Corporate Eye

The Importance of Knowing When It’s Not the Right Time to Rebrand

Rebranding can turn a misaligned brand into a powerhouse. It can breathe new life into a stagnant brand. Rebranding can even help to save a tarnished brand. However, there are times when it’s not right to rebrand. The trick for brand marketers and executives is to know when it’s one of those times.

This is a lesson that American Airlines is now learning with the negative backlash that has surrounded its launch of a new logo. It’s not the new design that’s causing the problem (although there is the typical criticisms following a new logo launch). It’s the timing of the rebranding initiative that’s causing the problem.

Robert Klara of AdWeek sums up the problem quite succinctly with a single quote from Bob Herbst of who said, “All American Airlines labor groups have taken pay and benefits concessions, including thousands of furloughs and layoffs, so management can—somehow—justify spending tens of millions of dollars to take aircraft out of service and paint them.”

It’s that opinion that’s causing the most problems for American Airlines right now, and it’s a very common opinion.

Matthias Mencke, a creative director at Siegel+Gale, shared his thoughts on the new American Airlines logo with Laura Stampler of Business Insider, who explains that the new logo, “Leads to criticisms from labor groups for doing a complete branding overhaul while it was in debt and implementing extreme employee cutbacks. [Mencke notes], ‘I find it quite insensitive and would argue that it appears to be an effort to distract from the airline’s larger problems.’”

Keep in mind, this is a company that is suffering from financial problems and brand reputation problems. American Airlines appears on the 2012 list of the 10 most hated companies in America from 24/7 Wall St. and appeared on the list in 2011, too. Reasons include: “bankruptcy filings, cutting financial obligations, failing to meet pilot demands, laying off a huge number of employees, and having the ‘rudest employees.’”

Furthermore, American Airlines was included in the 24/7 Wall St. list of 10 brands that will die in 2013. A rebranding might be a last ditch effort to re-energize the brand, but given the company’s existing problems, is it the right time to invest in a new identity? It seems hard to justify from the outside looking in, which is why the negative online buzz is loud and growing louder.

According to the new logo announcement on the American Airlines website, the company has been working on its new identity for two years. Below, you can see the announcement video featuring CEO Tom Horton as well as a video about how the new design was created and applied to the American Airlines livery below.


The lesson to learn is simple. A big part of branding and marketing is exercising restraint and using common sense. It’s not always the right time to rebrand.

What do you think?

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.