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Is Unbranding the Future? : How Large Brands Embrace Unbranding

How strong is your brand? Would consumers recognise your product or it’s advertising if the logo and name were removed? Can consumers recognise your brand from visual language alone?

These are three important questions that would need to be answered (and honestly) for company’s considering  the re-energised trend of unbranding. Also referred to as debranding, unbranding is a marketing strategy wherein brands remove their name or other identifiable elements from their marketing. 

What is Unbranding?

The concept of unbranding has been around for decades, with it starting to take more prominence in the 1990’s and continuing since then.  As the world has become saturated with advertising, consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of marketing and skeptical of their intentions. Branding is a significant part of any company’s marketing strategy, making a choice to utilise unbranding a tough call.

“Focus on the stories behind the logo—create current positive experiences and long-lasting “wow”s to delight and move your market into comfort and loyalty.” ― Scott Stratten, author of UnBranding: 100 Branding Lessons for the Age of Disruption

Why are Brands Trying Unbranding?

A research study conducted by Cohn & Wolfe Research discovered only 23% of consumers in the US believe that “brands are open and honest.” A statistic that drops to 7% when looking at Western Europe. Consumers finding brands to be inauthentic, isn’t new. This is why there have been fallouts over certain brands sponsorship of events and brand’s involvement in marketing towards children. Some marketers may see unbranding as a way to counteract the negative associations that consumers may have on brands. For established brands, unbranding is a positive sign of brand strength. Only a strong brand could successfully pull off an unbranding strategy without losing their place in the market.

Here are several notable examples of unbranding over the years.

Nike

The earliest example of unbranding is with Nike in 1995. Their logo has over gone a few different iterations before they removed the company name from the logo. This hasn’t harmed the brand but has helped to strengthen it as their iconic swoosh logo has become recognisable worldwide. 

Starbucks

Similar to Nike, Starbucks Coffee removed their name from the logo in 2011. This form of debranding was a strategic move to help change how people think of the company. In recent years, Starbucks Coffee has greatly expanded its menu. They now offer a variety of teas, non-caffeinated drinks, and food options. By removing the “coffee” from all of their branding, consumers are able to associate them with a wide variety of offerings with the company. Coffee is the leading product for the company but not the only item consumers should think of when purchasing.

Coca - Cola

Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign saw the removal of the logo on bottles throughout the world. “We wanted people not just to find bottles with their own names on, but to surprise a friend or someone they love by seeking out a bottle with their name on it,” explains Chris Deere, Head of Brand Activation at Coca-Cola Great Britain. This campaign was successful in that the message was clearly received by consumers. By focusing less on the brand and personalising the product, people were more easily able to comprehend the message.

MasterCard

MasterCard has one of the most recent examples of unbranding. In 2016, they revealed a new logo that removed their name. Now, people will only have the iconic yellow and orange circles to serve as visual cues. Part of this reasoning is that as an international brand, one wouldn’t have to worry about translation. It’s also utilising the knowledge that people tend to be more visual and can let symbols signify a meaning.

McDonald's

Since its founding in 1940, the McDonald’s logo has undergone huge transformations. And continues to reinforce their image as one of the most recognisable brands in the world. They first launched an unbranded logo in 2000 which removed the name from the logo. It has undergone two more variations and now the iconic Golden Arches serve as the logo. McDonald’s recently made headlines by switching to Wieden + Kennedy as their US marketing agency. The main motivator was a desire to be more creative which could lead to more unbranding in future advertising

Why Unbranding Isn’t the Future?

The previous examples have two things in common. All of these unbranding moves were successful for the brand. All of these examples are from the most recognisable brands in the world. It is the second point that reveals why unbranding isn’t in the future for a majority of brands.

While there has been an emergence of brands like the Canadian discounter, “no name,” where unbranding is their brand. Brands need to be able to distinguish themselves from the competition. Consumers may be annoyed at constant marketing but it is this strategy that helps enable them to make the best purchase. 

Coca-Cola is able to remove their name and logo because everything else from colours, to typeface and bottle design, is so distinctly Coca-Cola. New or less-known brands do not have this luxury. 

In the future, more of the giant, international brands that are well-known will continue to use unbranding as a marketing strategy. But smaller and new brands will have to continue to create a distinct brand image for themselves.

Unbranding is only a few of numerous branding strategies that companies have utilised to enhance their image and increase sales.  If you are interested to know more about how to increase your brand profile please reach out and contact izest Marketing Group here.