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Facebook recently unveiled a new corporate logo and brand identity, adding another item to a list of questionable decisions made by the company as of late. As was generally the case with many of the marquee rebrands in 2019, people weren’t happy with Facebook’s either.
As these things go, it is fair to expect a lot of eye rolling and jokes. With regards to Facebook, the most striking comments are about it being a louder version of the same logo—so much so that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey started trolling with his caps lock.
New logos generally create a backlash of some kind, but it usually subsides as people move on with their lives. Remember the Airbnb fiasco? Instagram? All water under the bridge and largely forgotten now.
In fairness, though, the Facebook rebrand isn’t the same as Zara’s controversial kerning or Slack’s multi-colored ducks. The change to the Facebook logo underpins a much bigger, thornier brand challenge: How do you launch a new visual identity for a company in crisis or damage limitation mode? This challenge is even more fraught with risk than usual. Antitrust investigations, government hearings and a generally tarnished reputation among the general public as a result of high-profile privacy scandals combine to create very unstable ground on which to rebrand Facebook.
From a purely visual sense, the freshly capitalized wordmark works. Pared back simplicity via custom sans serif typeface and open tracking combined with a dynamic color system that is responsive to context is a nice take on an umbrella brand intended to tie a group of existing products together.
The new logo is meant to differentiate Facebook the corporate brand from Facebook the app, Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. (Or is that FACEBOOK Messenger?) You can see the potential problem here, as copy editors are notoriously unsupportive of companies’ attempts to brand through capitalization and punctuation.
Given the baggage attached to Facebook the platform, it is interesting that the company decided to stick with the Facebook name rather than introduce a new one, similar to how Google introduced Alphabet. However, the decision seems to have been a considered risk. Facebook’s CMO Antonio Lucio acknowledged what he calls a “brand tax” on platforms like WhatsApp, where privacy is a particularly valued attribute, citing the need to not run away from the company’s brand problems. More than anything, what the Facebook rebrand does effectively is inform consumers that Facebook owns the majority of the top platforms we use to connect and communicate.
There are various ways to interpret the company’s motivations. Facebook says they are solving a transparency issue driven by the need to communicate its ownership structure more clearly. Considering that the company was fined a record $5 billion by the FTC just a few months ago, and that new structural changes were promised by Facebook, this makes sense. Other more skeptical commentators have argued this new brand strategy has more to do with safeguarding Facebook’s suite of products as a clearly interconnected network, therefore making it harder to break up.
Facebook—or I guess we should be saying FACEBOOK—is in a bit of a catch-22. Both the general public and governments around the world are demanding greater transparency, and this corporate brand strategy is an attempt to do this in a clear and accessible way.
But the problem is that people can also see how this rebrand benefits Facebook more than its users, particularly in regard to safeguarding against regulators. And it rings a little hollow in isolation without supporting action. For example, while Twitter recently banned all paid political ads and TikTok made it clear it would not be hosting any at all, Facebook quietly rescinded its policy that required these same ads to be fact-checked. It remains to be seen how the company actions underpin its new corporate identity, which will be where this rebrand fails or shines.
However you choose to view Facebook’s motivations, one thing is clear: This is largely a cosmetic change. But a brand’s integrity is ultimately reflected in its behavior, which in Facebook’s case, will be necessary to shift perceptions and rebuild trust.