Is Facebook’s rebrand a weapon of mass distraction or just deeply ‘Meta’?

Mark Zuckerberg is a genius. Obviously, that’s a given – you don’t create an almost trillion-dollar company without some smarts.

Mark Zuckerberg is a genius, argues Michael Bartley
Mark Zuckerberg is a genius, argues Michael Bartley

But Zuckerberg's handling of what has been a tumultuous few weeks for his organisation has been Grade A.

For those preparing to throw rotten tomatoes at me, I’m not an evangelist for Facebook.

I’m more than up to speed on the company’s timeline of scandal and strife. Yes, including the €225m fine issued by the Irish Data Protection Commission to Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service for issues over transparency of data collection.

Moreover, I’m sure everybody reading will be familiar with Frances Haugen, former Facebook employee turned whistleblower who testified against the organisation in a Senate subcommittee earlier this month.

But pray tell, if you click on to Google News today and type in the word 'Facebook', just how long do you have to scroll before you come across stories pertaining to Facebook’s deliberate spreading of misinformation or other such negative connotations? To coin a phrase from esteemed comedian Katt Williams: “Don’t worry, I’ll wait.”

The virtual column inches are instead awash with news of Facebook’s name change to Meta.

Now, this rebrand is obviously more than just a distraction effort by Zuckerberg and his army of PR execs. As a bit of a metaverse geek, I know this is far from a reactionary measure.

The company has long been poised for a change of direction, pivoting away from its limiting ‘start-up’ name to something more befitting the organisation it is striving to become.

But the timing of the announcement… hmmm, that’s right out of the crisis comms handbook.

In PR it’s often referred to as ‘hitting the reset button’ and is a strategy organisations use when their brand has become so unpopular that a change of name affords them the opportunity to pursue a fresh start.

Meta-what?

For those unfamiliar with the metaverse, it is essentially a shared virtual environment that Zuckerberg and team believe will be offer boundless possibilities in augmented and virtual reality technologies. By rebranding as Meta, they have thrust themselves into the heart – and name – of what may soon be the biggest disruptor to human existence since the onset of the internet. Genius!

A change will do you good

Facebook isn’t the first major brand to discard a previously highly recognisable moniker. Here are three reasons why others may follow suit:

1. We do more than it says on the tin – After a period of sustained growth and change, a company may find that the current name is too limiting or no longer accurately reflects what the company has become.

2. Brand reset – As I alluded to earlier, brands can become unpopular over time because of scandals, a decline in quality, or countless other reasons. When this happens, a name change can be a way of getting customers to shed those old, negative connotations.

3. Course alteration – Not every branding exercise results in success. Sometimes a name change takes place to correct a previous error.

Although the timing of the rebrand was due, in my humble opinion, to the constant association of the Facebook brand with scandals and other negativity, I do believe the name Meta will turn out to be a fantastic long-term move.

It is, however, an immense gamble and I look forward to seeing how this transition plays out in the weeks and months to come.

Michael Bartley is deputy managing director at C8 Consulting

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