Dean Clough

August 2, 2023

Portico Darwin: Branding Can Hurt


3 Minute Read
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Let's call this Worst Wednesday.  Because today is about the two worst branding decisions I have personally witnessed.  And I'm almost 60, FFS! 

Disclaimer:  I am no branding, or even marketing, expert.  But by now, you must know there's no correlation between my expertise and my popping off on a given subject?

OK, so what do I mean by brand?  There are many definitions, but I define a brand as what a customer or potential customer thinks/feels about the product, when they stop to consider it at all.  Porsche?  Its brand is all about Teutonic precision and status.  Coca Cola?  Dependable refreshment that is available in every single corner of the world.

A major part of building a brand is that it is very, very hard, especially in today's world of infinite distraction.  Think about it:  Porsche and Coke have spent millions/billions to have their brands really and truly mean something out in the world. 

So when a company says, "Oh, who gives a fuck about any of that?" and dumps an established brand, it warrants closer scrutiny.  But what's crazy is we have not one, but two incredibly stunning examples of completely blowing up a brand.  The first, a cherished American institution.  And the second?  Its name and iconic logo became synonymous with social media

In both cases, an extremely valuable brand was destroyed because of . . . an individual's hubris?  Can that be?

Let's begin with one that hits close to many homes.

HBO → Max
There is only one explanation for this, and that is the fact that the guy that runs the show now, David Zaslav, was hellbent on making his mark.  There is just no other explanation.

As you know, HBO (originally, Home Box Office) is amongst the world's finest producers of content, full stop, and has been a big deal from the get-go.  Heck, I remember being very impressed visiting Bob "Squid" Delacruz's (real name and nickname) home and seeing their family had HBO.  This was the mid 1970s, and this was what cable TV looked like then.  This is the cable box before the cable box.

Let me tell you, in Albany, NY in 1975, it was a big deal getting NYC and Boston channels via this magic.  But HBO?  Only the cool families had it, and we weren't.  Heck, I'm not sure we were cool enough for basic cable, let alone HBO.

The point is:  HBO, from its earliest days, was an aspirational brand.  It was something one strove to obtain.

Indeed, the magic they've created there, and for how long, is extremely impressive.  Yet now all of it - Succession, White Lotus, Game of Thrones, Six Feet Under, Sopranos - all of those and so many more gold-standard shows associated with those three magic letters HBO, is being flushed.  To the Max.
And Max?  Are you fucking kidding me?  How many Millennial and Gen Z focus groups did this POS go through, until Zaslav got the answer he was seeking?  This is the most hubristic and ego-driven brand change ever.

Oh, wait.

Twitter → X
If one considers what Elon Musk has done to Twitter since purchasing it for kicks last year for $45 billion or so, it calls into question this whole "Musk is a genius" thing.  I won't recount his missteps here, but there have been plenty.  And I'm not even talking about what a bigot he is.

Twitter Turning Into X Will Wipe Out $4 Billion to $20 Billion in Brand Value - Bloomberg

Everything one could say about the HBO to Max change can be said here - yet it's far worse.  That is because "Twitter" and "tweeting" became household words, and their blue bird icon is now recognized by virtually anyone with a phone on Earth.

Imagine if you owned the brand "Kleenex" and decided it was time for something new.  This is about that stupid. 

I do believe this to also be an example of one man simply having too much money.  He answers to no board of directors, and made this change because he felt like it.  Musk can destroy Twitter and take it to zero and it will have essentially no impact on him or even his other companies.  It's disgusting.

Like Musk himself, and the new name and logo aren't far behind.  This is what their homepage looked like as recently as Monday, to a non-X (or Twitter) subscriber.  Is the company and its service called X or Twitter?  What a joke.

But for the record, bad decisions can be reversed.  Look at what almost happened to the Niners . . .


Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Here's a band with a definite brand, and their brand is kicking ass prolifically.  Here are my heroes Guided by Voices, with only their second (!) new album of 2023, the cleverly-named Welshpool Frillies.  It's a bit too earlier for a formal rating, but I liked it a lot during my first listen; somehow, Uncle Bob just keeps on keeping on.

About Dean Clough