Evolution, not revolution: legacy rebrand for Kimberly-Clark

Annika Welander
3 min

In our 25 years as a branding agency, we’ve become experts at right-sizing solutions to fit the very different projects we’re presented. Sometimes the ask is super-targeted, like when we designed Pitchfork’s original logo. The work can be generative, like creating a new identity out of thin air for a tech startup Songfinch, or developing a new entity (Patagonia Action Works) for an existing brand giant (Patagonia). The opportunity can address an internal crisis, like when we reset the brand architecture for comedy trailblazer The Second City after the organization went through a period of hyper-growth and vertical expansion. It can also be a commercial pivot, like when we helped outdoor performance brand Smith Optics break into the Rx glasses category, or led a deep consumer study for legacy golf brand FootJoy to develop better strategy and products to reach female athletes.

But more often than not, we’re in rebrand mode. Why? Because even the most conservative, static brand has the seeds of revitalization nestled deep inside the core of its organization, and a legacy it should amplify, not burn down. It just needs people like us to dig in, surface the latent brand equity, polish it up, put it on display, and declare its value. It can be really difficult to take this kind of action when you’re sitting inside the company. So you bring us in to root around and get our hands dirty.

Our recent rebrand for Kimberly-Clark is a prime example of the evolution-not-revolution strategy. How did we approach it?

Who’s the audience for this rebrand?

The first thing we had to understand is: who is really interacting with this brand? Kimberly-Clark is a 150-year-old, Fortune 500 holding company with a portfolio of highly recognizable consumer brands like Kleenex, Kotex, Scott, Cottonelle, and Huggies. It’s feasible that 99.9% of the people on this planet have interacted with a K-C product. But the actual K-C brand lives levels above—on c-suite business cards, inside boardrooms, at sales conferences, on annual reports, in hiring interfaces and earnings calls. It’s the banner under which a twenty billion dollar company goes to war with Procter & Gamble. This is not a performative rebrand to attract flickering Gen-z eyeballs; this is a highly-mediated, tectonic shift of a global business. And that means conservative, incremental, extremely well-argued change.

Who’s using the rebrand?

We’ve built many pointy brands for small teams of advanced designers, animators, and digital marketers working with very technical tools. Not this time. The Kimberly-Clark brand needs to bear the weight of 40,000 employees, full global usage, and the odd demands of users firmly on the PC / Microsoft Office side of the business. The design elements have to be incredibly functional, the system has to be understandable at a rudimentary level. And the font HAS TO BE A FREE GOOGLE OPTION (it’s irresponsible to recommend anything else in this case). The goal was to do significant structural work on a brand that’s moving forward steadily, slowly, solidly, like a massive container ship full of toilet paper crossing the Atlantic. Kimberly-Clark: not a shiny new jetski doing donuts in front of tourists.

Why us?

As simple as this rebrand appears, this was challenging work for our clients given the complexity and vastness of their organization. And engaging with Someoddpilot was a bold decision on their part. We were the wild card when compared to the much larger teams in the final running for this work. But while we are a boutique studio with a very progressive client list and disruptive POV on creative, we are also a 25 year-old business with more concentrated experience and personal care than you could ever find at a holding company agency. Because yes, there is a brand book and asset deliverable set, but more than that KC hired us to be the stewards of the process. We were there to listen, bring everyone along, and create an environment of ease and confidence. We put our clients’ needs first, not our holdco CCO’s awards fever or our CFO’s billing demands. It was such a successful engagement that we were asked to come back and refresh their sister brand, Kimberly-Clark Professional, and we continue to work with the larger organization today.

When you’re entrusted with an asset like the Kimberly-Clark brand, you need to preserve brand equity and build on the existing value. Evolution, not revolution!