Plannedscape Postings


Brand-Change Goofs
Incomphrensible Corporate Decisions

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2023-06-01
I've written before about my father working in advertising during the old-school Mad Men era. I've written about his pet peeves and lessons learned in advertising.

One thing that drove him bananas was when a company would change its successful branding. At the time in the early 80s, he thought that changing the Datsun car brand name to Nissan was a vain, pointless, and expensive decision. In the long run, I think dad turned out to be on the wrong side of history in that case - the company wanted to unify their branding internationally; it was expensive in the short-term, but Nissan ended up just fine in the end.


That said, changing a known brand is a dangerous business. What made me think of that this week? HBO Max has changed its previously successful brand name and its app. For most, the HBO name really does have cache. For years, they've chipped away at us with prestige programming and the "it's not TV, it's HBO" campaign.

My instinct is that this is a mistake. Time will tell. Or maybe not; sometimes the wrong decision could work out well anyway if their shows continue to excel in spite of hurting themselves with a bad call on the name change.

While that will play out in the future, what I've already noticed this week that the Max app stinks. The HBO app was one of the first streaming apps to really get it right and that continued through its evolution to the HBO Max app. Already in its first week, the Max app has brought in some negative reviews - here's a pretty comprehensive one from

As a consumer, I immediately missed the "restart" show button - watching via Apple TV, you have to hold rewind down in preview mode instead of the one click. Not a big deal, of course, but it's a functional step backward that wasn't necessary.

As a parttime artist who has worked in music a lot and tv/movies a little, their lumping of writers, directors and producers of their programs as one category of "creators" belies a gross attitude of media companies thinking of their shows as "content" instead of movies and TV.

Corporate Branding Mistakes

Changing any successful part of a business is a risk. Corporations change their image for a variety of reasons - to distance themselves from bad brand associations, to intentionally capture a new audience or sometimes just some people within the company trying to get cute or justify their position.

Even just changing a brand logo can have huge blowback. Gap, Kraft, Pepsi, and Weight Watchers are all examples of branding whoopsie-daisies.

Changing of the exact brand name is rarer - it's a more drastic move and an unforced loss of brand recognition for established companies. Yes, when an upstart changes their name early in their growth (like Goodfellow's Dry Goods becoming Target). Some name changes are just weird and we only don't bump on them now (like Chris' Steak House becoming Ruth Chris' Steak House which sounds like a joke when you think about it).

Some Companies Just Can't Help Themselves

Marketing sure tries to seem like a science, but they've got a long way to go. With my own clients' advertising issues, tracking, and crediting which ad got the customer to make their decision is still more difficult than one would think.

There are thousands of people which specialized degrees in marketing working in commercial marketing decision making. You would think that this would mean that fiascos like "New Coke" would never happen - but they do.

The expression "there's no such thing as bad publicity" is certainly not true for businesses. Yet sometimes they can't help overreaching when trying to be relevant. Nothing says "corporate insensitivity" quite like a fast-food chain co-opting a feminist hashtag for cheap publicity, or a soda company using civil rights imagery to peddle sugary beverages.

It seems corny or ridiculous to say this about companies who sell soap or mortgage loans, but authenticity really is key. Snuggles the fabric softening bear has no need to touch on patriotism in their ad messages; it would just plain be weird. When companies attempt to overhaul their image without a well-defined strategy, they risk confusing their existing customers and alienating their loyal fanbase.


Almost all of the blunders I've described in this article seem incomprehensible in retrospect. Whether from corporate groupthink, junior executives misguidedly trying to take career-defining big swings, a ridiculous edict coming from an out of touch CEO - major companies frequently get it wrong.

So don't feel too bad if your own smaller business marketing isn't perfect. Keep pursuing what's been successful and ditch what hasn't been working and do your best.

If any of you could explain to me why marketing departments get it so wrong sometime, please email us here at Plannedscape. We'd love to hear it.

Meanwhile, I'll be checking for a Max app update to fix what they've broken.