When it comes to brand messaging, control is key. And to that end, brands and agencies will go to great lengths to dictate how, when, and why their brand is making headlines. Whether the objective is to combat negative publicity or reposition a product in the consumer space, whole teams are routinely tasked with making sure everything comes up roses—and pronto.
Unfortunately for us agency types, there’s no playbook for how it’s done. For every reason why a brand may choose (or be forced) to reinvent itself, there’s a way in which it can achieve a shift in public discourse. So, to learn by example, we took a closer look at some of the more drastic measures brands have taken in recent years to redefine and re-establish themselves.
E.coli and food-borne illness: not a combination that gets consumers excited for burritos. After enough outbreaks to constitute a trend, rather than a coincidence, Chipotle’s sales took a plunge. But the fast-casual chain is handling its problems by putting these challenges front and center. In an effort to address the recent E.coli outbreaks in multiple franchise locations, Chipotle closed the doors to all its outposts on February 8 for two hours to meet on food safety. By publicizing this internal meeting, Chipotle is taking a strong stance to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and assuage consumers’ fears. The chain is using incentive to earn back the public trust, offering free burritos to anyone who reaches out to them via text. As the shutdown happened only a few hours ago, it’s too soon to tell whether this tactic will markedly impact the flagging sales. But we’re holding out hope—as surely a roomful of marketing execs is doing today— that Chipotle’s public call-to-action around food safety allows the chain to put this behind them.
Uber’s new logo seemed to magically appear overnight, but in reality, CEO Travis Kalanick and his team have been working towards its launch since 2012. From its debut, Uber’s business growth has been exponential—a robust brand repositioning was crucial to align the ridesharing app’s technical abilities with its larger goals. Changing the logo and supporting visual elements (one app icon for passengers and another for drivers) ultimately allowed Uber to create an entire brand toolkit, complete with new brand pillars and a voice that speaks to its vast community. To give a more targeted feel to Uber’s many local business environments, the company created 65 different color palettes, which correspond to specific locations. The reactions to the new look have been mixed, and we look forward to seeing where the public opinion nets out.
2015 was a big year for DKNY. Beginning with company founder Donna Karan’s decision to step down in July, the company seized the opportunity to embark on a new digital tack and appointed an entirely fresh c-suite. The new executives chose to take a different direction, wiping its social media accounts clean—and erasing the persona of “DKNY PR Girl” that had been built over five years on Instagram and Twitter.
The result? A literal clean slate. For about a month, the DKNY Instagram page was comprised of a mere 12 photos, together creating a single image promising the arrival of something new and exciting on September 16 (the date of the Spring/Summer show at NY Fashion Week). While this may have alienated some followers who’d grown attached to “PR Girl” Eliza Licht’s POV, it ultimately had a positive outcome. The account accrued 2,000 new followers on the date of the relaunch, in part spurred on by rich content from Fashion Week, and over the past four months, has gained an additional 200k followers. The new executives wanted DKNY to be more approachable to brand loyalists, and this revitalized, content-heavy approach has allowed the brand to reposition itself as more accessible.
Subway, on the other hand, decided to keep its skeletons locked away. (Looking at you, Jared.) The sandwich chain rolled out a new campaign of TV spots that detail the evolution of the company, telling a time-worn entrepreneurial story replete with sepia tones and period clothing. The expertly crafted commercials focus on proven legacy over recent scandal, communicating the company’s long, trusted history of making sandwiches. The campaign urges viewers to eschew distractions and instead pay attention to the quality meals Subway provides. But can a feel-good commercial erase months of bad publicity around the chain’s former weight-loss phenomenon? We’ll see.
Another blackout—but this time only for one day. Taco Bell shut down its social media platforms with a clear message: #ONLYINTHEAPP. The goal was to drive downloads of the fast food chain’s new app, which promises users a convenient way to pay at nearly all Taco Bell outposts. Taco Bell reported at least some success with this launch: The majority of U.S. stores served at least one customer who used the app to pay on the very first day. The takeaway? A whole lot of “nothing” can actually create something.