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The Meaning Behind Facebook’s 2019 Rebranding Strategy

It has been a difficult three years for Facebook. The company’s reputation has suffered under the weight of multiple public relations disasters, including the Cambridge Analytics data scandal, allegations that it stood idle while its platform was used to incite violence and hate in Myanmar, and most recently its refusal to agree to take down false political ads.

The most recent news from Facebook, however, is the announcement of a rebranding initiative. In this article we’re discussing the specifics of the rebrand and what it says about how Facebook is trying to position itself in 2020 and beyond.

Facebook the app versus Facebook the company

When it first launched, Facebook meant one simple thing: a website for connecting with friends. As the company grew, however, it began to branch out in many different directions. Now, of course, Facebook is no longer a simple desktop site. Facebook is the world’s largest social network, and it’s also the company that owns Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Workplace, and Messenger, among many others. Meanwhile it’s making moves into cryptocurrency with Libra, and smart camera technology with Portal.

Facebook the company is hoping to distinguish its corporate image from that of the Facebook app, and the brand is rolling out a new all-caps logo to help serve that end. A blog post states: “We needed the wordmark to establish distinction from the Facebook app and allow for a clearer connection to the full family of technologies. The new brand system uses custom typography, rounded corners, open tracking and capitalization to create visual distinction between the company and the app.”

The new logo will be featured in the tag “from FACEBOOK” on the homescreens and promotional materials of the company’s properties and products.

Rebuilding a tarnished brand image

Of course, there’s also a more cynical way to look at Facebook’s rebrand. Facebook says it thinks it’s important that users know who’s behind the app and services they’re using. In an announcement on their website, Facebook said: “This brand change is a way to better communicate our ownership structure to the people and businesses who use our services to connect, share, build community and grow their audiences.”

After years of almost unrelentingly bad press, it might also be true that Facebook is hoping to restore some good will by reminding users that it’s the company behind the apps they love, like Instagram and Whatsapp. The subliminal message to users may be: “We know you don’t like Facebook very much right now, but were you aware that we also own the photo sharing and messaging apps you use everyday?”

Corporate rebrands following times of crisis are very common. Volkswagen, for example, recently executed a rebrand in the wake of the emissions scandal that damaged their reputation and eroded consumer trust.

Facebook may similarly be attempting to distance itself from recent public relations debacles. It’s notable that Facebook’s statements about the rebrand have focused on how it will help improve transparency, the lack of which has posed problems for the company in the past. Whether or not the rebranding will actually help resolve these concerns is very much up for debate, however.

Still others speculate that the rebrand might also be part of an attempt to avoid regulatory issues stemming from a lack of disclosure about ownership. Clearly labeling properties like Instagram and WhatsApp as “from FACEBOOK” may help the company stay on the right side of the FTC, which levied a $5 billion fine against the company in July. As the conversation around breaking up Facebook and other big tech companies is likely to heat up during the 2020 presidential primaries and ensuing general election campaign, Facebook may be trying out the appearance of more transparency as a means of guarding against too much government scrutiny.

Final thoughts – what does it all mean?

In a practical sense, Facebook’s rebranding will likely mean very little for brands and consumers. The company is not changing the way it operates or integrates its services. The rebranding can be understood more accurately as an attempt to signal a new direction after the series of missteps Facebook has taken in the past few years.

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