As far back as 500 B.C., Greek philosopher Heraclitus noted, “Change is the only constant in life.”

It’s a maxim that remains true nearly 3,000 years later for modern-day consumers, brands and marketers.

So far in 2023, the list of brands seeking change includes Pepsi, Oscar Mayer and Jell-O, as well as HBO and Twitter.

For all brands — but heritage brands in particular — it’s a necessary evil to retain relevancy, generation after generation. This is often done through a rebrand, whether that’s simply an updated logo or a broader repositioning of the company and its products. 

However, the drivers of these rebrands  — and their reception by consumers  — is never standard.

The Frankmobile

(Photo credit: Oscar Mayer / press release)

In May 2023, cold cuts brand Oscar Mayer changed the name of its 87-year-old Wienermobile to the Frankmobile to “[pay] homage to the brand’s 100% Beef Franks.” Wiener Whistles are now, of course, Frank Whistles.

For Ross Clugston, CCO at design firm Design Bridge and Partners, the impetus to zero in on beef franks was perhaps driven by increased consumer aversion to processed meat.

“I would say it’s probably more of a conscious thing to position it as a food that is natural and healthy,” he said.

Oscar Mayer did not respond to a request for comment.

However, a study from consulting firm McKinsey found that as of 2022, half of consumers are prioritizing healthy eating, which means, in part, consuming fewer processed foods and carbohydrates.

Orange juice brands faced a similar challenge when consumers began to shirk the one-time breakfast staple because of its high sugar content and sales started to slump in the 1990s.

“All of a sudden, orange juice became an enemy to a whole generation,” said Megha Parikh, head of strategy at the agency Wunderman Thompson. “So they had to make it look lighter, healthier, more refreshing.”

And so sometimes brand updates — like Tropicana’s ill-fated 2009 redesign — come from a business need to appeal to a new generation of shoppers and/or to recreate relevance.

“In some cases, there are brands who just feel they’ve become a little stale … a little dated,” added Chris Ross, VP analyst at research firm Gartner.

Parikh agreed the issue — especially for heritage brands — is how to stay relevant.

“You’re already probably in a down market position,” she added. “Maybe you have a new competitor that’s eating your lunch, and so now you’re going to redesign.”

Dunkin’ and Max

In other cases, brands make these shifts as they seek to reposition a product — or even the brand itself. That is the case with both Jell-O and Pepsi, which are attempting to distance themselves from sugar. But they are far from the only instances.

In 2019, for example, Dunkin’ Donuts dropped the second half of its name to spotlight its coffee business.

More recently, streaming service HBO Max became just Max to emphasize the breadth of its content beyond HBO. Critics were puzzled as to why the streaming service would drop the most recognizable part of its name. 

Parikh disagreed.

“They got roasted by the internet for going to Max, but they had a smart business strategy behind that,” she said. “They don’t want to only be known for their original content — they want to be an aggregator of amazing content.”

That’s why she advises clients to consider the business they want to be in to inform their new identity.

“That can help give you the direction you need for whether it’s worth contemplating a total brand refresh,” Parikh added.

Pearl Milling Company

In 2021 in particular, a slew of rebrands took place as heritage brands reckoned with the inherent racism evident in their imagery.

“There are some cases where the brand has become offensive over time,” Ross said. “There’s plenty of examples where the brand just hasn’t aged well, so there’s some significant changes that have to happen there.”

That includes: Aunt Jemima, which is now Pearl Milling Company; Uncle Ben’s, which turned into Ben’s Original; the Cleveland Indians, which became the Cleveland Guardians; and the Washington Redskins, which are now the Washington Commanders.

According to Clugston, these rebrands were prompted by a distinct moment in time following the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd.

“For companies who had been sitting on the fence with these racist mascots and wondering, ‘We probably should change this, but we’re worried we’ll lose customers,’ it provided an opportunity for them to make a change,” he added.


But not all rebrands are strategic. Some are purely driven by pride.

“When a brand decides to make any changes to their core identity, packaging, color, design, whatever, it’s such a noble pursuit … but it’s one that’s full of hubris,” Parikh said. “You have to believe people are going to care enough about your brand and what you stand for, and who you are, and what you look like to care enough to notice that your brand identity has changed.”

Ross agreed, calling it “pure corporate vanity” in some cases.

