Time for Brands to be Honest about Rebranded Products?

Sennheiser gives a Rebranding lesson

by: - Last updated on: December 30th, 2021
Key Takeaways
  • In the tech market, the word “rebrand” has a negative connotation, with many thinking that it refers to an old product being sold in the guise of a new one.
  • Most brands tend to deny that a new product is a rebranded version of an older one, no matter how similar the devices may be.
  • Sennheiser, therefore, surprised many when it recently stated that one of its new headphones was essentially the same as one released a year ago. Should other brands follow suit?

As with so many things these days, it happened on Twitter. A few weeks ago, audio giant Sennheiser was asked by one of its followers on Twitter how its recently released headphones, the HD 400 Pro were different from the HD 560s, which were released in 2020 (as both headphones seemed rather similar). The audio brand’s response was surprisingly candid – it said that it had just made “adjustments” to the HD 560’s finish and accessories. And then in the next tweet, the brand added:

Our engineering team validated the HD 560s as a perfect fit for pro customers as it features a very flat frequency response curve and has a very neutral, detailed reproduction. There was no reason to change the excellent acoustics of this model.

tech rebranding

Being cold about being “old”?

In two tweets, Sennheiser had done what most other tech brands refuse to do – it had stated that one of its new products was for all functional purposes, totally identical to an older product. Stuff like this simply does not happen in the tech world. While brands do come out with new products that seem incredibly similar to older ones, they seldom admit to the two products being rebranded. Instead, there is inevitably talk of how the newer product is “better” in some way.

This is especially the case in the smartphone market. It is becoming increasingly common for many brands to release almost the same device (often under a sub-brand) with few minor changes – perhaps a faster charger, a slightly different design, or a marginally different interface. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but what is surprising is that the brands insist that the two devices are totally different when they are actually identical for most purposes. We have had smartphones that have the exact same configuration being sold under different names by a brand and its current/former sub-brand, with minor differences in design, in-box chargers, and in some cases, even a different RAM/storage variant.

The perceived peril about name changes

We do not have a problem with this “rebranding” process. It is legitimate marketing – books and films are often re-released under different titles to appeal to a different market segment. Brands that indulge in this sort of rebranding claim that being totally honest is not an option, given the hostility of the tech media towards rebranding in general.

A rebranded product is often seen as something that is old, and that can be dangerous in this market,” an executive from one of these brands told us, on condition of anonymity.

We would have no issues saying that a new device is basically an older one with a new coat of paint, but then you folks in the media would criticise us for not being innovative. And that perception affects dealers and consumers.

If our source is to be believed, some brands even have strict communications policies forbidding even naming the “original” device in their briefings. Being “older” is seen as a huge minus point in a market where “latest is greatest” is a mantra.

Time to be honest about rebrand efforts?

That might make sense to cynically commercial minds, but we do not think it actually works. Products launched in this camouflaged manner are criticized for being rebranded by the media anyway. What’s more, many even do well in terms of sales, notwithstanding all this criticism. For example, Xiaomi’s former sub-brand Poco has run up impressive sales despite many claiming that some of its phones were Redmi rebrands, while Realme has sold many Narzo series devices, which were also criticized for being rebrands of Realme phones. Samsung has also done reasonably well with similar devices across different series. So, whatever the reviewers say, it would seem that consumers are not too affected by the “rebrand” taint.

Faced with queries about whether its latest product was basically an older one with a slightly newer design and a new name, Sennheiser could have faffed about “special driver turning” or “acoustic adjustments” and the like. It instead chose to be upfront about both devices being essentially the same. What’s more, by doing so, it actually stressed how good the older device was, taking pride in it. Perhaps tech brands could take a page out of Sennheiser’s book and not dodge the “rebrand” bullet the next time they try to launch a seemingly older device under a different name. They have not much to lose. As we pointed out, a rebrand will be called out whether the brand doing it admits it or not, and it often does not seem to affect sales either.

Shakespeare had famously said that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, a good product should do well, no matter what you call it, shouldn’t it?

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