As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Unfortunately, companies like Netflix and Instagram had to learn this lesson the hard way when they made major changes to their offerings that didn’t go over well with consumers. As a response to the backlash, some companies have backtracked and restored their previous models while others have stuck to their guns and moved forward in a new (less popular) direction.
Take a look at some of the most infamous company overhauls of all time.
Last updated: Sept. 6, 2021
Coca-Cola’s New Coke
In an attempt to compete with Pepsi, Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke” in April 1985, which company execs claimed had a better taste than the original.
Consumers didn’t react positively to news of the change, which has been dubbed the “marketing blunder of the century.”
“There were protests in the streets, people would flood our telephone lines,” Phil Mooney, archivist for the Coca-Cola Co., told Matzav.com. “We got thousands and thousands of letters from consumers demanding that we bring back the original formula.”
The company did just that. In July 1985, Coca-Cola brought back its classic formula and original branding. Although it might not have been the best way to beat Pepsi, the return to Coca-Cola Classic drove Coke to a 39% market share — 15 points higher than a couple of years earlier — while Pepsi had only a 28% share, Matzav.com reported.
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Netflix’s Launch of Qwikster
In 2011, Netflix announced that its DVD-by-mail service and streaming service would now require two separate subscriptions, with the DVD service spinning off into a new brand called Qwikster. This meant that customers who wanted to have both services would now have to pay $16 a month instead of $10.
This move cost Netflix 800,000 subscribers, CNN reported. In response to the negative reaction from customers, just weeks after announcing Qwikster, Netflix killed the service before it even launched.
Instagram’s Algorithm Change
In 2016, Instagram changed from a reverse-chronological feed to one that showed “relevant” posts first — and users were not happy about it. One big problem: You would sometimes see days-old posts.
The change was worrying to influencers and merchants who feared it would hurt sales. Celebrities like John Mayer also voiced concerns that it would negatively affect artists: “Please don’t change the chronological feed in exchange for an algorithm meant to show most ‘relevant’ feeds first,” he posted in an open letter to Instagram. “I’m not writing this for my benefit, but for the benefit of so many artists, creators and upstarts whose careers depend on this platform to flourish. My tastes, interests and curiosities change every day; if I’m not even sure what’s relevant to me, how will you know?”
It also bothered ordinary people who just preferred seeing an orderly feed.
In 2018, the company changed the feed back to a (somewhat) chronological order that showed more new posts.
“Based on your feedback, we’re […] making changes to ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed,” Instagram posted on its company blog. “With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about.”
Dove’s ‘Body Positive’ Body Wash Bottles
In 2017, Dove launched a new line of body washes in the U.K. that came in six different bottle shapes, meant to represent different women’s body types.
While the bottles were meant to send a message of body inclusivity, some felt they were problematic.
“This is a naval-gazing marketing exercise that patronizes women rather than celebrates them,” Sarah Benson, a London-based brand strategist, told “Today.” “The shapes invite shoppers to judge themselves against what others look like, which surely increases the sense of feeling different rather than acceptance.”
Others just thought the bottles were funny looking, with tweeters making comparisons between the Dove bottles and bottles of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup and bear-shaped honey containers. Either way, it was a branding fail for the body care brand.
MoviePass’ Policy Change
When MoviePass introduced its $10-a-month plan that enabled subscribers to see a movie a day in the summer of 2017, the company became an overnight sensation, rolling up more than 3 million subscribers. The plan seemed too good to be true — and was. The subscription program wasn’t financially sustainable and in August 2018, MoviePass began rolling annual subscribers over to a three-movie-per-month plan.
Less than a year later, subscribers had dropped from more than 3 million to 225,000, according to internal data obtained by Business Insider. In an attempt to win back some of the 90% of subscribers who canceled their services, MoviePass rolled out a new “unlimited” plan in March 2019. However, the plan came with many caveats, and only about 13,000 subscribers signed up for it in the month following its launch, Variety reported.
Overstock.com’s Rebrand as O.co
In early 2011, Overstock.com announced a name change to O.co. It also revamped its website and changed the sign on the Oakland, California, NFL stadium to which it had naming rights.
The change confused customers, many of whom attempted to visit the site at O.com and found a nonfunctional web page. About six months after the change, the company reversed course and went back to Overstock.com for its website.
“We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” the online retailer’s president, Jonathan Johnson, told AdAge.
Although Johnson said the plan was to eventually convert to O.co slowly, there’s still no sign of that change happening anytime soon. The website is still Overstock.com, and in 2016, the company opted out of the naming rights to the stadium.
SunChips’ New ‘Green’ Bag
In an attempt to make its SunChips bags more environmentally friendly, Frito-Lay overhauled its design to make the bags 100% compostable. Unfortunately, the biodegradable bags were also extremely noisy.
The noisy new bags prompted 44,000 people to join a Facebook group called, “Sorry But I Can’t Hear You Over This SunChips Bag.” And it wasn’t just on social media that people complained about the change — they also protested the change with their wallets, and sales of the chips declined 11% in the year following the bag’s introduction, USA Today reported. About 1 1/2 years after introducing the noisy SunChips bag, Frito-Lay began to phase it out.
Slack’s Logo Change
In January 2019, interoffice messaging app Slack changed its logo from a colorful hashtag to an “octothorpe.”
The new logo was ill-received by users and the media alike. The Twitterverse noted comparisons between the new logo and Microsoft’s logo and, worse, said it resembled a multicolored swastika. The company doesn’t seem to care about the backlash because it has stuck with its new logo.
