There are many examples of maligned categories that have undergone major re-branding exercises to reverse negative perceptions and ensure survival: 'used cars' became 'pre-owned vehicles' and the mouth-watering 'Chilean sea bass' on your favourite restaurant's menu was, until recently, known as the 'toothfish'.
A recent, interesting case of re-branding, actually involves not the survival of a category or a brand, but the survival of an endangered species.
The African Wild Dog is a species that is under significant threat, its population having dropped from hundreds of thousands to only a few thousand today. It has a bad and entrenched image in Africa as a feral canine that preys on villagers' livestock, when in actual fact, it is the hyena that is to blame.
An adventurer named Greg Rasmussen took on this branding challenge to save these unfairly maligned animals from extinction. The African Wild Dog is a German Shepherd-sized animal that looks like a dog, but does not bark and has different teeth and toes. It has never been domesticated, despite many attempts. The animal's coat looks like it was run through an artist's workshop - spotted in white, brown, black and gold. Based on this imagery, Rasmussen made the species sound more exotic. The 'Painted Dog' was (re)-born. Not bad for a zoologist turned branding professional.
But, as we branders know, merely renaming a product does not change negative perceptions. In this case, a crucial aspect was education. Rasmussen turned his conservation centres into camps for school groups, educating youth about Painted Dogs - that they don't attack humans, or prey on livestock. He also started economic development programmes through his centre that allowed local communities to benefit from the dogs' presence (www.painteddog.org).
As we think about our categories and brands, there are lessons here for us. No matter how dreary the forecast is for your brand, there is hope that it can be given new life. Re-branding doesn't always require a name change, but it does involve changing perceptions by getting close to your consumer, understanding their values, concerns and needs, and responding to them in terms of product benefits, product design, communications, and service.
This article was originally published in the 12 August 2010 issue of Media.