AK-47 Rebranding: From Deadly Weapon to Peaceful Purpose?
In 2014, Russian rifle manufacturer Kalashnikov announced a rebrand and a new logo
In one of the bravest and most optimistic rebranding exercises we have ever seen, news reaches us of the relaunch of Russian rifle manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern. Its best known product is of course the AK-47, one of the few branded products to have earned truly iconic status and certainly the only one to feature on a national flag (Mozambique) and a coat of arms (East Timor).
Uncomfortable as it may be to describe a deadly weapon in such terms, the AK-47 is undoubtedly a design classic: simple, functional, effective and with an instantly recognisable silhouette. It is one of the defining objects of the 20th century, and all the more intriguing for having been designed by such a self-effacing man as Mikhail Kalashnikov. Mikhail intended his eponymous firearm for honourable purposes and would have preferred to be famous for his agricultural machinery. A naïve sentiment, perhaps, but one the business’ shiny new logo is doing its best to reflect, with a focus on ‘peaceful’ uses such as sports, hunting and self-defence.
The AK-47’s brand positioning has become weighed down with plenty of unfortunate baggage, the conflicts and armed struggles of the 20th century tending to detract somewhat from Kalashnikov Concern’s attempts to portray itself as a modern business. There is of course much more to Kalashnikov than the ’47 (indeed, the Russian Army is currently up to AK-74) but such has been the rifle’s success that it come to overshadow both its inventor and its manufacturer. Kalashnikov Concern has largely lost control of its brand, hence (we presume) the need for a reboot.
As part of the relaunch, Kalashnikov Concern’s CEO emphasised its main principles of reliability, responsibility and technological efficiency, and the largest shareholder went further, saying it hoped the new brand would become as well known as Apple. Well, they’re already there in our opinion: at the time of relaunch, more people owned a Kalashnikov rifle than owned an Apple iPhone – certainly more had used one.
Kalashnikov’s stated aim is to ‘promote peace and calm’. It’s unfair to single them out from any other weapons manufacturers but, when it comes to squaring this with countless millions of deaths, well, there are some things that not even good branding can resolve. Perhaps denial is the only way – as Mikhail himself said ‘I sleep well. Blame the politicians.’