Airbus Rebrand: Will it Fly?

airbusRebranding is risky business and more than a few well-intended efforts have ended badly. The JC Penney rebrand was an epic fail that could drive the retailer into bankruptcy. A revamped Gap logo sparked a global uprising. And I’ve already blogged about American Airlines’ journey to become a “new American” by revamping its image.

The most recent headline-grabbing change hits closer to home as EADS is renamed Airbus, and Eurocopter becomes Airbus Helicopters. The wisdom of this move is being hotly debated on news forums and online industry communities. At a high level, some folks acknowledge that Airbus is a successful brand with strong global equity. And we all know that the EADS name carried a lot of political baggage.

Drilling down, the military community seems to agree that nobody wants to take a bus to the fight.

And the helicopter people, well, they are mostly perplexed and pissed off. One blogger said killing the Eurocopter name is “ludicrous,” “silly” and a “PR disaster.” Another said it is “ridiculous to change the most successful global brand in helicopters.” I know from experience that any discussion of a name or logo change is an emotional minefield that turns rational people into raving lunatics. In this case, they may have a point. As one of my colleagues said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In a well-intentioned effort to achieve unity and consistency in a rebranding, too many companies are inflexible and fail to account for the specific sensibilities and needs of niche markets. The Airbus shift may be a case of moving too far too fast. The prestige and power of the Eurocopter brand cannot be understated. The employees who have helped this company achieve industry prominence are personally invested in the brand, as are customers and helicopter enthusiasts worldwide.

Changing an iconic brand is like playing with fire. Let’s hope the fine folks at Eurocopter don’t get burned.