“There isn’t really a strong strategic driver behind it,” he added of these instances. “It’s just new executives, new leadership, people wanting to put their fingerprints on things.”

An argument can be made that’s precisely what was behind social media platform Twitter’s recent name change to X.

As opposed to Facebook’s 2021 rebrand to Meta, which signaled its future ambition in the metaverse and retained its well-known app brand names including Facebook and Instagram, experts said there wasn’t really an obvious strategic reason behind Elon Musk’s decision to rebrand Twitter to X. 

Despite CEO Linda Yaccarino recently telling CNBC the rebrand was because Musk wants to turn the platform into an “everything app,”it’s not yet clear what those features will entail and when they will be available. 

In other words, in the case of the X rebrand, the cart came before the horse. 

Threading a needle

But no matter what the motivation, rebranding is not an endeavor to be taken lightly, as brands can easily lose equity built up over decades – if not longer in the case of heritage brands.

What’s more, Clugston estimated a CPG rebrand takes about 18 months — although AI may eventually accelerate the process.

Rebrands  are also not cheap. Tropicana reportedly lost $35 million in its failed 2009 reboot.

“The ripple effects of those changes are often pretty substantial, which is why those decisions are not to be taken lightly,” Ross added.

(Photo credit: PepsiCo / press release)

Pepsi’s 2023 rebrand marks the end of the road for the logo whose leaked origin documents were the source of widespread derision in 2009.

According to a press release, the redesign comes just in time for Pepsi’s 125th anniversary. It includes new colors (“electric blue” and black), a custom typeface that “reflects the brand’s confidence and unapologetic mindset” and a new rendition of the so-called Pepsi pulse, which “evokes the ‘ripple, pop and fizz’ of Pepsi-Cola with movement.” In addition, the color black is meant to echo the brand’s “commitment to Pepsi Zero Sugar.”

But Pepsi could also be trying to correct an error it made 14 years ago, Clugston said.

“I think they threw out a lot of equity and they’re trying to claw that back,” he said. “I think especially the brands that have been around for 50 years [or more] are definitely realizing it’s unwise to step away from anything that is a distinctive memory structure built over many, many years.”

(Photo credit: Kraft Heinz, used with permission)

And so CPG giants face the challenge of honoring the past while moving into the future.

Indeed, Parikh noted a common request in client briefs is to “appeal to a new generation of consumers … but don’t alienate their core.”

This is reflected in statements from both Pepsi and Jell-O.

The latter said its recent rebrand “positions the brand for relevance today and in the future amongst the new generation of parents.”

The new visual identity “captures the jiggly fun that Jell-O brings to parents and kids alike” with a new logo that is “loud, proud and simple, but remains instantly recognizable to fans worldwide,” the statement added.

When to rebrand

While both Jell-O and Pepsi noted these updates were their first in ten and 14 years, respectively, there is no set schedule for rebrands. Instead, brands have to constantly survey the cultural landscape and monitor how their categories are shifting.

“Every brand should be calibrating their brand and their identity with the marketplace all the time,” Ross said. “Do we still resonate? Are we still playing the way that we want to play with the people that we care about and at what point does that start to diminish?”

At the same time, Ross believes brands often overestimate the value of a logo or a name change — and particularly the power of these tweaks to alter consumer perception.

“It’s one thing that you might need to do in concert with a whole bunch of other things, if you really want people to think about you differently,” he added. “Logos and visual identity and packaging are incredibly important, but they don’t do everything. They’re part of an overall brand narrative.”

‘The core essence’

These days, many brands are playing it safe as they wait in part to see how the economy shakes out before embarking on a major branding change.

“I think all of the decisions that are being made are extremely calculated, validated by research, either to drive [the] bottom line or make headwinds from a sustainability standpoint,” Clugston said. “I don’t think anyone’s swinging for the fences.”

For instance Sprite, which rebranded in 2022, returned to what Clugston called “the core essence of the brand.”

“It’s green. It’s a beautiful wordmark and then [they got] rid of all the superlative bullshit that floats around the wordmark and [they’re] doubling down on sustainability by getting rid of the bottles [that are] not recyclable,” he added.

X, however, is the exception here.

“They walked away from massive brand equity and a lot of awareness,” Ross said.  “Time will tell, but that’s a big decision … [and] even a company like X with lots of resources, it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to reshape what people think about that and build a brand from scratch, essentially.”

This article originally appeared on Campaign US.