In October 2021, the social media titan Facebook dropped a bombshell – a complete rebrand to “Meta,” aligning the company’s identity with its new focus on the “metaverse”. While the company initially positioned this as a strategic move towards a tech-forward vision, it seems there may have been another motive: shifting the media spotlight.
In the days leading up to the rebrand, Facebook had been under fire due to revelations from whistleblower Frances Haugen. The leaks, known as the ‘Facebook Papers,’ had sent shockwaves through the press worldwide. Many speculated that Meta’s rebranding was a timely diversion. While CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed these connections as “ridiculous,” Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, might have suggested otherwise.
In a company-wide Q&A session held in November, an employee inquired about the success of the new Meta name. Cox, alongside Sheryl Sandberg, then Meta’s Chief Operations Officer, gave an interesting response. His measure of success, he claimed, was the media coverage of the name change overshadowing that of the whistleblower disclosures.
Cox shared that press coverage of the name change outstripped the ‘Facebook Papers’ coverage by more than double. He was pleased to note that the tone was “neutral to positive.” He said, “That’s the kind of thing that we only could have dreamed of when we did the change in terms of press coverage,” underscoring the significance of this achievement, especially considering the ‘Facebook Papers’ had been a major story, particularly in the U.S.
The employee who raised the question was taken aback by Cox’s candid admission. Several colleagues reportedly interpreted it as an implicit acknowledgment that the rebranding was indeed an attempt to divert press attention.
Regardless of motives, there’s no denying that the name change brought Meta months of continuous coverage. The ‘Metaverse’ dominated headlines, reinforcing the company’s new brand identity. Eric Schiffer, CEO of private equity firm The Patriarch Organization, lauded the rebranding as “a genius move to shift away, to rebrand to the metaverse, and wash away the past pain.”
While Zuckerberg’s ambitious bet on the metaverse has yet to yield significant financial returns for Meta, the name change successfully redirected the media narrative. For entrepreneurs and investors, this serves as a masterclass in crisis communication and strategic rebranding.