In October, a cool, new, witchy-looking cleaning brand launched. In Häxan’s range were polishes and oven cleaners alongside tarot cards and sage smudges. It was a fun concept, fit for the modern consumer.
Only, it wasn’t really a modern brand at all. Häxan has actually been around since 1913.
“It was founded by a scientist — when you read about him today, he sounds like a nutty professor,” explains Lovisa Tingman, Häxan’s new chief operating officer, adding that the original factory in Sweden had a name that translated to “Santa’s Technical Factory.” “He only produced products that weren’t available in Sweden, like food and cosmetics, but also cleaning detergents and baking soda.”
The brand eventually became famous for its metal polishes, and it would not be unusual in Sweden for your grandparents to have a bottle kicking about the house. The brand had been shifted around owners for years — passed between legacy chemical companies such as Henkel and Rustins — and in September 2020, it was up for sale again.
Instead of being sold to another industrial corporation, a trio of colleagues from the Swedish socks brand Happy Socks decided to buy it. Tingman, alongside Happy Socks’ cofounder Mikael Söderlindh and former chief commercial officer Jim Rosengren, are reinventing Häxan for a 2021 audience.
The witch that appears on Häxan’s logo today is the same the brand used in 1913; but its role has been exaggerated. While the original Häxan concerned itself only with household cleaning products, Tingman says it made sense to also focus on “spiritual cleaning”. “No one actually thought of tying in a real witch with the brand’s witch,” she says.
As part of the brand’s relaunch, it also opened a store in Sweden’s Södermalm district — the hip part of town — that looks more like a new age outlet than somewhere to pick up cleaning products. Inside, it is adorned with stuffed crows and crystals. Tarot card readings are offered in a room at the back, where a velvet curtain serves as a privacy screen. You can even buy your own broomstick.
Häxan’s case is an example of the slightly more common phenomenon of brands overhauling their look, feel and even brand positioning at some point in their lifetime.
For young brands in particular, a rebrand is something of a rite of passage — while a founder might have originally chosen to cobble together their brand’s website themselves, or enlisted a graphic design friend to whip up a logo on the cheap, once a brand starts to gain traction, it’s a good idea to get the professionals involved.
In 2017, better-for-you soda brand Ugly Drinks instructed design agency JKR to come up with a direct-to-consumer-friendly rebrand that would suit its plans to expand from the U.K. into the U.S. (you can see what its old cans looked like here). In January 2020, prebiotic soda brand Poppi — as it is now known — changed its name from Mother. Its problems were two-fold: it was having trouble copyrighting the more generic name, and also found that consumers were assuming the drink would taste too strongly of vinegar based on the name. And while it had become famous for its vegan chicken nuggets, Nuggs rebranded to Simulate in 2019 to reflect the brand’s ambitions to sell more types of products.
In March, Kailey Bradt renamed her waterless haircare brand from OWA Haircare to Susteau, following the brand’s participation in the Sephora Accelerate program. “My background is in engineering, not in marketing,” she says. “So this was my first opportunity to really think bigger about the brand and where it could go. We talked a lot about branding, marketing, and not limiting your concept. My main reason for making that [change] was to be able to expand the brand beyond haircare eventually.”
For older brands, the incentives are a bit different. The pandemic has forced some companies to shift as much business as possible online — and so having a brand that speaks the same language as others that have gained popularity through social media is important.
Soda brand Sound had a pretty comfortable business selling to restaurants and other hospitality venues. But when the pandemic hit, and its sales plummeted, it decided a rebrand was needed to make sure its sodas could stand out both online and on the shelves of grocery stores.
Similarly over in Sydney, 35-year-old vegan eatery Iku had decided it too needed to figure out how to get its products online. Iku now has a brand new look — courtesy of design studio Universal Favourite — alongside a new home delivery service, where customers can order from 50 ready-prepared meals that can be delivered across the country.
“The reimagination of Iku was really about a complete reimagination for a new audience,” says Dari Israelstam, Universal Favourite’s founder. “It was really about how do we take the elements of this brand that people have loved for so many years, and build that into a predominantly DTC brand, over channels that aren’t walk-in cafes.”
The art of the rebrand
Rebranding is not as simple as mocking up a new logo that mimics whatever the big branding trends of the moment are, though.
With Iku, the risk was that its die-hard fans who had been visiting the cafe for years might feel put off by the change in direction. “There’s this tension,” says Israelstam. “For all intents and purposes, it’s a totally new brand to the new audience. But there are elements of the old brand that we want to maintain, because it’s authentic to the vision and mission of the brand.”
Alienating loyal customers is a real concern. When PepsiCo rebranded Tropicana in 2009, customers hated it so much that sales fell by 20%. Within 30 days, the old carton design was back. It’s estimated the whole episode cost $35 million in total.
A brand that changes its name also risks having to start from scratch when it comes to building brand awareness. “The name is the most crucial thing to question and challenge, because it’s the thing that has a lot of equity,” says Israelstam.
Bradt says that renaming Susteau became a race against time when the Today Show reached out saying they planned to feature the brand. “I was like ‘oh my goodness, we need to push up our relaunch.’ We can’t be on the Today Show as OWA and then relaunch as Susteau,” she says. “In the grand scheme of things, you have to think about how many people don’t know about you versus how many people do.”
There are also practical concerns, too. Bradt says that getting trademarks in order for the new Susteau name was the most complex and expensive part of the rebranding process, with several naming options being taken off the table due to how difficult it would be to get the right legal protections in place. Susteau also spent around $40,000 updating its website from the scrappy version to the much more robust site it has today, complete with the new branding.
For Häxan, which has revived a beloved brand, the risk-reward calculus has looked a bit different. “Häxan is a really well known brand in Sweden,” says Tingman. “The reaction has been super positive mostly. The older generation that [knew] Häxan are the ones that are most excited about this revival. The nostalgia has been huge.”
If anything, younger customers strolling past Häxan’s witchy store in Stockholm might be the ones to get confused. Time will tell whether they prefer to visit for the tarot card readings or the washing up liquid.