What is it about Accenture that engenders so much negativity?

Time recently included Accenture in what it referred to as the ‘Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes‘, putting it in the company of Comcast’s new Xfinity brand, SyFy and Blackwater’s name change to Xe.

According to Time, the rebranding of Andersen Consulting to Accenture was “regarded as one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history”. The criteria seems to be that if any name change becomes remotely controversial (and most of them are to reporters) it qualifies as a disaster.

Then last week Business Insider, in conjunction with Method and Rob Frankel, a branding expert, came out with its own list – “The worst rebranding disasters in the past few years”. Accenture is in there again, along with a mixed bag including the Tropicana pack redesign, the London 2012 Olympic logo, and “The Shack’ advertising campaign.

Once again the criteria for inclusion is hazy although the writer, one Bianca Male, says earnestly that “successful rebranding involves overhauling a company’s goals, message, and culture — not just changing a name or a logo”.

Quite so. But that’s a lot to expect from an orange juice carton redesign. As far as Accenture is concerned I would (and do) argue that the rebrand succeeds at every level on this basis.

What do you think Tiger?

The worst they can throw at Accenture is that the name is ‘meaningless’ and the rebrand cost $100 million, suggesting the company has been extravagantly profligate with its shareholders’ money.

First the name: as unlovely as it may be, it is far from being the disaster that Time and Bianca Male insists.

As anyone who has been involved in global branding programs knows only too well, finding a name that is universally available and has a positive interpretation in many different languages practically mandates a manufactured name in the Verizon, Novartis, Agilent genre. As a global company, the Accenture name had to be cleared in 47 countries and acceptable in 200 different languages.

As for the cost, a $100 million is about par for the course with corporate rebrands these days, most of that going on advertising and media. If cost is qualification for a disastrous rebranding, where is the mention of Verizon, AT&T and Lucent? Those rebranding campaigns cost about the same.

The main fact that is so oddly overlooked in the criticism of Accenture is the name change was forced upon Andersen Consulting. Unlike the Bell Atlantic/Verizon name change, for example, Andersen Consulting had to change its name as a requirement of its acrimonious legal split from its parent, Andersen Worldwide. Neither did it have the luxury of time. Andersen Consulting had to totally reinvent itself globally within 147 days of the August 2000 arbitration ruling. The risk of getting it wrong was huge.

Whatever one might think of the name itself, Accenture today is very successful $21 billion global enterprise. Its brand has been beautifully and comprehensively executed and positively embraced by clients and 180,000 employees worldwide.

Where is the disaster? Where is the failure?

Try looking at Accenture’s competitors. KPMG’s consulting arm, for example, changed its name to BearingPoint in 2002. Ironically, a bearing point is a nautical term for setting directions to a specific destination.

BearingPoint ran aground: it went into bankruptcy in 2009 and was broken up. There is a disaster if ever there was one.

Name changes are easy copy for reporters – the cost, the unusual name, the reaction. Gasp! They need little research, just rewrite the last article on the subject, and ‘experts’ who will freshen the controversy with ready quotes about how rank the name is are easily found.

For me, it is somewhat depressing to see reputable branding companies and “branding gurus” complicit in this kind of shabby, ill-informed exercise at the expense of branding industry’s already damaged credibility.

For those interested in the facts, here is an excellent white paper on Andersen Consulting’s marketing strategy and its transition to Accenture.


  1. Nick Davis

    Good post Alan. I’ve been reading some opinions on the Accenture re-brand and i’m dumbfounded to see people railing against the name for being ‘meaningless’. Anyone who works in branding and understands the naming process knows there are lots of ways to put a name to a brand (the two being quite different concepts), and evocative/abstract names are as worthy and effective as descriptive ones, probably more so in certain categories/competitive scenarios.

    Of course at first glance these names will have zero meaning standing on their own – it’s what you make them stand for as brands that gives them substance and makes them connect. Whatever would these commentators have said about Google?

    There’s a frustrating mess of polemic out there, but your view is spot on.

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