The No Good, Very Bad Rebranding

You've got to hand it to Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK  ) . Rather than quietly letting Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) steamroll it in online retailing, the plucky discount underdog has hatched a gutsy plan to win back the hearts (and wallets) of shoppers.

Say hello to O.co, the brand new Overstock. The company's spending just over $7 million for naming rights to the Oakland Coliseum -- for the next six years, O-town will be O.co-town. It's far from the first boneheaded rebranding in corporate history, but will it ultimately join the list of silly second names that succeeded in spite of themselves?

By any other (lousy) name
Companies rename or rebrand themselves all the time, for all sorts of reasons. Some changes are more successful than others, and some widely reviled changes turn out to be nothing more than angry commentators blowing smoke in the face of a juggernaut.

Old Name

New Name

Date of Change

3-Year Total Return Outperformance (Underperformance) vs. S&P 500 After Rebranding (percentage points)

Total Annual Revenue Growth (Decline) in 3 Years After Rebranding

Philip Morris Altria (NYSE: MO  ) 1/27/2003 74.9 21%
World Wrestling Federation World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE  ) 5/5/2002 (39.5) (11%)
AOL (NYSE: AOL  ) * Aol. 11/24/2009 (56.7) (33%)
PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) Same name, new logo design 10/14/2008 4.9 50%
Andersen Consulting Accenture 1/1/2001 80.4 10%

Sources: Yahoo! Finance, S&P Capital IQ, and company annual reports. *For AOL, rebranding changed its name to use lowercase letters and a period. Date reflects first day of when-issued trading. Revenue growth calculated from date of change to most recent quarter.

The companies that outperformed the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) after rebranding all posted revenue gains during the three-year stretch following the change, and those that fell behind couldn't mask their declines with a funky new logo.

WWE famously changed its image after a protracted legal battle with the World Wildlife Federation (sadly, no steel-chair-wielding pandas were involved in that scrum), but the company's brand of scripted smash-mouth entertainment never regained the success of the Stone Cold Steve Austin "Attitude" years. AOL has bled high-revenue subscribers for a decade, which is a much deeper problem than the look of their logo.

O brother, where art thou (profits)?
Overstock -- I mean O.co -- is just starting on its new path. The company finally emerged from beneath a torrent of red ink to post annual profits in 2009 and 2010, but old habits die hard. Its most recent quarterly results were bloodier than they've been in years, with a quarterly net loss larger than any since June 2007. Are these losses temporary or the harbinger of doom? Fool contributor Sean Williams thinks it's time to kiss Overstock goodbye for good. Wish granted, sort of.

A recent Forbes interview with O.co CEO Patrick Byrne reveals Byrne's desire to make his big O as recognizable as Nike's Swoosh, among other lofty proclamations. Remember, Byrne was the same man who famously blamed a mysterious "Sith lord" for his company's poor stock performance and has spent years pursuing lawsuits against various Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch parent Bank of America for their efforts to short O.co's stock. This could just be more smoke and mirrors to distract everyone from the company's inability to keep itself above water.

The Motley Fool knows that a great company by any other name is still worth investing in, which is why Altria is one of the five stocks the Fool has put real money behind. Find out the others in this free report, and add these companies to your watchlist so you don't miss any more unexpected rebranding.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no position in any company mentioned here, except one of detached amusement regarding Overstock's new name. The Motley Fool owns shares of Altria Group and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo, Amazon.com, and Accenture, as well as creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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