Soon after, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would be changing its name to Meta. It was a classic move. Company messes up. Company loses public favor. Company comes up with a new name and branding.
The artist formerly known as Facebook is just the latest in a grand tradition of companies that changed their name following a public scandal. Here are some other examples that paved the way.
British Petroleum to BP
Oil and gas companies generally don’t have the best environmental reputations, but BP takes the cake. In 2000, the oil and gas giant changed its name from British Petroleum to BP, revealed a new green and yellow sunburst logo, and adopted the slogan “beyond petroleum.” This was all in an attempt to appear more environmentally friendly.
But then there was the deadly explosion of an oil refinery in Texas in 2005, the oil spill in Alaska that leaked 200,000 gallons into the Prudhoe Bay in 2006, and of course, the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, which was the largest oil spill in history. It turns out, changing the name did not make the company more environmentally responsible.
Blackwater to Xe to Academi
Blackwater’s reputation got so bad it had to change its name more than once. In 2006, a Blackwater contractor “got drunk and shot dead” one of the Iraqi vice president’s bodyguards. In 2007, the company was sued for negligence by the families of Blackwater contractors who were killed in Fallujah. Also in 2007, Blackwater contractors opened fire in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians.
Four Blackwater contractors were convicted of the shooting and sentenced to prison and the U.S. State Department decided not to renew its contract with the company. Erik Prince (brother of former Trump White House official Betsy DeVos) stepped down as CEO, and the company was renamed Xe. In 2011, Xe was acquired by a group of private investors and the company changed its name again, to Academi. Now, it’s owned by an umbrella company called Constellis Holdings
Philip Morris to Altria
Building a business around the cool factor of a product can be a problem when the product is determined by the Supreme Court to be harmful and addictive. By 2003, people had figured out that cigarettes weren’t healthy, so Philip Morris, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, decided that it needed to improve its public image. Also, it wanted a name that encompassed its other products, since at the time it also owned Kraft Foods and beer company SABMiller. So it changed its name to Altria.
Did it work? Kind of. Cigarette sales in the U.S. have been in decline since 2001, so that probably hasn’t been great for corporate morale. But, like a chronic smoker’s cough, Altria didn’t go away. Instead, it diversified its holdings, buying up smokeless tobacco and the wine company UST Inc., and investing in cannabis company Cronos Group and e-cigarette brand Juul Labs. Apparently vaping isn’t very good for you either, but this isn’t Philip Morris’ … I mean Altria’s … first rodeo.
Lance Armstrong Foundation to Livestrong Foundation
It was a Cinderella Story. Man overcomes late-stage cancer, goes on to win the Tour de France seven times in a row, and dates Sheryl Crow.
Then Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, and it all came crashing down.
Armstrong’s heroic story was the basis for his eponymous foundation. That, and those yellow silicone bracelets that everyone was obsessed with for a while. So, when it was discovered in 2012 that Armstrong cheated, the foundation thought it was best to consciously uncouple. Armstrong stepped down as chairman, and the foundation changed its name to the Livestrong Foundation.
The foundation never quite recovered. Revenue has dropped significantly since 2012. But with a rebrand and mission shift to funding cancer research in 2020, the Livestrong Foundation hopes to rebuild.
McAfee to Intel Security to McAfee
In 1987, John McAfee founded the eponymous company famed for its antivirus software. In the mid ’90s, the eccentric entrepreneur left the company, and what happened after is a lot. He started a yoga retreat in Colorado, then moved to Belize after losing his fortune where he built his own private military compound, then he went into hiding after becoming a suspect in a murder investigation in Belize.
In 2019, McAfee tweeted that he hadn’t filed a tax return in eight years and that “taxation is illegal.” To no one’s surprise, he was indicted for this and not paying taxes on the millions he earned through promoting cryptocurrency, speaking engagements, and other income streams. In June 2021, McAfee was found dead by suicide in a jail cell in Spain where he was awaiting extradition to the U.S.
Any of these antics would have been enough to permanently damage a namesake brand. But the tipping point came in 2013 when McAfee, sporting frosted tips and tribal tattoos, posted a very strange and NSFW video trashing the company for how it had changed since he ran it. Owned by Intel at the time, McAfee Associates changed to Intel Security Group in 2014.
But by 2016, Intel spun off Intel Security Group, and the company changed its name back to McAfee. In a 2017 interview with ITBusiness.ca, CTO Steve Grogan explained the decision saying, “the McAfee brand has immense value.” Despite John McAfee’s best efforts to destroy the company’s reputation, the McAfee brand still resonated with consumers.
Perhaps this means we can expect Meta to change back to Facebook in the future?