What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?

Source: “The metaverse will be social” - Meta keynote video
Nov 01, 2021

Facebook’s name change to Meta is designed to help the company move forward on building the next digital frontier, the metaverse. Management also hopes it will help Facebook move beyond the barrage of criticism facing its social networking platforms.

Facebook becomes a subsidiary alongside Instagram, WhatsApp and other products under the Meta umbrella.

Rooted in science fiction novels, the metaverse merges virtual and augmented reality technologies to envision a new online realm. Last week at the Facebook Connect conference, the company showed examples of people transforming themselves into avatars and playing, socializing, shopping and working alongside others virtually, often in far-off places.

“The next platform and medium will be even more immersive and embodied internet where you’re in the experience, not just looking at it,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. “We believe the metaverse will be the successor to the mobile internet.”

What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?
Simulation of metaverse user virtually attending a concert – Source: Meta keynote video

Guiding the metaverse may help Meta recapture younger consumers who have abandoned Facebook and are showing signs of losing interest in Instagram. Mr. Zuckerberg cautioned that “many billions of dollars” will be spent scaling the metaverse and that elements may not become mainstream for another five to 10 years.

The moves follow a flood of negative stories about Facebook, based on documents leaked by an ex-employee. Charges range from spreading hate speech and misinformation to depressing teenagers’ self-esteem.

News reports have speculated on whether Facebook’s rebrand was similar to Google’s change to Alphabet that signaled broader ambitions or Philip Morris’ to Altria Group that addressed a toxic reputation. Members of Congress have likened Facebook and Instagram’s tactics to that of the tobacco industry.

Forrester VP and research director Mike Proulx told USA Today, “If Meta doesn’t address its issues beyond a defensive and superficial altitude, those same issues will occupy the metaverse.”

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose wrote, “If it works, Mr. Zuckerberg’s metaverse would usher in a new era of dominance — one that would extend Facebook’s influence to entirely new types of culture, communication and commerce. And if it doesn’t, it will be remembered as a desperate, costly attempt to give a futuristic face-lift to a geriatric social network while steering attention away from pressing societal problems. Either possibility is worth taking seriously.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is Facebook’s rebrand to Meta more about broader ambitions or addressing its reputational challenges? Either way, do you think the corporate rebrand was the smart move?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The meta-question for society will be if we are able to enjoy the new experiences without falling prey to all the downsides that Facebook presents. I suspect not."
"The Meta rebrand is both ruthlessly ambitious and almost unconscionably self-serving."
"Facebook’s rebrand is about its broader ambitions, not to address reputation challenges."

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31 Comments on "What’s really behind Facebook’s rebrand to Meta?"

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Mark Ryski

Meta has been in the works for years, but the timing of the re-branding was likely not a coincidence. I don’t think this was the best time to re-brand as it’s timing relative to the congressional hearings and bad press make it look like a PR play to pivot away from a tarnished Facebook brand. I’m not allergic to the idea of re-branding to capture a new corporate direction – in fact, I think it’s smart and required – but Facebook has so many challenges, the biggest of which is trust. I don’t think the re-branding will achieve what Zuckerberg was hoping for.

Gene Detroyer

That depends on what Zuck was hoping for. I suspect he understands the product life cycle, now shorter than ever, and when he outlined the strategy or the company, “Facebook” just didn’t work, and he knew that years ago.

DeAnn Campbell

Great points, Mark. This launch feels rushed to me. Do you think they moved up their timing in an effort to overcome the bad press? Their name and logo also feel like they are lacking creativity and going the Captain Obvious route – perhaps even to the point of trademark violation – which also smacks of rushing the process.

James Saretta
9 months 14 days ago

I’d see this as more of a restructure than a rebrand. The Facebook brand isn’t going away. This is in large part protection for Zuck — yes it’s a good spin for the company to be pointed towards the metaverse, but hardly required to facilitate investment. They already run lines of business (Insta, Whatsap…), and have Oculus. The trust issue is huge Mark, just as you stated … the real story is when Mark is asked about teen depression linked to Facebook — he can tell the press to go talk to the facebook CEO, “I’m the meta guy.”

