The rebranding of two iconic businesses has set social media on fire. But why the outrage? Gareth Joe asks the question.

In recent months, the world’s been met with news that the Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg’s brands would be no more. Well, kind of anyway. I’ll clear that up later.

Headlines blared that these great brands will be replaced by the newly formed Kenvue and Kellanova respectively, announcements that lit up the social media sphere as another example of corporatisation gone too far – but what’s caused such a storm in a cereal bowl?

“How dare they even think about dropping the typeface.”

“Where’s the red gone?”

“Another example of digital-first branding overreach!”

While there’s certainly no harm in examining their strategic approaches or having a hot take on the execution, could there have been something deeper at play here?

First, it must be pointed out that much of the commentary glossed over the corporate context driving these shifts. They weren’t cases of rebranding for the sake of rebranding but triggered by changes in the company structures of these giant multinationals.

In the case of Johnson & Johnson, it was spinning off its much smaller consumer healthcare division to form Kenvue. In the case of Kellogg’s, it was rebadging its global corporate group brand to Kellanova, as it spun off its North American cereal business into WK Kellogg Co.

Despite the changes however, they’ve both made it clear that these moves will have little impact on everyday shoppers – the Kellogg’s name will still appear on packs, and while the Johnson & Johnson name will slowly fade from the packs of BAND-AID, Johnson’s branded products will live on as is. So why the outcry?

These are names whose products have imprinted themselves into many a childhood. From boxes of Coco Pops on breakfast tables and LCMs packed in school lunchboxes, to the BAND-AIDing of scrapes suffered at Saturday morning sports and No More Tears shampoo that personally was always a bit hit-or-miss.

Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg’s are two brands with enormous emotional pull.

Or nostalgia as Mad Men’s Don Draper might say.

“Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel; it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels – around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

Now, I don’t speak Greek. So, I’m not well placed to say whether that true or not. And I don’t really want to look it up either for fear of breaking the illusion of the GOAT televised pitch. Either way, Don might be on to something.

Who wouldn’t want a nostalgia hit with things feeling a little dark right now?

Culture wars, political decline, fragile environments, wars on multiple fronts and a cost-of-living crisis.

It’s no wonder people ache for a simpler time.

Though Coca-Cola might’ve been able to “teach the world to sing” in the 70’s, I’m in no way suggesting that a can of Pringles is going to solve the world’s wicked problems today. That would be asking far too much of whatever mystery substance they’re actually made from.

But in reflection, it does make sense that there was a real sadness over losing Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg’s to history. Not as companies, but as time machines to our pasts.

Could the transitions to Kenvue and Kellanova have been approached better? Maybe. Could they have retained a bit more of their iconic brand assets? Sure. Would any of this really mean much to the average person at the end of the day? As it turns out, not really.

Above all of this, the news and reaction to it can teach us a valuable lesson in perspective, helping to highlight the lasting nature brands can have in our lives.

Not as heroes of their own stories, but as shortcuts to moments and meaning.

Truth is, good brands are only ever supporting characters. A means to an end.

These points are easy to forget while we’re buried in the constant need for reinvention and short-term results. Where those of us working on them can easily fall into the trap of placing brands at the centres of their own universes.

Instead, when we’re charging ahead thinking about where and how to best position our brands for tomorrow, let’s also remember to think about the trails we want to help leave behind for the people who matter once we get there.

Those crumbs of nostalgia. “Delicate, but potent.”


This article was first published in Inside Retail

Gareth Joe is an Associate Strategy Director at Principals.

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