Rebranding an Aussie icon

This article was originally published on the Leadership Matters website.


From retaining relevance to winning market share, there is a lot to be gained from an effective rebranding campaign. Here’s what we can we learn from Bonds — the Aussie retail giant that has continued to reinvent itself over the past century.

Designer Coco Chanel once said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” While the celebrated icon and businesswoman may have been addressing the fashion world, her game-changing advice is just as relevant when it comes to managing corporate image.

For established companies, one way to redefine their point of difference — and remain competitive in a changing market — is through strategic rebranding.

“Ultimately, rebranding gives you an opportunity to communicate, and to go out to your stakeholders again with a good story.” says Barbara Pesel, Managing Director of communications agency Pesel & Carr. “It’s really about saying to the market, ‘We’re here, we’re still relevant, and more importantly — we’re listening to you.’”

Before attempting a rebrand, however, it’s crucial that the company has a strong grasp of its core DNA. Pesel defines this as the sum of an organisation’s vision, mission and values. “Vision is about long-term goals. Mission is what you’re going to do to get there. And your values are your guiding principles.” A sudden or unexplained shift away from any of these factors can risk alienating core customers.

In recent years, a handful of major Australian brands have attempted to reinvent themselves with varying degrees of success. Woolworths notably relaunched its logo in 2009 to focus on ‘freshness’, Virgin Blue moved away from its low-cost origins by repositioning itself as Virgin Australia in 2010, while Radio Shack failed to attract a younger clientele by changing its name to The Shack in 2009.


‘Rebranding is really about saying to the market, ‘We’re here, we’re still relevant, and more importantly — we’re listening to you’


One household name that has continued to excel at brand reinvention is Bonds. From its early days as a small manufacturer of women’s hosiery in 1915, to its introduction of the iconic Chesty singlet that put them on the map in 1920, the company has evolved into an established leader in today’s $2.5 billion underwear business.

Throughout its 100 year-plus history in the retail market, Bonds has successfully remodelled itself from a masculine, working class icon to a quintessentially Australian brand that appeals to all ages and gender. “Our brand values are at the heart of everything we do,” says Bonds Head of Marketing Emily Smalls. “We design comfortable, great-fitting products, we innovate with the changing consumer landscape and we ensure our communications reflect our brand values.”

For Bonds, those core values are authenticity, inclusivity and a sense of irreverence. And it’s the company’s ability to translate their DNA across an ever-expanding product range that allows it to grow without losing its following.

Bringing Sarah Murdoch on board as an ambassador in 2001 was a watershed moment in Bonds’ 102-year history.

“Rebranding done well involves acceptance and continued brand loyalty by your consumer market,” says Nicole Hartley, Senior Lecturer of University of Queensland Business School. “Two elements come into play here: understanding your key markets and being transparent about the need to rebrand – [in other words], letting your customers know why this is a benefit to them.”

One of the ways Bonds has managed to achieve this is through an effective use of ambassadors. For instance, the introduction of Sarah Murdoch as the face of Bonds has been instrumental in the launch of Bonds Bras and the Female Chesty in the early 2000s; as has the hiring of Pat Rafter to re-energise its male underwear range. Since then, Bonds has continued to introduce new products with personality-driven campaigns fronted by the likes of Rachel Taylor, Miranda Kerr and rapper Iggy Azalea — each reflecting a different facet of the company’s distinctly Australian DNA.

“Ambassadors put a very human element to a company’s image,” says Pesel. “When you think about it, Bonds is all about the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off. Their ambassadors are people who are able to embody the everyday experience and allow their customers to identify with it, too.”

Above all, the brand has remained agile while upholding its reputation because of a simple reason, says Pesel: “The key thing with Bonds is that it has never tried to be anything but itself. This sense of reliability, along with their ability to put themselves in their customer’s shoes, is ultimately what sets them apart.”