Neil Saunders

Changing the name will not stop the criticism, nor will it stop regulators from looking into the business. Indeed, the broader ambitions of Meta may well attract even more scrutiny. That said, I do think the new name is sensible as it reflects an understanding that the way we use the web is changing and that things are becoming more immersive and community based. However what Meta – and its founder – need to realize is that the web is not the be-all and end-all. Some of the examples given, such as people wearing AR glasses when socializing so they could text at the same time, are a little tone-deaf and reflect the obsession of the tech community rather than solving the problems of everyday folk.

Bob Amster

This is about rebranding in the hopes that people will forget the recent negative press. The vast majority of Facebook users don’t know what the word “meta” means, so the future frontier is not a good enough reason to change the company name.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
9 months 15 days ago

I did wonder if reputation was a big part of this (there have been numerous examples of this over the years) but there is also the problem of confusion: when someone talks about Facebook were they talking about “Facebook” or Facebook (i.e. FB+WhatsApp+Oculus, etc). This could well have been confusing internally as well as to investors.

By transitioning to Meta they are avoiding this confusion but also following a path taken by Google/Alphabet as they expand into new areas.
Given the number of things Amazon now does, it might be interesting to see if they follow suit.

Nikki Baird

I think Zuckerberg has long had “metaverse” ambitions, so I don’t think this move is one designed just to disrupt negative press. However I could totally see how the timing was likely moved up in order to try to counteract all the current negative press.

I just have to point out that in the world of metaverses, Facebook seems more like IOI than Oasis. For you Ready Player One fans. I don’t think anyone has any illusions (beyond Zuck himself) that Meta is in this for the benefit of humanity.

Gene Detroyer

There is another company that used an umbrella name that wasn’t mentioned in the discussion — Amazon. Bezos never imagined that his company would be a bookseller alone.

I suspect Facebook’s change to Meta was in the plan long before all the negative realizations about Facebook. As Facebook, now Meta, expands to technology that we even imagined, the corporate name “Facebook” is no longer appropriate.

Dave Wendland

The timing of this transformation and rebranding — a/k/a Facelift — is not ideal following several grueling missteps. However once the dust has settled, this new nomenclature may help the company distance itself from a brand that was waning in popularity and coming under increased scrutiny.

Although ambitious, this repositioning could lead the organization in a bold direction far broader than its perception as a tiring social network while more effectively incorporating existing assets and paving the way to the emergence of new capabilities.

Dave Bruno

The Meta branding does little to mitigate the severe tarnish on the Facebook brand that has accrued over the past several years and, sadly, I see no evidence whatsoever that their policies and strategies will help undo the damage going forward, either. I do think the Meta brand speaks volumes about their long-term goals, however, and I expect the Oculus investments to play a big part in their future. The Billie Eilish content recently released on Oculus is an excellent bit of marketing and a portend of the type of experiences to come from Meta. The meta-question for society will be if we are able to enjoy the new experiences without falling prey to all the downsides that Facebook presents. I suspect not.

Laura Davis-Taylor

Jumping in with my friend Dave here, I agree with his sentiments. Further, do any of us trust Facebook’s ecosystem to move us further into new “realms of reality” from a place of concern for society and the potential implications? I have a teenager and we are most all aware of the impact social media (particularly Facebook and Instagram) has had on them. Do I really want Zuck orchestrating the next virtual world for her and her peers to immerse themselves in? And to ensure that the unknown implications will be managed responsibly for her mental health? 100 percent no. The trust has been shattered by their deeds, not words. There is no way this is happening for anything other than profit.

Steve Montgomery

The name change to Meta may have been in process for some time but there is no question that doing it now while Facebook is under scrutiny is an attempt to change the storyline from issues Facebook faces to the name change. I doubt that trying to create a shiny new story will divert the media’s attention for very long.

Jeff Weidauer

Facebook’s rebrand is a lot like Google’s parent company changing to Alphabet. It won’t matter much to the daily user. The timing is interesting, given recent revelations about Facebook’s role in spreading hate speech and false information.

David Spear

Rebranding is not something that happens overnight. Zuckerberg didn’t wake up one morning a few weeks ago and say gee, I think we ought to call ourselves “Meta” now. This has been on the strategic planning table for at least two years due to a variety of issues on a variety of fronts, and many of these issues are not good. Regardless of the reference to the new internet, I don’t think Meta escapes the real issues that persist about the company.

