Somewhere in the hazy holiday period between eating mince pies for breakfast and stilton for tea, WHSmith quietly dropped a small (10 store) trial where it rebranded itself to WHS. This has since sparked debate in the creative industry and beyond about whether this was a good move or not. After all, what is the purpose of a market test? 

Three key points emerge...  

Firstly, retail environment and responsive logos. 

As the retail environment continues to flail, companies are looking to improve efficiency in all areas of their business, including maximizing the value of current assets for growth. WHSmith wants to expand into travel retail in new markets where they are unknown and don’t enjoy the same reputation they have in the UK (where they go by Smith’s). They want to create a logo for export, that is memorable and pithy, yet links back to the WHSmith Masterbrand. We get it. There’s a clear business case. But it’s not just about social media. Responsivity is about maintaining recognition and visual consistency, whilst adapting to different scales across different channels. 

When Nordstrom Rack rebranded, the new identity was adaptable and customisable showcasing the brandmark in its entirety but also responsive versions that scaled easily. McDonald’s also does this beautifully with the Golden Arches. 

(Credit: JKR x Nordstrom Rack)

Logos are more than just a mark. They deliver trust and status. But the best logos don’t just tell us something; they take us somewhere. Why did WHSmith create a new logo with no reference to the existing logo – and misattribution to the NHS? You don’t need a market test to tell you this wasn’t a viable option.   

Secondly, data shows us the effectiveness of creating distinctive brand assets.   

The Ipsos x JKR Be Distinctive Everywhere report found that only 19% of logos achieve the gold standard of distinctiveness. In a hugely competitive environment like travel retail, your logo needs to be a beacon. Others have been successful; Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, or Hewlett-Packard to HP. We see a strong business case for change supported by a distinctive brand world that tells a story. 

WHSmith is over 200 years old. A quick search reveals nuggets from the past: a ‘WHS’ logo as a beautiful egg monogram that appeared in mosaics, newsboy signs in the 18th century, and the Cuboid logo from the 70s used recently to celebrate its 225th anniversary. While not suggesting a direct reprisal of these logos, these historical examples could inspire a modern, authentic brand story for the future.






Lastly, using market research and trials with efficiency to get to a viable option. 

Since the WHSmith trial dropped some experts proclaimed loudly, ‘It’s a TEST!’ Yes, but it is a very poor test. 

Market research is vital to any big rebrand. After discovery, concepting and design, we take a step back and listen to consumers. We only test viable options that are often in the second or third stage of refinement because we want to optimise every chance of success. There are numerous methodologies available to do this. For example, AI based testing platforms like Loops can test designs iteratively at speed. 

Perhaps this test was carried out to manage internal stakeholders? Even if this was the case, a round of research could have provided the necessary data to protect the brand's integrity.

WHSmith’s make it clear that they are purpose-driven brand. ‘Here at WHSmith our purpose is simple: to make every one of life’s journeys better’. I hope that this once great British brand can make their own rebrand journey better. There is strong leadership, a strategic vision, room for growth. There’s definitely an opportunity to create a brand world of distinctive assets that can strengthen WHSmith’s position in UK retail – as well as grow the brand globally.