Brand Refresh Wins & Fails

Why are some brand refreshes celebrated while others are panned?


We take a look at six brand refreshes from recent memory to see what we can learn from their successes and failures.

Executed well, a brand refresh livens up the look of a brand – a quick tweeze here, a simple pluck there – with the end goal being a revitalized visual identity that feels as good as it looks. Different than a rebrand, a refresh is designed to breathe new life into what’s already there, allowing the brand to shake what it’s already got without reinventing the wheel.

For some brands, these refreshes have played in their favor, winning a new audience segment, for instance, or capturing the attention of passersby who has never seen it in quite the same light before.

For others, a brand refresh tends to look like a botched facelift seen in the spread of the weekly tabloids.

It’s important to note that brand “makeovers” tend to come in all shapes and sizes, a sliding scale of impact, if you will. Under a designer’s knife, a droopy logo might receive a slight typographic treatment for better readability or more pronounced visibility. A confusing or bland logo might get a helping hand, giving it the ability to translate well across many different types of collateral. Or, in some cases, a cluttered look and feel might be given the “minimal treatment”, pared down to its proverbial shoes and socks, until it becomes, as Laura Reis would call it, a “visual hammer” that’s universally recognized in all corners of the world, despite language or culture.

We polled our team here at Adrenaline to find out which brands in recent memory have unveiled wins – and some noticeable fails.

WIN: Southwest


Southwest Airlines, the world’s largest low-cost carrier, put its heart on its sleeve with its latest brand refresh thanks to the team at Lippincott. While the corporate behemoth responsible for moving millions of passengers worldwide retained its original “bold blue”, “warm red”, and “sunrise silver” color palette, it retranslated the old visual identity into something modern, flexible, and dare we say it: downright human. Its new anchor, the Southwest heart, provides a cohesive visual identity that supports its overall brand strategy, from commercials, to print, and to digital.

And darn if it doesn’t look good doing it.


In addition to its fancy new identity, Southwest also gave some serious consideration to its messaging –
“Without a heart, it’s just a machine” – as well as its brand positioning, which reflects the company’s love of its people and its customers, as well as the art of arriving from gate to gate safely.

We’re calling this one Prom Queen right out of the gate.


FAIL: Google


Google “shot the serif” with its new logo treatment, leaving jaws on the floor in reaction to its new identity. Some lauded its latest update, praising its simplicity, flat design, and usability across multiple products and platforms, including its new entity, Alphabet.


However, Google received more rabid backlash from the design community and beyond than anything else we’ve seen in recent time. Designers and typographers came out of the woodwork to poke fun at its awkward, geeky treatment, with one New Yorker writer going so far as to mock its “insipid “G”, owl-eyed “oo”, schoolroom “g”, ho-hum “l” and demented, showboating “e.”

To be clear, this isn’t a fail on the premise of looks alone; that would be awfully shallow of us.  Google’s latest brand refresh fails because it has disrupted our trust in what we believed the old, serif-friendly logo represented: a throwback to the days of history, culture, the printing press, and ultimately, access to information. Its emotional appeal has been stripped, leaving nothing but a diluted palette of colors with a kindergarten-like feel.

WIN: Mailchimp


Mailchimp debuted its “new and improved” logo nearly two years ago thanks to Jessica Hische, and while some designers sung their praises over its typographic tweaks, others barely noticed – which we think is truly the definition of a great makeover.

It’s like you, only better.

This wasn’t a major refresh for Mailchimp, nor was it anything close to an overhaul. Some loops were made more legible, the height and weight were nipped and tucked, but overall, the refresh was so minimal that it gave people the creeping suspicion that something was different, without being able to put their finger on exactly what.


This brand refresh is a winner in our eyes, not only because it was a stealthy example of a brand identity reaching maturation, but because it accomplished exactly what it set out to do: refine its type game without losing its playfulness.

FAIL: Verizon


Verizon’s recent brand refresh is in the running for the most vilified refresh of the year. Designed by Pentagram, the company claims that flexibility was a major factor in the new logo, and that its signature red checkmark will anchor the brand, even when replicated and printed across companywide collateral.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere had other plans for the new Verizon checkmark, tweeting a lengthy checklist of the downsides of being a Verizon customer and inviting others to do the same.

You can’t shake off the fact that most people still claim that it looks like their four year old could’ve drawn it. Like Verizon, we’ll just leave it at that.

WIN: Holiday Inn

holiday inn

Holiday Inn, for better or worse, has become part of the international tourist vernacular. The mid-range hotel chain owned by IHG knew that its grandmotherly bedspreads and mismatched customer experiences were creating a calico of identity issues, which is why they refreshed its visual identity from the top down in 2007 – all the way from the brand look and feel, to room-by-room amenities.

With a PR blitz, the brand unveiled its $15 million dollar refresh, and the results were impressive. The ugly duckling had evolved into a swan, thanks to a new consistency in its logo that matched the consistency in customer expectations, regardless of location.


But above all, this brand refresh still stands out nearly eight years later because of the strategy that informed all of the design decisions. It’s clear that corporate didn’t snap their fingers and order a round of mockups. Through careful collection of audience feedback and customer demographics, Holiday Inn managed to reposition, refresh, and rebrand its identity from the inside out.

After all, doesn’t all brand beauty come from within? 

FAIL: Olive Garden

olive garden

What’s not to love about this soup, salad, and breadsticks kingpin? Olive Garden recently underwent a dramatic transformation from its traditional Italian roots, due in part because of lackluster performance and its “same old same old” reputation.

What goes in bland does not always come out better, however. As one commenter put it, the new logo communicates nothing better than food that is “artificial, inedible, and served to you by corporate cretins.


With hilariously heated reviews that compare it to 1894’s Ministry of Plenty, criticize its creepy-cursive looped logo, and point out the fact that the logo doesn’t do justice to the menu, this brand refresh was like a cold plate of pasta plopped down in front of you.

Sometimes logos, like a timeless recipe, simply shouldn’t be messed with.

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