time, 70 percent of UK respondents indicated a lack of trust in what they see on social media, including posts from brands.

Obviously, this is quite a dilemma for marketers. They need to build credibility with their audiences, which are increasingly distrusting of what comes out of the mouths of brands. Even those businesses with this much-desired credibility are at risk. When generations of hard-earned trust can be erased with one simple tweet, brands have to be more careful than ever.

But where there is chaos, there is opportunity. With a different approach, brands can still establish themselves in their desired manner with their respective audiences. How can they do this? By shedding the name value that has seen them climb the ladder to their current heights.

What is Debranding?

Branding has gotten a negative rap in some aspects in the current climate. Marketers, always quick to cash in on trending topics, are often prone to appearing as though they’re uncool or trying too hard. Others have been criticized for taking only those political and social stances that will silence critics and curry favor with their customers. Whether real or imaginary, these bad looks give some the impression that the brand itself is a soulless corporate structure only concerned with sales.

As a result, forward-thinking businesses have gone in the opposite direction. Debranding, as the name suggests, is a definite step away from the obsessive brand-building we’ve seen in recent years.

The actual definition of debranding can vary. Some see it as simply removing the brand name from the company’s logo or advertising. Others see it as a simplified visual presentation, potentially including the restoration of a previous logo from a simpler time. It can also be an attempt by the brand to distance itself from negative connotations from its current or former name. In any event, debranding is a change towards a more minimalist and more authentic presentation.

It’s not hard to see why this type of unbranding is so appealing to marketers. Marketing has always been about going big—the biggest ads, the flashiest promotions—but that mindset no longer resonates with consumers. The average person is tired of conventional advertising. They want something different—something that speaks directly to them. The tried-and-true branded approach is the polar opposite of that.

Debranding is an attempt to reach these consumers on a more personal level. However, like all forms of marketing, the effectiveness of this tactic relies heavily on the company’s creativity and its ability to execute that creative vision.

Examples of Debranding

Because of the vagueness surrounding its definition, not to mention the varied needs and wants of worldwide audiences, debranding can take on many forms. Recent years have seen several notable debranding success stories.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous version of rebranding came when Coca-Cola modified its 20 oz bottles to include the names of people and professions. Instead of buying a soda from a humongous corporation, people could now pick a product that was made just for them, or that reminded them of someone they knew.

debranding coca cola ad | Commit Agency

Photo Credit: Coca Cola

It was the ultimate debranding, one that marketers still try to emulate. Of course, one reason this worked so well is that Coca-Cola had brand equity to such a degree that people didn’t even need to see the logo to know that it was a Coke product. Would such an approach work for a small business? Not likely.

However, businesses of all shapes and sizes have managed to debrand successfully. Companies, as varied as Burger King, Warner Bros, Dunkin’ Donuts and Weight Watchers, have all simplified their logos over the last few years. Their minimalist approach does help to take some of the stodginess out of these larger brands. The bigger picture, though, is how those clean and simplified logos fit on the face of a smartphone or Apple Watch. People are well-versed in tuning out advertising, but they see the logos of apps they’ve downloaded every day. Even if you’re just building your brand, you can take a cue from these businesses and work toward a simplistic logo that says more than an elaborate design could.

A less obvious—but just as effective—version of debranding occurs when smaller companies don’t advertise their ties with their big-name corporate overlords. For instance, did you know that Venmo was owned by PayPal? Or that craft beer powerhouses Bluepoint, Lagunitas and Ballast Point are owned by Anheuser Busch, Heineken and Constellation Brands respectively? While these are all examples of acquisitions, the purchasers didn’t roll these businesses up into their more established brands. Instead, they’ve relied on the credibility of these brands to stand alone in the marketplace. The corporation at the top of the food chain does benefit, but not by micromanaging the charm out of the smaller businesses they’ve acquired.

Why is Debranding Effective?

As we’ve seen, debranding helps to take the sting out of corporate branding as we know it. A debranded approach comes across as more authentic and more personal to shoppers, two traits that are highly valuable to modern consumers. When done correctly, debranding also adds a level of authority to a brand. When Nike removed its name from its logo and simply used its swoosh logo instead, it made that logo even more powerful. Again, a small business might not be able to simply remove its name from its logo, as Nike and Coca-Cola did. But that small business might find success in scaling things back and presenting itself in a more minimalist way.

Taking that simplified approach can have additional ramifications. Instead of being a logo of a brand and taking all of that brand’s implications along for the ride, a more basic logo presents a blank slate onto which consumers can project themselves. As part of the aforementioned Warner Bros debrand, the company now uses a silhouette logo, allowing them to overlay famous characters and scenes in the iconic shape of the logo. This serves as a specific reminder to people about their favorite Warner Bros movies, deepening their ties with the brand.

Warner Bros unbrand logo | Commit agency

Photo Credit: Pentagram

A debrand can also serve as a practical version of rebranding. Not everything has to change when a business rebrands. A cleaned-up logo and a more pronounced commitment to the brand’s most important causes can go a long way, and a debrand can bring both of those to light. It just so happens that these factors will increase authenticity, which is the main goal of debranding in many cases.

If you’re considering a debrand for your business, it’s a good idea to assess your current market position and identify potential areas in which debranding can benefit your company. It’s also advisable to speak to an expert in the field. If you’d like some assistance regarding debranding, contact us at today.

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