A history of controversial name changes

What’s the value of a name?  When things are going well we want our names on the tip of everyone’s tongues. When they’re not – we’d rather no one had a clue who we were.

That’s as true for businesses as it is for our own names.

Think of your favourite brand, their name instantly reminds you of either an experience you’ve had with them or the feeling their values evoke. Equally, when these times aren’t so rosey – a name can be more like a burden than a benefit. From declining revenue to legal issues to just straight up PR disasters, name changes can often act like a proverbial shedding of excess skin. And while rebranding doesn’t necessarily equate to a return to previous fortunes, some of these companies might not be around today without their necessary rebranding. 

So in light of Mark Zuckerberg’s recent Meta relaunch, we wanted to take a look at other brands that have changed their name in a bid to change their fortunes in one way or another.

Here’s what we found. 

Wrestling with the law 

A slightly left-field one to start with, born out of legal mishap rather than a PR clusterfuck. Vince Mcmahon’s multi-billion dollar brainchild, World Wrestling Federation, had tussled with their wildlife charity namesakes from the 1994 agreement that they would limit the use of the abbreviation, WWF, right up until the official name change in 2002. 

Ever the opportunist – McMahon saw the chance to capitalise on the renaming and in true Vince fashion, turned marketing water into wine. The change from World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment presented the billionaire with a creative goldmine. “Get the F out!” merch flew off the shelves and a new era was ushered in with the wryness that was synonymous with the company at their peak. 

They say timing is everything, and the wrestling company’s new guise coincided with a new approach too. Gone were the days of excess blood and violence, with storylines that were shrouded in misogyny and nepotism. A new “PG Era” was on the horizon and some even say the name change was a blessing in disguise. 

End of the cycle  

Problematic lawsuits are one thing, having to change your company’s name because it’s founder and face was disgraced in a doping scandal is another thing altogether. That’s exactly the predicament the Livestrong Foundation found themselves in back in 2012. 

Despite years of speculation, the former 7-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong had always maintained that all of his sporting achievements were won fairly. And after being diagnosed with testicular cancer back in 1997, Armstrong helped set up the charity which was dedicated to furthering cancer research. 

But much like the former cyclist’s own name, the reputation of the Lance Armstrong Foundation was facedown in the mud needing a total revamp. Lance Armstrong’s credibility might have been dead and buried, but the charity was able to live on and the Livestrong Foundation continues to go from strength to strength today.

No Qwik fix 

As consumers, it’s safe to say that we’re not fond of change for change’s sake. And we’re even less fond of price increases. So when you combine the two together, pissed off customers are pretty much a given. That’s exactly what happened back in 2011 when streaming giants, Netflix hit their customers with this same double whammy. A 60% price hike and a new name to go with it – safe to say it went down like a lead balloon. 

Plans for the newly formed Qwikster to split their business in two separate platforms were scrapped almost instantly. CEO, Reece Hastings was ‘Qwik’ put the idea to bed, stating that “Qwikster became the symbol of Netflix not listening”. Had they not pulled the plug when they did, it could have become a symbol of their customers not watching either. 

Better with Meta? 

If misery loves company, then Mark Zuckerberg’s might be in a bit of trouble after their ongoing controversies. Countless stories of the Facebook hierarchy prioritising personal wealth over privacy laws have followed the social media company around like a bad smell for what feels like forever. So, how much will a rebrand really change? And will latching onto the latest technological craze mask over all the claims of leaked documents? 

Although both questions remain to be seen – we do know that companies and brands alike normally have to do a lot more to pull the wool over the eyes of their consumers. While Zuckerberg’s new metaverse offers a lot of promise – there are some red flags that just can’t be ignored. 

Three things to consider

Name changes don’t always have to be negative though. So if you are considering dawning a new era for your business with a new moniker – here’s what you should consider: 

Your customer

Will they see through any languid attempts at improving your company’s PR in light of a scandal? Or will they buy-in to the new direction? It goes without saying, but your customer should always be your priority. A name that will resonate and make them proud to spread the word about your brand will go a long way. 

Logo changes

It’s not just about how your new name will sound – iconography is just as, if not more important. A new name normally means a new logo too, which will change how your business is recognised by its audience for good. 

All above board

While this one should go without saying – The WWE proved that it deserves a mention anyway. The only thing more taxing than having to change your name once, would be having to change it again due to legal issues. Doing your due diligence is absolutely essential. 

There’s been a clear shift in what consumers perceive to be important. Values over fluff, morals over codswallop. That’s the name of the name-game now. 

Wondering if your brand needs a name-change? We’ll give you bullshit free advice – just drop us a line. (warning 9 times out of 10 our advice is normally to stick).

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