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What Can We Learn About Rebranding From the Facebook Rebrand?

Design & Branding

Isadora Teich wrote this article

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You have likely already seen the news: Facebook is changing its name to Meta, which means “beyond” in Greek, as part of a major rebrand.

But, why is Facebook doing this? What is the company hoping to accomplish? How has the public received this news and what can we learn from it all?

Let’s take a look.

Rebrands Can Be A Powerful Move

Rebrands can be a smart move for a company. However, they should not be done lightly. It is important that a company takes both internal and external factors into consideration first.

Here is an example of a solid internal factor that can inspire a rebrand. If your company has grown past the scope of what it initially did, this can be a very smart choice.

External factors that can inspire rebrands include responding to market changes. While some think that rebrands are a good way to rehab a company’s or public figure’s reputation, this can be risky. It does not always work out.

Why Facebook Says Its Rebranding

Facebook says that it is rebranding as a company to Meta to better reflect the wide range of what it does. Initially, Facebook was simply a company with a social networking site.

Now, Facebook owns Instagram and Whatsapp as well. It also wants to grow past social media. It wants to enter tech in other ways, such as developing VR and gaming.

On one hand, this is a move that could clear up some confusion. None of the properties that Meta owns will change names, simply the company itself.

So now, rather than saying Facebook owns Facebook and also Instagram, you would say Meta owns Facebook and Instagram.

At a virtual conference, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said:

“Over time, I hope that we are seen as a metaverse company and I want to anchor our work and our identity on what we’re building towards.”

Many Think The Facebook Rebrand Is A Distraction

The recent explosive testimony of an ex-Facebook employee confirmed what the public already thought about the company.

Ex-Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen shared hundreds of damning internal documents. Her goal was to prove that the company knows about the harm it does, and tries to ignore and hide it.

In light of this, many people feel that the rebrand is an attempt by Facebook to dodge its poor reputation.

Hiding In Rebrands Doesn’t Always Work

Via: The New York Times

Rebranding to avoid past scandals is an approach that many businesses, and especially digital entrepreneurs and influencers, take. However, it is not always successful.

One big reason for this is that making mistakes is part of life. If a company tries to rebrand after every public error, it will likely have endless personas. This would be a waste of time and resources. It would also be confusing for consumers.

For example, after Facebook announced its rebrand, The Washington Post reported more negative information about them. It showed that the company withheld information from policymakers about vaccine misinformation spreading on their platforms.

On a wide scale, many people consider Facebook to be a toxic company. People do not trust it. The India Times even just reported that they actively target children as young as 6 based on leaked documents.

Will People Accept The Facebook Rebrand?

Critics say no.

Companies, politicians, and everyday Twitter users have been criticizing the Facebook rebrand.

In addition, people at high levels, including senators, are calling this move a purely cosmetic change and refusing to embrace it.

The Pitfalls of Big Tech Rebrands

Also, what Zuckerberg wants to do with Meta does not exist yet. In this case, it is more of a hypothetical thing. Will rebranding based on things that don’t exist yet connect with consumers and users, who are historically unaccepting of other major rebrands?

When Google rebranded almost no one took to it. Likely, only those interested in tech or investing in the stock market know that the company behind Google rebranded to Alphabet years ago.

Even Instagram’s recent announcement that it was no longer a picture-sharing app was met with widespread panic and derision.

Will anyone out in the world actually refer to Facebook as Meta? Especially when it has infiltrated the public consciousness so completely over the past decade or so?

Only time will tell.

Is The Problem Mark Zuckerberg Himself?

Some critics think that one of the biggest issues with this rebrand is that Mark Zuckerberg is still choosing to be the public face of it.

According to Felipe Thomaz, an associate professor of marketing at Oxford’s Saïd Business School:

“The over-involvement from Mark is expected but rather harmful. This is a brand movement, with opportunities to create new associations. Mark has a very strong but potentially negative personal brand. As intelligent and capable as he is, and as much as he is the figurehead and founder, he might have had more success away from the public/media lens during this brand restructuring.”

To put it politely, Mark Zuckerberg does not have a good public reputation as a founder. This goes all the way back to the very roots of Facebook, which has been plagued with controversy since it was launched in 2004.

Nearly 20 Years Of Scandal

Zuckerberg launched the original Facebook as a Harvard sophomore in 2004. A week after he founded it, a group of Harvard students accused him of stealing their idea and a long legal battle ensued.

Silicon Valley Insider also released information over a decade ago that alleges Zuckerberg was using the fledgling site to gather data on users and even read their private emails.

Zuckerberg is also famous for creating a website in college that’s sole purpose was users ranking female Harvard students based on “attractiveness.”

Over the years, Facebook under Zuckerberg has been accused of sowing political discontent and violence around the world. On top of this, public opinion is that it harms the mental health of users, targets children, and abuses user information and privacy.

Some are saying that if they want to shake those associations, Zuckerberg needs to take a less public position. Many are in agreement with Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, who publically critized Mark Zuckerberg on Twitter:

Facebook Doesn’t Listen?

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before the US Government accusing the company of a number of things, including both actual crimes and general negligence for public safety.

Some say that Facebook needs to listen to public criticism and address issues, rather than taking big dramatic cosmetic leaps and talking about future endeavors.

Allyson Stewart-Allen, the CEO of International Marketing Partners, a business consulting firm, told The Guardian:

“It’s almost like they are flying blind. In some ways this almost reinforces what Frances Haugen has been saying: that the company doesn’t listen, it’s out of touch and it does what it wants to do when it wants to do it regardless of what’s going on in the wider environment. That isn’t listening. And this [rebrand] is a sign of it not listening. It almost smells of desperation.”

Final Thoughts On The Facebook Rebrand

I think the real takeaway here is that trying to rebrand amidst controversy puts a bad taste in the public’s mouth. Rebranding for positive reasons, such as your business growing or evolving, is way more likely to be successful than rebranding to try and distract from mistakes.

Even if Facebook is telling the truth, and this rebrand has nothing to do with distancing themselves from their history of controversy at all, no one believes them. This is a huge problem.

This tweet from The Daily Show really illustrates the disconnect between how Zuckerberg wants to brand Meta, and how the public views him, his company, and their combined influence on the global community.

Also, this can be looked at as a cautionary tale of the limitations of making a person a brand figurehead. While it can humanize your company, this only works if people like that person. And, even if they are well-liked, one wrong move can topple everything.

What do you think? Do you think this rebrand is a smart move for the future or another public relations disaster for Facebook?

Talk to me.

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