O, No! Overstock Backs Off O.co Name Change

'We Were Going Too Fast and People Were Confused,' Says Company President

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Overstock.com officially rebranded itself as O.co about six months ago. It changed the sign on the NFL stadium to which it owns the naming rights, revamped its website with O.co signage, and began an aggressive run of TV commercials that declared, "Overstock.com is now O.co."

Except that now it's not.

The company is returning to Overstock.com on the website, in online ads, and in new TV ads for holiday.

The online retailer's president, Jonathan Johnson, said it is stepping back from the O.co name "for now," though not abandoning it outright. Overstock will still use the O.co name internationally and on mobile efforts, including an iPad app that launches today. And the sign on the "O.co Coliseum," the home of the Oakland Raiders and the Oakland Athletics, will stay up.

Confused? So were customers. Mr. Johnson said customers responded well to the O.co advertising, but after watching the spots, "a good portion" of those who sought out the website went to O.com, instead of O.co. (O.com is one of the off-the-market single letter domain names still held by ICANN.)

"We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn't do a good job," Mr. Johnson said. "We're still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace. ... We're not flipping back, we're just refocusing."

However, some industry experts said the back and forth is not only potentially confusing for consumers, but reveals insular thinking at a company that does all its marketing and advertising in-house.

"This is an excellent example of navel-gazing," said Steven Donaldson, principal of Radiant Brands. "There seems to be such an internal focus on decisions and making them from the inside out, they're not asking what if. ... They're out of touch with consumers."

The online retailer is not alone in its indecision. The increasing number of public marketing flip-flops and uncertainties has many consumers angry, annoyed, or simply left scratching their collective heads. Big public brands such as Netflix, Hewlett-Packard, GMAC, the Gap, Bank of America and even Kim Kardashian can't seem to make decisions and stick with them.

"There seems to be a new mindset of "let's take some idea that comes from the gut and see what happens.' And then if it doesn't work say "Oops, I made a mistake,'" said Martin Bishop, senior director of brand strategy at Landor. He said when he worked at Nestlé, every decision was based on research and was carefully thought out, but added, "Now it seems like people are just going with it."

In the most famous—and devastating—example, Netflix dropped the idea of breaking out its DVD rental business under the new brand Qwikster only a few weeks after announcing it. The departure of 800,000 customers shored up its decision.

But HP is on the flip-flop train, too. It announced it was selling its PC business in August, got a new CEO in September, and decided in October to keep the PC business after all. Gap's now infamous logo marketing flap last fall was a case of "now you see our new logo, now you don't" when incensed customers took up the cry against the new logo across social media. Bank of America announced a $5 a month fee for debit-card holders in September, but dropped the plan by November, after not only customers, but President Barack Obama criticized the move. As for Ms. Kardashian, she learned quickly what a romantic flip-flop can do for your personal brand.

"It's been happening more and more frequently," said William Lozito, president and chief branding officer at Strategic Name Development, who blames social media. "There is now this intense broad base of instant feedback you can't ignore. ... You can be viewed as a flip-flop, but it also takes some amount of courage to admit you stubbed your toe."

Overstock.com, and it's not quite full flip, will cost the company the time and expense spent on creating TV ads (which were done internally) and buying media time, but probably won't cause the consumer image too much harm.

"Customers probably won't even notice. Maybe they'll see the signs change, but people are used to that kind of thing," Mr. Bishop said.

Added Mr. Lozito, "The [brand] expense is more of a little black eye for reputation. ... But you can't do it again. You can only do this kind of thing once."

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