Over the past three years, leaders of the beleaguered co-working firm WeWork have been laser-focused on a comeback. The firm has set targets for when they hope the cash-burning company will start being profitable, but so far, has fallen short. Over the past six months, WeWork’s stock price has fallen nearly 83 percent. The CEO brought on in 2020 to put WeWork on the right course stepped down this past May, and it hasn’t been that long since a documentary and a fictionalized drama series about co-founder Adam Neumann didn’t exactly put the once powerful company in the best light. With the company still struggling to get into the black, the latest move by decision-makers at the firm has been to undergo a rebrand.
Before its fall, WeWork hit its peak in 2019. At the time, the co-working firm was valued at $47 billion and surpassed JPMorgan Chase to become the largest occupier of space in Manhattan. It was a brand that became synonymous with startups and startup culture, promising the kind of networking and synergy that just couldn’t be replicated in traditional office space. Though it wasn’t the first to sublease space (Regus had already been doing it for years) WeWork’s model was fresh, hip, and included amenities like free beer, flexible leases, and crucially, a certain office culture that attracted exactly the demographic they were looking for.
WeWork has tried a few different marketing strategies in the past. In 2018, the year before the firm hit its highest valuation and launched a failed IPO, the company spent a staggering $378.7 million on sales and marketing, with plans to spend even more going forward. In May of that year, the co-working company posted a short video ad on its Twitter profile, saying “Introducing our first-ever ad campaign.” It showed a handful of people crammed into a tiny office, working hard and surrounded by boxes and piles of paperwork. “When your company expands…your office can too” text over the video reads, as the video segues into a new, softer-lit space where workers have desks and soft seating options.
By December 2019, WeWork’s troubles had compounded. The company had just laid off 2,400 employees and co-founder & CEO Adam Neumann had just left the company. Executives turned to a marketing expert to try to salvage the company’s image going forward, hiring Maurice Levy as the company’s interim marketing head. At the time, Levy was still the chairman of the advertising and public relations juggernaut Publicis, which created new ads for WeWork that appeared in the major newspapers like The New York Times and The Financial Times. The ad featured a poem explaining the benefits of WeWork for potential customers. It also laid out the scope of its footprint at the time, which included 625 locations in 127 cities in 33 countries. It was a message to the world about where the company stood and where it was looking to go next. “The ad is a reminder to the members, companies, landlords and brokers we work with that WeWork is here with the same mission to support our members’ growth and success, and with renewed resolve, a strong foundation, significant scale, and an absolute commitment to serving our member and partner needs,” a WeWork spokesperson said at the time.
Now, more than three years later, the company’s rebrand strategy is a different, softer take. WeWork recently tasked the Brooklyn-based creative studio Franklyn with crafting a new brand strategy, which included refreshing the co-working firm’s visual identity. Franklyn worked with WeWork’s in-house design team and focused on the services WeWork offers and its members, of which it has 547,000 as of December 2022, according to the company. The headline of the campaign, the central theme of the new brand revamp, is the tagline “Taking care of all the ways you work,” and the new ads and marketing materials feature hand-drawn illustrations, copy, and symbols designed to reflect the energy of its members and show off the features WeWork facilities offer to members. “After its controversial founder’s exit, WeWork was left with an identity crisis,” Franklyn wrote about its work in revamping WeWork’s image. “They needed to simultaneously shake off the narrative of the past as well as navigate the new office landscape shaped by the pandemic.”
Many of the ads have pops of color but have a refined, simplistic feel. “Supporting you and your business” reads one billboard; “A space for work and so much more” says a mobile ad with a GIF that features a rotating set of items including a flower, lightbulb, pencils, and hearts, all hand-drawn with soft strokes in an almost calligraphy-style design. With the new taglines, WeWork seems to be opening its net to appeal to more of a wider audience than ever before. “WeWork blurs the line between art and science, emotion and intellect,” said Franklyn co-founder Patrick Richardson about the new look. “And it was this duality that inspired the company’s new visual identity.”
The new rebrand by WeWork reveals a company shifting away from its roots as a place for startups that thrived on hustle culture. With its new ad campaign, the co-working firm is taking a more inclusive, thoughtful approach to marketing itself to potential customers. The co-working segment has expanded and changed since WeWork entered the fold more than a decade ago, and with its new campaign, the company is looking to evolve right along with it, by embracing a new identity that seeks to connect with customers who have a variety of needs.
Rehabbing one’s reputation and changing design components is something that can take time, but many major brands have weathered storms before and been able to move on from their past. The co-working sector has changed a lot over the last decade, and especially over the last few years. No longer are co-working spaces thought of as temporary digs before moving to a traditional office space. The experience of the pandemic has led many large companies to add co-working space as part of their overall office footprint and workplace strategy. WeWork certainly has its work cut out for it, but its new rebrand’s focus on customers and the evolving office landscape post-pandemic instead of the hustle culture and entrepreneurial identity that was once its calling card looks to be a step in the right direction.