MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Two companies with highly recognizable names are changing them. It is called rebranding, and it does not always work out. Dunkin' Donuts is dropping Donuts from its name in January. It will be referred to, at least in corporate headquarters, as just Dunkin'. Meanwhile, Weight Watchers is now officially called WW. The company says it is, quote, "going beyond weight to wellness." Well, branding expert Allen Adamson of the company Metaforce says not all rebrands are equal, and he joins me now. Hello, Mr. Adamson.
ALLEN ADAMSON: How are you?
KELLY: I am well, thank you. I want to start with a basic question - why do companies do this?
ADAMSON: To maintain relevance - people are finding doughnuts not the healthiest thing or weight watching not as interesting as it used to be.
KELLY: All right. Well, let's look at these two specific examples before us. Dunkin' Donuts - the whole point of Dunkin' Donuts is the doughnuts. What are we dunkin' if it isn't doughnuts?
ADAMSON: (Laughter) Well, in their case, they have an easier task than Weight Watchers because shortening a name is always easier than renaming something. So people are already calling it Dunkin' Donuts, and getting them to drop the Donuts is relatively easy. And shorter is always better.
KELLY: And in terms of the broader strategy we assume is guiding this, is this trying to get people in who want something that sounds healthier than a doughnut?
ADAMSON: Maybe decoupling Dunkin' from Donuts because doughnuts are not the No. 1 item on your eat healthy list, but it gives them some flexibility to broaden their business and change the menu a little bit. Of course, today, most people don't go for doughnuts anyway. They go for a coffee.
KELLY: Oh, I go for the doughnuts. I am all there for the doughnuts.
KELLY: The coffee is an added bonus.
ADAMSON: They'll sell you as many doughnuts as you'll want to consume. But, you know, in terms of the long-term brand image, I think connecting with Dunkin' will give them a little more flexibility.
KELLY: Let me switch you to the other one, Weight Watchers, and I'm going to keep my skeptic's hat on here because WW doesn't really roll off the tongue. I mean, they've shortened it to two letters, but they have miraculously managed to add three syllables. Plus I feel like I'm talking about a world war.
ADAMSON: Yeah. They're going to have to teach a whole bunch of old dogs new tricks, and that's really hard in consumer marketing. Telling them that it's now WW is launching a new brand. It's not just simply IBM changing from International Business Machines to IBM or General Electric going to GE. This is a massive change, and it's going to require lots of horsepower to get people to call them WW, even know what WW means.
KELLY: Right. I mean, how long does it tend to take a major rebranding to catch on to where people actually remember what they're now supposed to call a company?
ADAMSON: If it's a simple shortening or Federal Express going to FedEx, it can happen pretty quickly because it just rolls off the tongue and it's sort of already hardwired in people's heads. But this is getting people to think of them in a whole new way. And while weight watching is not that popular an idea, wellness is a mushy idea.
KELLY: I mean, it does prompt the question there's value to a name change for a company in that it gets people talking about the company. We're sitting here talking about Weight Watchers, WW, and Dunkin' and we might not have been had this not been a decision these companies took.
ADAMSON: But no matter how much you're talking about WW and is it going to work or not, at the end of the day, people are going to have to remember it, and that's a bigger challenge for Weight Watchers than it is for Dunkin' getting people to remember Dunkin' but forget the Donut part.
KELLY: That is Allen Adamson of the company Metaforce. And I would say thank you for talking to National Public Radio, except that we are officially now known as NPR. So thank you for talking to NPR.
ADAMSON: Easy to remember NPR, and thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF RED GARLAND'S "ON A CLEAR DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.