Dive BOM: Four executional errors and an unfathomable strategy have ruined The Bureau's rebrand
Welcome to a midweek edition of Unmade. Today: The BOM rebrand.
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Imagine being brand custodian of one of Australia’s best known and most respected institutions, and deciding it needs a rebrand. We discovered yesterday that this was the plan for BOM, or the Bureau of Meteorology as it would now prefer to be known.
While that was a questionable strategy in itself, a much bigger problem was the execution.
The first we knew of it was yesterday morning when the Bureau of Meteorology issued what it labelled as a media alert.
Before we get to what was wrong with the alert, let’s start with the strategy of rebranding in the first place. From the outside of the decision making process, this one is hard to fathom.
I usually find that on occasions like this, there are non-obvious internal factors leading a group of otherwise intelligent professionals down a path which looks bizarre when they eventually open it up to the outside world. So let’s not rule that out. However, if there is an explanation for how the organisation reached the conclusion it did, no-one is talking about it.
So the strategy itself just looks wrong. Being known, warmly, as BOM is a great asset. It’s being part of the fabric of Australian culture. Brands don’t get to choose how Australians get behind them, but if they’re smart, they go with it when they do.
McDonald’s didn’t ask to be known as Maccas, but the brand leaned into it, doing a pre-Australia Day rebrand of 13 of its stores back in 2013.
If I remember correctly, the move won DDB some awards. It’s warm and affectionate. Why worry about style guides?
Then comes the question of achievability. Can you really change how the entire Australian population refers to you, just by sending a note to the press?
No, obviously. But let’s assume for a moment that there is a decent strategic rationale behind the BOM rebrand that we’re missing. That wouldn’t explain yesterday’s poorly executed launch of the plan.
First, the timing was poor. Doing it in the middle of a flood emergency sends the wrong signals about BOM’s priorities.
Second, that sort of media alert shown above gets newsrooms offside. Brands don’t get to decide publications’ style guides, editors do.
At Mumbrella we used to hear from Foxtel and Ten on a semi regular basis that we were supposed to refer to them as FOXTEL and TEN, because that was what their brand guidelines said. We’d politely ignore the requests - our choice was to present brand names in a uniform way to make it as straightforward as possible for our readers.
So pompous instructional language like: “In the first usage, refer to the Bureau of Meteorology and the Bureau in subsequent usage,” doesn’t land well with editors who decide how they speak to their readers.
Then there was the line: “This aligns with the Meteorology Act 1955.”
That could be taken as some vaguely threatening legalese: You must change how you talk about us because it’s the law. At the very least, that failed the credibility test; if it’s the law, how come you’ve been getting it wrong yourself for the last 67 years?
It also looked silly, when most of BOM’s own branding is still BOM, not Bureau. You switch the branding simultaneously with an announcement.
But that misunderstanding of newsroom etiquette is nothing compared to the monumental blunder of announcing what the organisation’s Twitter handles would change to, without first securing them.
The most charitable explanation I can think of is that there was a plan to do it simultaneous with the announcement and, by human error, somebody forgot.
Immediately, the shitposters went into action and grabbed the unsecured handles. Some were already in use for other legitimate reasons anyway.
As an aside, I wonder how Business News Pty Ltd, who successfully applied for “The Bureau” as a trademark back in 2020 will have reacted to yesterday’s rebrand.
Soon, other questions began to emerge about the process.
Journalist Rick Morton shared a link to Aus Tender, which revealed that the $69,000 brand implementation work had been given to a small agency called The C Word.
The only people who currently list themselves on LinkedIn as working for The C Word are Patrick Walden and Rosie Walden. According to The Guardian, which has spoken to BOM insiders, the project was being led internally by Jack Walden, who also previously worked at The C Word. That’s a lot of Waldens.
I don’t know Jack Walden well, but I have met him. Primarily he’s a PR guy, not a branding expert. When I had coffee with him a decade ago, he was Victorian president of the Public Relations Institute of Australia.
Which is not to suggest there was anything untoward about The C Word getting the business. According to his LinkedIn, Jack Walden joined BOM in November 2021, two months after The C Word began its its four month contract, although if the dates on his profile are correct, he continued to work for The C Word until December 2021.
But it does break another PR rule: Don’t become the story. Walden features prominently in The Guardian’s coverage. Staff internally are treated like “naughty schoolchildren” if they slip up and say BOM instead of The Bureau, says The Guardian.
It’s been an all time classic of badly executed rebrands. So bad, we may never know whether there was a decent strategy hidden somewhere inside it.
Unmade Index bounces
The Unmade Index followed the wider Australian share market upwards yesterday, rising by 1.89%
Real estate platform Domain was the best performer, up 4.53%. HT&E wasn’t far behind, while Seven West Media rose back above a $700m market capitalisation.
Time to let you go about your Wednesday.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a great chat in The Unmakers series, with the impressive Nico Chu, CEO and founder of marketing software startup Sinborbis.
And the code subscribers can use to get two free tickets to our Melbourne event is beneath the paywall at the bottom of this page.