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Facebook Marketing WhatsApp

What happens when brand consistency backfires?


By Dom Burch, managing director

December 10, 2019 | 6 min read

Have you noticed the subtle Facebook logo when you open WhatsApp recently? It only appears briefly after the app has been idle for a while.

whatsapp sheryl sandberg encryption

What happens when brand consistency backfires

It's reinforcing a relationship I don't really want to think about and could be counterproductive. It makes me want to use the app less. Although, I probably haven’t.

This begs the question, does it matter whether Facebook starts co-branding its core products to drive consistency and ultimately shareholder value? Or, does the association create more problems than it solves?

The move reminds of when Asda started calling its biggest hypermarkets 'Asda Walmart Supercentres' in a nod to the Bentonville based parent company – and an overt indication it was part of a larger corporate ‘family’.

In reality, all it did was confuse those customers who’d been on holiday to Florida and had been to a ‘proper’ Walmart Supercentre – 200,000 square feet mega retail outlets with ride-on lawnmowers, molded swimming pools, and supersized groceries.

As it turned out the parent company co-branding was completely unnecessary, it didn't add to the shopper experience, and for those who already disliked the American giant, merely acted as an unhelpful reminder that little old Asda wasn’t owned by Yorkshire dairymen anymore.

So back to WhatsApp. A quick poll on Twitter revealed a mix of views.

Rebecca Benn aka @reallynicefood said: “In terms of parent branding, the addition of ‘Facebook’ on what’s app hinders not helps. But you could also argue that at least they are being transparent, many people may not have made the link about ownership and thought that were two separate companies.”

Amy Downes aka @tractorgirlamy8 said: “Totally agree [with my suggestion that it was counterproductive], it just made me think 'oh yeah, another place Facebook are taking over'.”

Meanwhile Danny Blackburn (@danny_blackburn) said: “Slightly different in that most WhatsApp users have a direct relationship with Facebook, whereas the Walmart thing was meaningless for most Asda shoppers. Still not sure what the point is though - if anything it just makes me more worried about Facebook’s many data tentacles...”.

Marijana (M&M) aka @SunshineCity83 said she’d noticed too, but when asked how she felt about it said: “Un-phased. It’s just them exerting their ‘power’ over us by stamping the logo everywhere. It is what it is.”

In November, Facebook rebranded its corporate identity to distinguish itself from the logo of the app we all know. Facebook is now the equivalent of Google’s Alphabet and it is this corporate identity that flashes before your eyes in Whats App green.

Whatsapp screen grab

It took me seven screen grab attempts before I managed to capture the logo. The speed it appears and disappears again reminded me of those mischievous ads from days gone by that were sending us all ‘secret’ subliminal messages. Words that flashed up so quickly as to not really be noticed, yet they’d landed somewhere deep in our subconsciousness, and slowly gnawed away at our brains, leading us into temptation.

Could this be a Facebook ploy to warm us up to the parent brand, in a way that’s not too intrusive, and after all, on an app we still love to delve in and out of repeatedly both at work and play? According to Digital Information World, WhatsApp has 1.5 billion users across 180 countries, making it the most popular instant messaging app worldwide. The number two is Facebook’s other instant messaging app, Messenger. Or could it have the opposite effect?

One last retail example to ponder on. There was a time that Tesco was unassailable. It grew from strength to strength year after year, moving from big stores, to small stores. Nothing stood in its path, and as it gobbled up other retailers, it quickly rebranded them. That was until it started annoying shoppers by being on every street corner. What started out as a very sensible corporate rebranding exercise, led to shopper brand fatigue. At the time of buying up T&S, Tesco said the c-store acquisition would increase its presence in "many neighbourhoods across the country" and bolster its share of a growing market. More than 850 convenience stores - under the One-Stop and Day & Nite names – would quickly transition into mini Tesco Express stores.

But the brakes were put on. And to this day One Stop remains a standalone brand – with not even a hint it is part of the by T. If search hard enough you’ll find a tiny footnote mention on One Stop’s About Us page: “Since 2003 we have been a subsidiary of Tesco, but we operate as a separate business.” So there you go.

Having reached the peak of its dominance Tesco has spent the last five years in recovery mode following the biggest financial scandal British retail has ever known. A cautionary tale, and perhaps one Facebook should heed.

Dom Burch is managing director and founder of Why Social.

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