Will Facebook’s Rebranding of Instagram and WhatsApp Boost Its Rep or Hurt Theirs?

Industry reactions to the move have been negative or indifferent

Illustration of people at a desk looking at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp logos
Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp is common knowledge in the social media field.
Getty Images, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp

Is adding “From Facebook” to the branding for the social media giant’s Instagram photo- and video-sharing network and WhatsApp messaging application a good move, a bad move or inconsequential?

Writer and business coach Jason Aten opted for the second, saying in his post on Inc., “Let’s put this in context: This branding move would be like buying a successful line of luxury boats and renaming them ‘Yachts From Titanic.’”

The social network confirmed this week that Instagram and WhatsApp will be rebranded Instagram From Facebook and WhatsApp From Facebook, respectively, with a spokesperson saying, “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”

However, Rebecca Rosoff, co-founder of independent boutique agency The Kimba Group, pointed out in an interview that “in the culture of abbreviation and emojis, today’s best practices for brand naming conventions do not include going from one word to three.”

And while Facebook’s ownership of Instagram and WhatpsApp is common knowledge in the social media field, the same is not necessarily true for the general public. A DuckDuckGo survey of 1,153 random U.S. adults last year found that 56.9% of respondents were unaware that Facebook owned Instagram, and a similar DuckDuckGo survey of 1,297 random U.S. adults found that 50.4% of respondents who had used WhatsApp in the past six months were unaware of its relationship with Facebook.

Lauren McGrath, vice president of studio and strategy for influencer marketing platform Activate, said in an interview, “Influencers are well aware that Instagram and WhatsApp are both owned by Facebook, although creators have generally favored the former two platforms over the latter. Instagram in particular has greatly benefited from maintaining its own branding and identity separate from Facebook in the wake of the company’s privacy dilemma … It certainly hurts the ‘cool factor’ of these once-indie platforms, although I don’t see influencers abandoning Instagram anytime soon.”

Bryan Gold, CEO of creator media platform #paid, called Facebook’s move “high-risk, low-reward,” saying in an interview that consumers are well aware of the relationship between the platforms, and it hasn’t helped improve perception of Facebook. He added, “It’s like saying, ‘Hey, look: You love Instagram and WhatsApp. That’s our thing. Love us, too.’”

On the WhatsApp side of things, customer service software and engagement platform Zendesk said the rebrand will not affect its continued relationship with the messaging app.

The parent company’s name has been somewhat toxic since it revealed in March 2018 that British data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica was suspended from its platform for improperly collecting and harvesting user data via a Facebook app called thisisyourdigitallife.

Mike Chiavetta, co-founder of The Kimba Group, said in an interview, “The Facebook name is piled with data scandals and frequently referenced as the propaganda engine. It needs brand equity fast. So, Facebook is infiltrating users’ psyche with old-school name dropping.”

The Cambridge Analytica scandal drew attention in Washington, D.C., and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was called on the carpet to testify before Congress in April 2018.

The remainder of 2018 was marked by further issues, including bugs that compromised users’ privacy, discriminatory use of Facebook’s ad-targeting capabilities and questions over the accuracy of the social network’s video ad metrics.

Last month, Facebook agreed to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, nearly 20 times larger than the previous record fine imposed on a tech company for a privacy violation.

Despite all of the turmoil, Facebook certainly did not lay low, introducing its Portal video-calling device in October 2018, which counts on people agreeing to install devices from Facebook in their homes containing cameras that follow them around (albeit easily deactivated).

The company then went so far as to ask for people’s trust with their money, and not just their privacy, detailing plans in June 2019 to enter the virtual currency market in 2020 with the Libra coin and Calibra digital wallet, alongside partners including Spotify, Uber, Visa and Vodafone.