Why is Facebook rebranding Instagram and WhatsApp?

by Nigel Hollis | August 12, 2019

Various reasons have been proposed for why Facebook is going to add its name to those of Instagram and WhatsApp, but the change seems a strange one to me. Right now Instagram and WhatsApp are somewhat insulated from the bad publicity afflicting their parent, so why make the relationship more apparent?

In future new users are going to see “Instagram from Facebook” and “WhatsApp from Facebook” when they go to the app store to download either of the two platforms. Given that many people still do not realise (or, perhaps more to the point, choose to forget) that Facebook owns the two, why make it more obvious? Remember when many of your friends suddenly announced they were leaving Facebook for good? Well, it seems they can run but they cannot hide from the social media behemoth.

In the past Mark Zuckerberg seemed content to let his two acquisitions operate independently but now that is all changing. One of the reasons for the change does appear to be designed to make life easier for users. Early this year it was announced that Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram would be combined to allow users to send encrypted messages seamlessly from one platform to another. But that hardly seems cause for a rebrand.

Or, as this article in Wired suggests, maybe it is an attempt to demonstrate that the three apps are part of the same company’s ecosystem. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission are reported to be investigating whether Facebook's acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram was anti-competitive and this move might be trying to make the three entities seem more unified.

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One thing is obvious when it comes to branding: adding the Facebook name to Instagram and WhatsApp is not necessarily a positive. Never mind the negative publicity over data breaches, privacy and use of user data, perceptions of Facebook have not been too good for a while. The brand equity of social media brands are measured in BrandZ on a regular basis, and Facebook’s profile reminds me of what Nokia looked like just over ten years ago just before the iPhone was launched – hugely salient, less meaningful and even less well-differentiated.

Before you suggest that it is impossible for a huge brand like Facebook to be seen as different, think again. Compared to Facebook, WeChat in China, Amazon in the UK and Go-Jek in Indonesia all have a similar proportion of people claiming to have used them last but are all better differentiated in absolute and relative terms. And why does differentiation matter? Because salience alone will not defend a brand against a new, better differentiated brand which has the potential to be meaningful to a wider audience. And, given that Instagram is meaningfully different, if not that salient, it seems an odd thing to add the Facebook name to its branding.

But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Luis Miranda, August 13, 2019
    It seems Facebook is getting lost in the way. I agree that with this strategy they are trying to reinforce Facebook brand, however I don’t think they have realized that the problem with Facebook is its relevance decrease that have also make an impact on differentiation.  I consider Facebook decided to give more space to video content pushing payed advertising and this made the platform less relevant to users (content is king) that were there for many other reasons that nowadays are being satisfied more from other platforms like Instagram. This looks more like a portfolio management strategy that need to be defined an not pushing Facebook from more relevant platforms.

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