Starbucks’ New Rewards Levels
In April 2019, Starbucks debuted a new rewards program that made it more difficult to accumulate enough “star” points to qualify for a free beverage or food item. Although customers would still get two stars for every $1 spent, they would now need to get 150 stars to score a free handcrafted beverage and 200 points to get a free lunch sandwich, up from 125 stars each.
Starbucks customers took to Twitter and Facebook to share their ire, with many threatening to take their business elsewhere.
“Starbucks, your new rewards ‘options’ suck,” wrote one tweeter. “You’re not giving anyone more choice; you’re just giving your bottom line more [money] and fewer expenses when it comes time for redemption. You want to improve the rewards program? Keep redemption values at 125.”
Another Starbucks customer wrote on Facebook: “Well Starbucks, until you bring back your old reward program or make significant changes I will happily be buying my coffee elsewhere.”
Facebook’s Introduction of the News Feed
Scrolling through your personalized news feed on Facebook is now the norm, but people were not happy about the introduction of the news feed back in 2006.
One group planned a 24-hour boycott for Sept. 12 of that year in response to the introduction of Facebook’s news feed. Others signed a Change.org petition against the update and hundreds of thousands joined a Facebook group, “Students Against Facebook News Feed,” TechCrunch reported at the time.
Despite the backlash, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the introduction of the news feed in a public post he titled, “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you.” Meanwhile, the news feed has stuck around.
McDonald’s Killing the Dollar Menu
In 2013, McDonald’s officially retired its famous Dollar Menu. The menu was first introduced in 2002 and included eight different items for just a buck each.
Although the fast-food chain was losing money by selling some of the items on its Dollar Menu for just $1, the loss of the popular value menu translated to a loss of customers, Business Insider reported. Traffic to the stores fell after the Dollar Menu was phased out.
In 2017, McDonald’s introduced a new $1, $2, $3 tiered value menu, but it wasn’t able to attract the level of customers it had hoped for. Analysts said the new value menu failed to resonate with customers, and McDonald’s shares plummeted as a result.
Tropicana’s Updated Packaging
In 2009, Tropicana abandoned its longtime brand symbol — an orange with a straw protruding from it — in favor of a more modern-looking package design.
Consumers revolted, complaining about the brand makeover via mail, email and telephone, asking Tropicana parent PepsiCo Inc. to bring back the original look. The company listened and ended up reverting to its original design.
“We underestimated the deep emotional bond” consumers had with the original packaging, Neil Campbell, president at Tropicana North America, told The New York Times. “Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.”
The Sci Fi Channel’s Name Change
In 2009, the Sci Fi channel changed the spelling of its name to Syfy. Dave Howe, president of the channel, later explained that the company made the switch to appeal to a broader audience with a name that indicates that its shows go beyond the topics of space, aliens and the future.
“We believe that by evolving our branding, we’ll be able to encourage more viewers to check us out and watch the broad range of shows on our air,” he told Syfy.com. “That includes our hit reality shows — such as ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Destination Truth’ — which are rooted in the supernatural: ghosts, myths and legends. And because our new brand is less literal than the letters ‘sci-fi,’ it’s actually catching up with our current range of programming and makes more sense to new viewers.”
The name switch was poorly received by both fans of the channel and the media. Gizmodo announced the news with a story titled “Sci Fi Channel Changes Its Name to a Typo,” and Time magazine named the switch one of the top 10 worst corporate name changes of all time.
L.L. Bean’s Return Policy Change
For more than a century, retailer L.L. Bean famously offered a lifetime guarantee on all its products that let consumers return items at any point. But the company revoked this policy in 2018 as a result of customers who were abusing it by expecting full refunds for heavily used items and items that were bought second-hand. As a result of the abuse of the lenient policy, L.L. Bean shortened the return period to one year after purchase.
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Shoppers were not happy with the new return policy. Many took to Twitter to complain, stating that they would be taking their business elsewhere.
“LL Bean is changing their lifetime guarantee. Guess I’ll be looking at North Face and JanSport for my kid’s backpacks,” wrote one tweeter.
Others felt the lifetime guarantee warranted higher prices at L.L. Bean, and no longer believed the prices were worth it.
“The only reason to pay the [markup] at LL Bean was you knew that product was guaranteed for life. Now all of a sudden the products I bought two years ago are no longer guaranteed?” another person tweeted. “No reason to bother now.”
EpiPen’s Price Hike
In 2016, the cost of Mylan’s allergy-reaction injector EpiPen skyrocketed. It went from costing $300 to more than $600 in just two years, Fortune reported.
Although customers were upset, there was little they could do to retaliate against Mylan as many depend on EpiPen as a lifesaving precaution against severe allergic reactions. However, the stock market could react — and it did. Controversy surrounding the price hike caused Mylan’s market cap to drop $3 billion as its stock price fell 12% in five days.
Gap’s New Logo
After 24 years of sticking to the iconic Gap logo — white lettering in a navy square — the clothing brand unveiled a new logo design in 2010.
Gap’s new logo didn’t exactly win a lot of hearts. “The reaction was swift and unequivocal. And bad,” Medium reported. “The redesign attracted the kind of mainstream attention and brought down the kind of wrath that, for a marketer, must be horrifying to watch.”
Less than a week after releasing the new logo, Gap switched back to its old logo and hasn’t changed it since.
Snapchat redesigned its photo and video sharing app in 2018 to make it more user-friendly. The new design separated personal friends and media and put accounts that users watched the most at the top of their feeds.
Among millennial consumers, the new look was a flop. According to data from YouGov BrandIndex, Snapchat’s impression score dropped 73% among Americans ages 18 to 34, from an overall positive brand impression to a negative one. The redesign also led to a drop in new users and less ad venue, Vox reported. As a result, Snap decided to redesign its redesign.
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