Did you know Google, the world’s most-recognized search engine was founded under the name “BackRub” in 1996 and was, mercifully changed two years later? Company names and logos flip and flop more than you might think, and for a wide variety ofreasons.
In mid-September, an iconic food business, Dunkin’ Donuts, announced plans to shorten its name to reflect the evolution of the company’s current and future offerings. By dropping the “Donuts” part of the name and removing the donut in its logo, the company claims it’s opting for a more modern, simpler and shorter moniker. Tony Weisman, chief marketing officer of Dunkin’ U.S. said the company’s pink and orange colors, which date back to 1973 will not change and neither will the company’s emphasis on offering customers the donuts and coffee that have helped make it famous. “We’re all about serving great coffee fast,” Weisman said. “But we’re also about donuts and baked goods and breakfast sandwiches.”
Later, the same week, Weight Watchers, a diverse franchise that includes a line of branded food products, announced it had changed its name to: WW. The “reimagined” name was launched to reflect the franchise’s emphasis on overall wellness, not just weight loss. According to the company’s website, “We will always be the global leader in weight loss, but now WW (under the banner of “Wellness that Works”) welcomes anyone who wants to build healthy habits – whether that means eating better, moving more, developing a positive mindset, focusing on weight…or all of the above.”
In an era when branding, logos and corporate identity play such a prominent role in many consumers’ buying decisions and loyalty, it’s sometimes a bold step for iconic brands and companies to tinker with their image by tweaking their name, but other times it’s more of a playful publicity stunt.
Do you remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken made the bold step in 1991 to change its name to KFC after 39 successful years? Perhaps the switch was to play down the not-so-healthy implications of using the word “fried” in its name, but the company said at the time, “We wanted to let our customers know that we had more for them to enjoy than just fried chicken, and many were already calling us KFC, as it was much easier to say.”
On the other hand, this past June, pancake-centric IHOP announced what turned out to be a test drive of a new name: IHOb, which was designed to promote the company’s commitment to its steak burgers and prove that it’s not a one-dimensional, pancake chain. “We knew we had a very tough job to do to convince people that we take our burgers as seriously as we take our pancakes,” said Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications. Alas, less than a month later, the company scurried back to its roots and made another U-turn with a Tweet announcing a switchback and referencing the company’s original name: “That’s right, IHOP! We’d never turn our back on pancakes (except for that time we faked it to promote our new burgers).”
Other food company name changes have been more subdued on the surface but were perhaps more significant from the perspective of the company and its investors. ConAgra Foods’ 2016 transformation to Conagra Brands, was merely a tweak in the eyes of most observers. However, the company claimed the change signified “a sharpened focus on consumer brands and enhancing shareholder value.”
Food companies considering a name change run the risk of confusing their customers in a market that is bombarded with a dizzying amount of branding and marketing messages. Success stories are easy to find as are some epic fails; just look it up on BackRub...errr...Google.