The Value in a Brand and Consequences of Change

Gilda Radner is a comedic legend whose life was cut short by cancer. As Saturday Night Live characters Roseanne Roseannadana, Baba Wawa or Emily Litella, Radner always found a way to make people smile. The original cast member of SNL passed away in 1989 from ovarian cancer, but her legacy lives on through Gilda’s Club, a non-profit cancer support network that was started by her friends and family.

Recently, some of the Gilda’s Club branches announced they would be changing their name to Cancer Support Community, including the Madison, Wisc., Gilda’s Club affiliate.

The executive director of the Madison affiliate explained that her organization decided to change its name to Cancer Support Community Southwest Wisconsin after it realized that most college students were born after Radner died in 1989.

“We are seeing younger and younger adults who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis,” the executive director told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We want to make sure that what we are is clear to them and that there’s not a lot of confusion that would cause people not to come in our doors.”



This decision ignited backlash from a number of Radner supporters. The Madison chapter’s Facebook page has been bombarded with comments filled with anger and bewilderment.

Other chapters, specifically the Nashville chapter, announced on its Facebook page on Nov. 29 that the local branch would not change the name. The page received numerous positive comments applauding the chapter’s decision. Sandy Towers, the affiliate’s founder, explained why it’s important to hold on to the name, Gilda’s Club.

We have been established in our community for almost 15 years, and there is value in the brand,” said Towers. “Having the name Gilda’s Club is special and unique. It is a personal connection that allows us to tell a better story and gives us the opportunity to explain who Gilda was and what we do as an organization.”

“When Gilda was diagnosed, she said cancer was a very unfunny topic,” continued Towers. “We deal with difficult issues here, and yet at the same time, there is so laughter and a whit and whimsy attitude that was a part of Gilda and is part of what happens here. Even though people are diagnosed with cancer, people can live with it. There’s a quality of life that can be had no matter the outcome.”

Towers and her local organization stress that Radner’s life represents a wonderful story of how she dealt with the cancer. The spirit of who she was is so important and valuable to the organization.

There is something to staying true to a brand and celebrating its legacy. No matter if it’s Susan G. Komen, The Mayo Clinic or Gilda’s Club, there is value to a brand’s name.

Other companies have received negative feedback when trying to change their image. Coca-Cola attempted to change its recipe and name to “New Coke”, but was faced with epic consumer fallout so it reverted to the original recipe and name three days after the change. In 2010, GAP introduced its redesigned logo on its website, only to receive nothing but criticism and complaints from the retailer’s customers. The retailer turned it into a positive by engaging fans, asking for suggestions and, ultimately, returning to the old logo.

Could the Madison chapter’s decision lead to a new generation discovering the comedic genius of Gilda Radner, in addition to newly found brand awareness of Gilda’s Club?  Can they make good out of a bad situation?

Only time will tell.

For your enjoyment, here is a glimpse of Gilda Radner’s life and one of her infamous skits.



New Coke, Old Coke, White Coke…Oh, No Coke

The Coca-Cola Company

The world witnessed the power of branding, thanks to the Coca-Cola Company, once again. Didn’t it learn its lesson with New Coke?

It was 26 years ago when the world’s largest beverage company changed its tried-and-true recipe, only to face epic consumer fallout. After only three weeks, the company scrapped New Coke and re-introduced Classic Coke.

Lesson Learned: Don’t mess with our Coke!

But how they soon forget.

This time, it wasn’t the recipe Coke changed; it was the color of the can—from red to white. Sounds innocent enough, right? Especially hearing it was part of a campaign to protect the Arctic habitats of polar bears.

But the change was met with consumer backlash, again. Not to the magnitude of New Coke, but enough to cause Coke execs to replace the white cans with the familiar red ones.  Coke lovers had several complaints:

1)      “The white can resembles Diet Coke.”—OK. I get that. Diet Coke die-hards felt duped when they bought one thing but got another.

2)      “It tastes different.”—This one’s interesting and underscores the power of branding and visuals. The recipe is the same, but sometimes our brains override our taste buds.

3)      “I want my can to be red.”—Enough said.

The execs at Coke listened because they realized they had a brand to protect.  Great brands create relationships and forge emotional connections.  And it all boils down to the simple fact that companies don’t own their brands, consumers do.

Coke is one of the most recognized brands in the world and it’s extremely lucky to have very loyal and very passionate consumers. Now listen to them. They’re screaming at you, loud and clear:  we love our Coke.. but only when it’s the real thing.

Lesson Learned 2.0