Rebrand Risk – New Coke, Han Solo, and Rebranding

For Halloween, 1985 my trick-or-treating costume was a red paper cylinder with

By Can: The Coca-Cola CompanyPhoto: user:Jetijonez - Jetijonez (talk · contribs), Public Domain, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32684553

the words “New Coke” painted up the side in white. I chose this costume because I could make the tube big enough to fit around my parka and snow pants — an essential consideration for trick-or-treating during an ice-cold Canadian Halloween night! My costume was highly relevant because just six months earlier, Coca-Cola had stopped producing original formula Coke and replaced it with New Coke. Then due to the consumer backlash that followed, Coca-Cola reversed its decision and reintroduced the original Coke formula under the name: “Coca-Cola Classic.”

Jump ahead to the present day and shortly after the creation of my current startup, I realized that I needed to rebrand. Would my rebrand succeed or would it become my own personal New Coke nightmare scenario!!!???

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What I learned while walking about on Halloween dressed as a New Coke can is the strong emotional reactions that we have towards brands. When a brand misses the mark reactions to it can range from apathy to rejection to sheer disgust!

Saskatoon winger
Saskatoon: it’s even colder than it looks!

That night, my best friend Dwight came with me to trick-or-treat. While I was costumed as New Coke, Dwight had chosen the much less controversial “Han Solo on Hoth” costume: a blue parka with its hood pulled up. Side by side, we went up to the front door of the house on the corner of my block and rang the doorbell.

Blue Parka
In Canada, this qualifies as a Halloween Costume!

“Trick-or-treat!” we sang as the door opened.

The man who answered the door had a plastic orange jack-o-lantern basket filled with candy for trick-or-treaters.

The man looked at Dwight first and said, “Han Solo on Hoth, great costume!” He gave Dwight a Snickers and a Reese Peanut Butter Cups. Clearly Han Solo had a winning brand!

The man looked at me and said, “wait… you’re Coke?”

“Yes sir,” I said holding open my pillowcase and hoping for a couple of Kit Kats or a few Skittles.

Candy
The Halloween candy haul we were hoping for!

“ARE… YOU… NEW COKE!?” He said, his voice ringing out.

“Yes-ss…” I stammered sensing that something was wrong.

Bag of Salted Peanuts
Salted Peanuts – the WORST!

The man thrust his hand into his Halloween basket and pulled out a tiny bag of salted peanuts. He dropped it into my outstretched pillowcase and quickly closed the door. The door’s deadbolt slammed into place and the lights in the house went out.

We stood on the porch in the dark and contemplated what had just happened. Finally, Dwight said, “I think you ruined Halloween for him. For now on, walk behind me so they can’t see your costume.” Dwight then turned away from the house and strode off with the confidence.

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Tricycle Games was originally founded on December 3, 2018, under the brand “FlareWolf Games.” At the time, our original vision was to be a boutique PC games developer that catered to hardcore players. However, as we developed our first games and began focus testing we found that the play experiences that we were creating didn’t match our original vision. Rather, our games and audience embodied more simple values which we express on our website as:

“Video Games are for Everyone”

and

“We create video game experiences that are fun and inclusive for all cultures, generations, genders, and beliefs.”

(FlareWolf, our original hardcore logo, & Tricycle, our new more accessible brand.)

Our newly discovered values didn’t seem to align with the original rebel spirit of FlareWolf. I could no longer draw a connection between the FlareWolf brand and our values, audience, and products. If the CEO and Founder cannot make these things connect then there is no way our customers will! It was at this moment that I knew that we needed to rebrand.

I warn you that rebranding takes time and it’s expensive. Do not risk a rebrand unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary for the success of your company. When I made the decision to move ahead with our rebrand, we would need to discard many costly FlareWolf assets (although I still wear my FlareWolf t-shirt with pride!) We would need to create all-new logos and brand assets, build a new website, pay marketing costs in dollars and time, and finally there were legal costs required to make the change official. We’re still not finished yet with the brand roll-out and I estimate that the rebrand has cost us several thousand dollars to date. As I write this, we’re just a 14-month old-start up so that’s an enormous cost for us! Seriously, don’t rebrand unless you believe deep down that doing so is absolutely essential to the success of your company and products.

It’s a great looking t-shirt!

So… why “Tricycle?”


During the rebrand, I was working with a creative consultant on new brand concepts. We had several ideas on our whiteboard but when we came out with Tricycle it seemed to align with the new spirit of diversity and inclusion that was resonating in our games and with our customers. For me, the word tricycle feels accessible. It’s an easy word to spell. A tricycle is a gender-neutral toy that most of us have fond memories of playing with as children. A tricycle is simple to operate. I assume most kids were able to simply jump on their first tricycle and start moving around without needing to read a manual. Our goal is to make our games just as fun, easy to use, and as accessible as the tricycle was for us when we were kids!

As of right now, it is too early to say if our decision to rebrand was correct or not. I believe the validation will come in the near future when we release our games and we find out if our products, content, and brand all align in a meaningful way for our customers. However, the feedback we have received to date after launching our Tricycle brand has been overwhelmingly positive!

After Halloween 1985, I permanently retired my New Coke costume. The maligned New Coke brand cost Coca-Cola many millions in lost sales and it cost me too much in lost candy! That year, I learned an important lesson so the following Halloween, I went as a much stronger and much more beloved brand for my costume: Han Solo!