What's in a name? Well, if you are a Boeing 737 MAX, then your name carries quite a bit of, well, baggage. While Boeing's clear focus in the immediate term is in fixing the problems that caused two of these shiny new planes to tragically fall from the sky, we were teased at the Paris airshow earlier this week about a possible name change.
Boeing CFO Greg Smith told Bloomberg that "We're committed to doing what we need to do to restore it. If that means changing the brand to restore it, then we'll address that." The company's PR team was quick to reach out after the interview to clarify that no name change is currently in the works, but it does lead one to consider: Would a name change help?
For his part, President Donald Trump seems to think so.
In the US, we saw cost-cutting airline ValuJet rebrand as AirTran in 1999. ValuJet had a horrible brand reputation, which was synonymous with dangerous safety standards and lax management. Culminating in a crash in 1996 that was a direct result of these lax standards, which killed all 110 passengers, the rebrand coincided with a significant shift in how the company operated and the values that it stood for. AirTran was successful for more than a decade and, following a major expansion in 2009, was acquired by Southwest in 2011.
On the contrary, in 2001 British Petroleum rebranded as 'BP' with a logo that emanated thoughts of being environmentally conscious. Most of the public didn't think much about this for the better part of a decade. But the misalignment of this brand image and the company's actual core value burst into public view with the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010. Their image took further hits with PR blunders immediately following the disaster, including a widely-mocked 'we're sorry' tv ad spot and a statement from the then-CEO Tony Hayward saying that he wanted his 'life back' - despite knowing fully that the disaster took the lives of 11 workers and was the worst oil spill in US History.
Why do some rebrands fail and others work so well?
In one word: Alignment. A rebrand that communicates new values will fall flat (or worse, backfire) if the company itself has done nothing of substance to actually shift its values and how those values are incorporated into everything that every employee does.
Conversely, a rebrand, whether at a company or at a product level, should be accompanied by a legitimate shift in a company's core values. In our hyper-connected world, companies need to be authentic to their brand values or risk joining Tony Hayward in the PR disaster history books. That said, Mr. Hayward, no longer employed in a CEO role and with plenty of free time, may have actually gotten his 'life back' after all.
"Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealised, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character and no public trust." - Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group