But if the company wants to move beyond years of Facebook backlash, it will need to do more than give itself a new name. “A brand is a sum total of decisions and behaviors expressed in words, actions, naming, graphical elements, digital interactions, and many other elements—not just talk,” says Anaezi Modu, the founder and CEO of Rebrand, which advises companies on brand transformations. If Meta still looks like Facebook, sounds like Facebook, and runs its business like Facebook, then people are going to see it as Facebook.
For Facebook, which hopes to bring a billion people into the metaverse, this brand perception matters. The company is in a crisis of trust. People don’t support Facebook’s policies, don’t trust Facebook to protect their data, and try to use the platform less in light of various scandals. People certainly don’t like Mark Zuckerberg. Activists called on advertisers to boycott the company last summer, after Zuckerberg’s decision not to censor Donald Trump. The so-called Facebook Papers have only deepened a sense that Facebook’s own employees have lost faith in the company’s ability to make good decisions or prioritize users’ well-being on its platforms. None of these problems can be swept away by calling the company something else.
While billions of people still use Facebook’s products, the brand is riddled with negative associations, says Mario Natarelli, managing partner at the strategy agency MBLM. Natarelli’s agency specializes in “brand intimacy,” the emotional connection between brands and their customers, and it puts out an annual report on how various brands rank. (Facebook ranks very low—even below telecom companies like AT&T.) “The more intimate you are with a brand, the more you’re willing to pay, and the less you’re willing to live without it,” says Natarelli. “The more intimate brands outperform the Fortune 500 in profit and revenue, so there’s also business and ROI importance to intimacy.”
Facebook’s poor showing hasn’t affected the bottom line very much because it has such a dominant position in the social media space. “Facebook’s market power has nothing to do with its brand. It has to do with its monopoly power,” says Justin Angle, who teaches marketing at the University of Montana. (The company, which is currently facing an antitrust lawsuit from the FTC, has repeatedly denied that it’s a monopoly.) But as Facebook builds new products, including a suite of AR and VR tools for the metaverse, it may lose that advantage—especially for products that cost money.
If the Meta name does anything for Facebook, it might be creating confusion around who runs the show. Angle offered the example of Philip Morris-turned-Altria. Executives said at the time that the company was looking for a fresh start after public perception over cigarettes plummeted. Now, Angle says, “nobody really knows what Altria is,” which is precisely the point. “When you read a story about Altria buying a stake in Juul, the e-cigarette company, it doesn’t grab your eye.”