My love for words: old ones, fancy ones, new ones, British-sounding ones like firmament and whilst. I hate only a handful of words: resiliency, o’er, optics and some more I won’t mention. Good, bad or fugly—I always enjoy learning a new word.
Recently, while visiting a Denver-area location of our favorite local burrito joint, a curious new word caught my eye: debranding. Assuming someone made it up, I typed a sarcastic Facebook post about this new industry trend. Before posting, I checked with Google, and I’m glad I did. No one loves new words more than branding people, so imagine my surprise when debranding proved to be an actual thing. Sort of.
Most people, including spellcheck, will think you just made it up, but some reputable publications have written about debranding. It even has its own Wikipedia page.
There seem to be three types of debranding
1. Removing a logo altogether
In most cases when the logo is removed altogether, it’s not actually debranding, but other terms no one’s ever heard of.
Often television producers will put gaffer’s tape over brand identities or digitally blur them in post-production. Not technically debranding, this is actually—wait for it—product displacement
. Usually done to prevent unpaid product promotion, product displacement has become so commonplace you hardly notice it.
In some cases, the consumer will remove the brand identity after purchase. These anti-Minnie Pearls remove all traces of brand identity from the products they wear and drive. Maybe they’re striking out against the corporate industrial complex but still need to get their kids to school safely, maybe they’re ashamed of their bobos, maybe they want to enjoy luxury brands without looking ostentatious. Hold your horses, this isn’t debranding either. When the consumer does it, it’s called debadging
Debranding is an action that only the brand itself can initiate, and it’s been a thing for a surprisingly long time.
2. Removing the words from a logo, keeping the bug
Much of the internet’s talk of debranding, including debranding’s very own Wikipedia page, focuses on this activity. Sometimes called decorporatizaton, the thinking here is that by removing the company name and keeping other elements of the brand identity, the brand is somehow positioned as less corporate and more approachable.
Examples most often cited are Nike moving to a swoosh-only logo in 1995 and Coke bottles displaying names like Sarah or Jorge instead of the Coke logo. Starbucks and McDonald’s have also successfully transitioned to bug-only logos.
Ironically (and not surprisingly), this type of debranding can only be pulled off by the most gigantic of brands. Rather than distancing the product from the corporation in any way, these efforts prove the ubiquity of gigantic brands—demonstrating we know who they are without them having to tell us who they are.