Today the latest example of putting lipstick on a pig was foisted upon the world, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gleefully announced the rebranding of Facebook as “Meta”. An homage to the “Metaverse” it will attempt to service, Meta will be an umbrella title that will emcompass the company’s numeropus existing businesses, including What’s App and Instagram, as well as emerging ones in the VR space that they believe will define their upside going forward. Facebook will remain as the name of the social media platform, and to the end user change will be modest. But in Zukerberg’s mind, this is considered a priority and a solution.
It is stunning how often I have seen millions spent on rebranding and renaming, with the conventional marketing textbook often dictating that what you call something impacts what people think of it. As someone whose primary career interest has involved market research, I’m selfishly happy that so many still choose to believe that. But as someone whose own career has evolved, I’m floored that the pious belief that changing the outside will impact the inside is still prevalent.
Many years ago I worked for the Family Channel, an older-skewing network once called CBN, which in itself evolved from the less secular Christian Broadcasting Network. Over the first two decades of its existence the most popular programs on the channel were often reruns of 50s and 60s Westerns, regardless of the name of the channel. When Haim Saban bought the channel along with Fox, it was mandated that the channel be temporarily named Fox Family, primarily to keep pre-existing carriage deals with cable companies intact. The concept of Fox, a brand which had already evolved into indicative of boldness and innovation, being combined with The Family Channel wasdownright preposterous. Bart Simpson eloping with Pat Robertson. We called our research “hamhocks and lox”.
The channel was a disaster, and quickly got flipped to Disney, who couldn’t wait to rid it of the Fox nomenclature. They adamnantly believed the channel failed because of the name; they believed a name change would be the first step to eradicating the stench of the Fox Family failure. Brainstorming sessions were held. Numerous test groups were commissioned. The two leading candidates for the rebrand? XYZ (the opposite of ABC, get it?). And–Glue. For programming that sticks to you.
More than a million dollars of research was commissioned; many friends and colleagues bought homes and paid for college educations testing Glue as a brand name. At the end of several months, the Disney execs were were reminded that the same carriage deals that demanded that the name Family be in the title of the channel were key to keeping distribution.
The eventual name was ABC Family, no more original than Fox Family. But with innovative, groundbreaking programming like Secret Life of an American Teen, the channel thrived and attracted exactly the demographic that made it a natural fit for Disney Channel–the cooler, post-puberty older sisters of the core Disney Channel grade school kids audience. It thrived for more than a decade. It has since been rebranded Freeform, with similar fanfare for the rebrand. The programming has largely been a misstep, the executives who demanded the rebrand long gone and the channel effectively in limbo. Even Pat Robertson left the channel last week. So much for rebranding.
Facebook has endemic problems in the age of its core audience and the rhetoric its algorithms push toward it. The corporate strategy is a bit more inclusive and ambitious, and the brands they embrace less tainted. The lipstick-adorned pig is palatable. Zuckerberg’s assertion that the name Meta will thrive because of it is far less easy to taste.
Well, at least he’s not building space rockets.
Until next time…