Dick Seesel

There was an interesting story over the weekend (in the Wall Street Journal, I think) comparing the rebranding of Facebook and Google. In the case of Alphabet (Google’s corporate umbrella), there is little or no attempt to market the parent brand and the lion’s share of revenue comes from Google, YouTube and other “household word” brands.

The name “Meta” is being pushed as a way to launch new businesses unrelated to existing brands like Facebook and Instagram — but the timing couldn’t be worse because the entire enterprise is tainted right now. As others point out, the renaming casts a regulatory spotlight on the company’s future ambitions amid distrust of Mark Zuckerberg.

Ben Ball

People hold differing opinions of Zuckerberg, but I don’t think anyone considers him stupid. The rebranding as Meta is symbolic of a vision and moving on. That Zuckerberg chose to press on with that at a time when the media and political pursuit of Facebook is at a fever pitch may indeed be “whistling past the graveyard.” But I don’t believe anyone at Meta/Facebook thinks this is going to stop the outcry for a flogging in the public square.

Jenn McMillen

As my grandmother would say, This is lipstick on a pig.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Mr. Zuckerberg envisions the metaverse as the future of social interactions and a new age of digital-virtual consumerism. The timing of the rebranding to Meta, however, is all about deflecting the PR nightmare growing from the company’s surrender of its social responsibilities as it knowingly stokes hate and fear to drive ad revenue. Regardless, the company is determined to dominate the future end-to-end engagement layer among consumers and between them and everything else.

Jeff Sward

The name change change might be logical in a very simplistic sense about the evolution of the business model, but the prospect of Facebook as a major architect of the metaverse is an uncomfortable thought.

Karen S. Herman

The best news on the metaverse is that Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss are investing in Somnium Space and becoming advisors to this rapidly expanding virtual world. The fact that Facebook is rebranding as Meta does seem a desperate move to grab some spotlight, but the real leaders in the metaverse will continue to build vibrant communities with dedicated consumer participants, leading to more ad spend and increased adaption to emerging technologies.

Lisa Goller

Rebranding to Meta is intended as a symbolic fresh start — and a distraction from Facebook’s erosion of trust and users. Rebranding may “change the channel” on PR nightmares for a few news cycles but it won’t restore brand trust.

Bigger metaverse ambitions are also at play, as immersive virtual reality will shake up social media and retail. (Since the pandemic hit, kids now hang out after school on Roblox rather than the playground.) Meta will amplify the online social universe by integrating Oculus VR content and Libra cryptocurrency for retail entertainment for users of all ages.

The rebrand is quite smart, as it redirects users, advertisers and investors to focus on Meta’s ambitious development of a riveting mega-app where consumers and their networks already spend time online.

Raj B. Shroff
Facebook’s rebrand is about its broader ambitions, not to address reputation challenges. This has to have been in the works for a while. As for its timing, maybe there was a “look over here” thought circulating among the team. However the past year has seen a huge spike in the use of “meta” and FB wanted to be the first to put a stake in the ground. I think they had to do it now. I think we will look back on this announcement as one of the biggest in B2C ever. The internet was never formally introduced like this, it was pieced together over time. The XR world is in its infancy. We will move beyond headsets and many of the other hurdles, it might take 10-15 years but this was huge. FB/Meta just showed “it” to mainstream adults in an easy to understand way that hasn’t been done before. Now they have to deliver on it. They are best suited to do it in terms of audience, scale and capabilities. I’ll let them… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel

This was a good time to lay low and be quiet. Zuckerberg can’t see beyond his own ambition.

Ryan Mathews
The Meta rebrand is both ruthlessly ambitious and almost unconscionably self-serving. On the one hand Zuckerberg has, for some time, harbored broad ambitions beyond milking what began as a date-rating site. While his fellow Billionaire Boys Club members raced to outer space, he had broader ambitions for controlling inner space, i.e., the heart, mind, and soul of the social media user. Facebook also had another problem, let’s call it the MySpace problem – once their grandparents are on social media, younger users run to a new platform. So MySpace lost to Facebook, which in turn began losing to Instagram, which itself is falling victim to TikTok, which will almost inevitably fall to the power of the next platform. The only solution? Own the mind of the user and program it instead of letting users select platforms and content. Hence the logic of owning the metaverse, or at least trying to own it. On the other hand Zuckerberg personally and Facebook as a platform and Meta as a company clearly want to redirect regulator, media, and… Read more »