Rebranding and the Cancel Culture

According to

The cancel culture is defined as:  the phenomenon or practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting, or ending support for particular people or groups because of their socially or morally unacceptable views or actions

On February 2nd, 2022, we saw an instance of an increasingly common trend as the professional football team from Washington – previously known as the Redskins – was rebranded as the Commanders.   Why after decades of a successful and highly recognizable brand was this action necessary?

Political sensitivity? 

If so, perhaps the rebranding process was undertaken to correct a past mistake.

Others might suggest that the action was a byproduct of the so-called cancel culture – an instance in which the threat of a boycott or at least public backlash was used to precipitate a change that some people found necessary . . . . while others did not.

Regardless, a revisit of the name has occurred . . . with this instance being one among several recent ones prompted by similar circumstances.  For example . . .

  • In February of 2021, Aunt Jemima (a branding icon believed to suggest an unflattering racial stereo type) became the Pearl Milling Company.
  • In July of 2021, the Cleveland Indians baseball team officially became the “Guardians” – revisiting a century-old brand that had used the same name since 1915.
  • In May of 2021, Uncle Ben’s became Ben’s Original.
  • As of June 2020, a complete review of Mrs. Butterworth’s branding and packaging commenced.  (While the company suggested that the intent was to project a grandmotherly image, others felt the iconography could be perceived as unflattering racial stereotyping.)

So, what’s the branding lesson to be learned from these cases? 

Your brand should be constantly reviewed and re-evaluated to both measure effectiveness AND spot potential sensitivities that could then be addressed BEFORE a public outcry began.

When a possible need to rebrand an historically successful brand is viewed as necessary due to potential adverse customer/audience reaction, try to make the most of the need for change and take advantage of the marketing opportunity.

In the case of the Washington Redskins, the review of the team’s nickname and iconography began back in July of 2020.  While the new name was not selected till almost two years later, the questionable “Redskins” nickname was dropped and the team became known as the “Washington Football Team” during that interim period.  (Real creative placeholder name, eh?)

The team’s audience – the fans – were solicited for suggestions . . . but unfortunately one fan favorite (the wolves) could not be used because of potential intellectual property issues.  (Search “Washington Red Wolves Possible Logos” to see the early groundwork.)

The process of rebranding was not rushed and considerable effort was spent trying to get the process done right.  Nevertheless, only time will tell whether or not the Commanders succeeds in replacing the Redskins in the minds of long-term fans.  Meanwhile, the club will seize this moment to promote new merchandise sales that incorporate the logo as well as grabbing this unique chance to be very much on people’s minds and the source of much conversation. (Check out the new logo.)

As always, we welcome any thoughts or feedback, and we encourage you to comment by using the space provided below.


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