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Debranding the brands – getting fit for the digital world

News & Blog

Debranding the world's brands

Debranding, to debrand or not to debrand? That is the dilemma for Marketers right now. Over the years, you might have noticed companies from all industries simplifying their brand, perhaps dropping their name or moving to a flat design. There is so much more to this obsession, the future of branding is looking like a radical, widespread debranding movement.

Debranding is fast becoming one of the trends companies are vying to experiment with. Unfortunately, not many people understand what it really is or why they should do anything about it.

What exactly is debranding?

The motivation behind debranding is usually the brand or corporation wanting to make itself seem more consumer-centric than corporate-centric

The term debranding has been around for some time but then it had a different meaning; it was defined as the process where a company with a relatively recognisable brand name decides to change its name to a more generic or no-name brand name. (Parasuraman, 1983) However, this was limited in the 1980s to businesses in groceries and household items.

Debranding now is a form of branding strategy where a brand or corporation will typically overhaul its entire visual identity. Usually, its name may change or even be completely removed from its identity, its logo will be completely redesigned, and all of its marketing collateral such as its website, packaging and branding will also be altered.

The motivation behind debranding is usually the brand or corporation wanting to make itself seem more consumer-centric than corporate-centric, which is why the process of debranding is often also referred to as “decorporation”.

The norm in advertising has always been how to make the logo bigger. With technological advancements, the internet has constrained the dimensions of design.  Before the world of the web, when the smallest canvas for many brands was the business card, intricacy could be embraced. Right now corporate identities must “click” inside an ever-expanding warren of tiny boxes, from 120-pixel iPhone buttons to 16-pixel browser “favicons.”

The opinions of consumers are clearer and louder than ever, therefore, brands are responding by showing their customers what they really stand for beyond the sale.

With debranding to the fore, 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.

Technology driving change

Logos became more complex and intricate as technology changed. Initially, printing was using spot colours – each colour in the logo had its own printing ‘plate’ and printing ink. Also, colours definitions were less precis: designer may have simple specified red or blue or back or yellow (each printer interpreted the name made their own version of the colour) and, as the cost of each plate was expensive, logos tended only to be one or two colour and consequently more ‘graphic’.

Pantone came in and standardised colours so logos were consistent across all printers giving true representations of the logo across most printed media.

Then four colour process printing (CMYK) so more complex logos with many colours and effects like blends became more achievable so logos became more complex.

What the 2010s have taught us is that brands need to embrace adaptability in their logos. Gone are the days of one version of a logo living for 20-30+ years. Even major brands have embraced the fact that to stay current, they need to regularly update their logos.

Debranding the VW logo over time
The evolution of the Volkswagen logo over time (trademarks acknowledged)

Debranding can go a long way in drawing focus to your message away from the context of associations. Pulling your brand name away from front and centre allows the message to be the star of the show, free from preconceived notions. People will be free to focus on the story instead of their thoughts about the storyteller. In this case, it’s important to strike a fine balance. The idea behind this is to stretch someone’s understanding of your brand without contradicting it.

Types of Debranding

Modern debranding remains faithful to the general definition but has one addition: ensuring the original brand identity of the local brands which a company acquires. In addition to making the brand look less aggressive, it allows companies to set up local outlets that flaunt a local feel rather than embracing the brand’s corporate heritage.

Decorporatising is the main type of debranding. If a brand decorporatises, they remove their name and/or logo from their products either permanently, or temporarily. The motivation behind decorporatising is in its name: The marketing campaign or the permanent transformation should be fuelled entirely by the brand repositioning itself as more consumer-friendly.

Transitioning into is when a renowned brand changes its name and/or its logo to something either generic or simply unnamed examples include KFC who, facing conflict regarding its use of fried in 1991, shortened its full name to an acronym and plastered that across its logo instead.

The motivation for a brand to transition into something generic could occur for any number of reasons. The brand may want to draw less attention to something within its name, like Fried, or it may be trying to come into line with more modern principles if it’s traditionally been an outlier or has used a rebel brand personality.

Debranding, Kentucky Fried Chicken transitioned to KFC in 1991
Kentucky Fried Chicken debranded to KFC in 1991 to overcome the perceived negative connotations associated with the word fried in terms of health


Coca Cola is one of the leading brands when it comes to innovative branding and which has tried a hand in debranding. In 2013, it took a major step by replacing its usual branding with 150 of the most popular names in the U.K. According to the Guardian, the campaign was a success. It increased young adult consumption by 7%, earned the brand more than 18,300,000 media impressions, and boosted traffic to Coke’s Facebook page by 870% while growing page likes by 39%.

While the process of debranding has worked well for a few larger companies, there have been instances where it has caused far more harm than good. An example of this is when Sony Pictures decided to release a debranded version of one of their most popular movies. Unfortunately, in this situation, the debranded alternative DVD did not tie in with Sony’s positive market image. As a result, many consumers thought the re-released item was a fake. This resulted in many of them trying to return the product for a refund.

If implemented correctly, debranding can result in a huge increase in profits for the company or brand concerned. However, companies also need to remain as transparent as possible when entering this type of marketing campaign.

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.

For advice on how debranding could positively impact your brand, contact us or call 020 33 00 00 00.


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