Facebook just doesn't get it.

There's no good reason why the company could possibly think it's a good idea to add "From Facebook" to the name of Instagram and WhatsApp. Which, according to a report from The Information, and confirmed by Facebook, is exactly what's happening.

Those two companies--while having had a few of their own privacy and security issues--have largely avoided the massive scrutiny and concerns that have dogged Facebook for the past few years.

Let's recap: Facebook just agreed to a $5 billion fine to resolve an investigation into repeat violations involving user privacy. The company is widely considered, at least by the public, to be an engine of "fake news" and foreign influence. Facebook also just decided to launch a cryptocurrency, which no one other than Facebook seems to think is wisdom.

But apparently someone at Facebook thinks it's worth riding that list of greatest hits by adding all of that baggage to two relatively less controversial brands.

Let's put this in context. This branding move would be like buying a successful line of luxury boats and renaming them "Yachts From Titanic."

One thing brands should never do

But it leads to something no brand should ever do: You should never assume that your customers feel the same way about your brand that you do. Your brand is how other people feel about your company, not how you feel about it.

That's an important distinction, and it makes all the difference. When you start to assume that everyone feels about your company the way you do, it's extremely dangerous. It's dangerous because you start to base decisions on what you think about your company instead of what your customers think.

Look, Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp. It can pretty much do whatever it wants with both companies. That's Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg's prerogative. 

That still doesn't make it a good idea or a good branding move. 

Be careful with your brand

In fact, there are only two good reasons you rebrand a product that way--and honestly, neither of them apply here.

The first is that you want to use the brand equity and trust of the parent company to help the daughter company. Sure, Facebook is an extremely well-known brand, but trust is a tricky thing. In fact, Facebook has frequently been ranked as the least-trusted tech company when it comes to users' personal information. 

Does Facebook suddenly think that more people will start using Instagram if they now know it's owned by Facebook? 

For that to work, the parent company has to actually have a more trusted brand.

Remember FedEx Kinkos (which is now FedEx Office)? Kinkos had a strong brand, but by adding the FedEx name, it communicated that they meant business. 

FedEx was a stronger, long-respected brand that elevated Kinkos and served the purpose of making it clear that FedEx now had a physical location you could go to "make it, print it, pack it, ship it," as the tag line goes. 

In fact, eventually FedEx dropped the Kinkos name all together, in favor of FedEx Office, which leads to the second reason--you want to streamline and unite your branding.

Branding should help connect with your customer

Associating with a better-known brand is a great idea when it strengthens your overall brand and makes things less confusing for customers. But again, in Facebook's case, whom does it help?

I'm pretty sure there are roughly three types of people who use Instagram. The first are people who have no idea it's owned by Facebook. Seriously, that's probably a far larger group than you might think.

The second are people who know and just hold their nose because they like Instagram despite the fact it's owned by Facebook. I suspect that's probably the largest group.

The final group are people who know and just don't care.

Which one of those groups are you going after by sticking Facebook's brand on something that's already working just fine? No one is going to start using Instagram all of a sudden because they just discovered it's owned by Facebook. 

A pure power play is still a bad move

Which leads to one other possibility--that Facebook is so tone-deaf it actually thinks that everything is fine. If that's the case, it's far more troubling for Facebook, but especially for Instagram and WhatsApp. It's troubling because it means that Facebook is moving ahead despite the fact that it suffers from a real trust deficit.

Or maybe Mark Zuckerberg simply decided he's going to assert Facebook's brand despite the public perception. Perhaps he felt it's time that Facebook get credit for the success of those apps and it's just a pure power play. In that case, it's still a terrible move, and it's one every brand should avoid. 

Published on: Aug 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.