I. E. du Pont de Nemours and Company. This impressively aristocratic name is better known as plain DuPont, the world’s fourth largest chemical company.
Founded in July 1802 as a gundowder mill by one Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, it supplied the Union Army in the Civil War and went on to specialize in the poylmers that made it famous.
Du Pont was born in Paris in 1771. His father, Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, was a political economist who had been elevated to the nobility in 1784 by King Louis XVI, allowing him to carry the honorable de Nemours suffix, Nemours being a picturesque ‘commune’ in the Île-de-France region in north-central France.
Little wonder then the company should look fondly on Nemours as the name for the spinoff of its performance chemicals business, embedded as it is in the heritage of the company and the duPont family’s noble French origins.
Nemours was a natural, except that the duPont family had already endowed the name to The Nemours Foundation, a pediatric health system operating in the Delaware Valley and in Florida.
The problem was neatly side-stepped by the creation of Chemours, a sound-alike name that also invokes French place names à la Cherbourg, Chantilly, Chartres, Charmant, Chambery and Chinon.
A nice idea, but it’s not at all what DuPont had in mind; it wants to be sure that people know the performance chemicals business is a performance chemicals business and has, therefore, declared Chemours be pronounced ‘Kem-oars’, with a ‘k’ for chemicals and not a ‘schh’ for château.
Sad. My mistake. I got carried away by the romance of it all. I just thought… a company with such a flair for naming its inventions – Vespel, Corian, Teflon, Freon, Mylar, Kevlar, Zemdrain, Nomex, Tyvek, Sorona and Lycra – might have been more inventive with an historic spin-off dedicated to “applying great chemistry to make a colorful, capable, and cleaner world.”
It was inevitable that the announcement of Booz & Company’s new name, Strategy&, would be accompianed by derisory references to “Monday”.
The tone of the coverage has been one of “here we go again – what is PwC thinking? First the Monday disaster and now Strategy&.”
Monday, as you will recall, was the name for the planned spinoff of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ consulting business. It was 2002, the era of Sarbannes-Oxley. Arthur Andersen had just gone down in flames after being implicated in the Enron scandal.
The remaining “Big Four” accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG) were under pressure from investors, regulators and clients to separate audit from consulting work to prevent future conflicts of interest.
In what must go down as a miracle of timing and good fortune, Andersen Consulting had been involved in an acrimonious split from Arthur Andersen in 2000 and was forced to change its name. It became Accenture on January 1, 2001.
Ernst & Young sold its consulting practice to Cap Gemini of France and KPMG’s consulting services operations were demerged and renamed BearingPoint in October 2002 following an IPO.
Meanwhile, Deloitte was trying to whistle past the graveyard with Braxton, a firm it acquired in 1984, as the name for its consulting business spin off. Braxton scarcely registered a blip on the media radar, which was probably the point. It has all the personality of an old tweed jacket.
It’s one thing dig up name candidates from the vaults, but quite another to turn what is basically a timid, play safe strategy into a self-congratulatory blow for common sense, as it did on its website when it said: “Braxton represents a welcome return to common sense and a departure from the increasingly predictable tendency toward coined, invented, and whimsical corporate names.” Humbug.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (now PwC) turned to Wolff Olins, the London company that created “Orange”, a mobile phone network named after a color that went on to disrupt the entire market. Presumably, PwC knew what it was in for and Wolff Olins did not disappoint.
Monday was no less iconoclastic. It drew the predicable gasps of disbelief, although the worst thing its detractors could level at the name was that “I don’t like Mondays” was the title of a hit song by the Boomtown Rats.
CEO Greg Brenneman said what was expected of him: “Monday is exactly what we want it to be as we create our new business: a real word, concise, recognizable, global and the right fit for a company that works hard to deliver results.”
It was left to spokeswoman Sehra Eusufzai to make the more telling and perceptive point: “With any new name introduction, there’s bound to be a wide range of reactions, and over time it will come to mean what people want it to mean.”
Whether or not Monday could have been the Orange of the consulting world we shall never know as IBM snapped up the business from PwC before the IPO happened and swallowed it wholesale, regurgitating it as IBM Consulting Services.
Still, even though that particular Monday never saw the light of day, it hasn’t stopped publications such as the Financial Times (which should know better) referring to Monday as a ‘miss-step’ and ‘ill-fated’ on the basis of no evidence at all.
Now, twelve years later with Enron receding in the rear-view mirror and audit revenues flattening, the Big Four are once again looking at consulting for growth. Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young have been investing heavily. Last year, PwC acquired Booz & Co, which was spun-off by its parent Booz Allen Hamilton in 2008 after it sold itself to the Carlyle Group.
All of which brings us back to Strategy&.
A condition of Booz’s spin-off was that it could no longer use founder Edwin Booz’s name if the consultancy lost its independence. So PwC found itself with another naming challenge on its books for its consulting business.
Far from being another attempt to break the consulting industry mold with an edgy new name, Strategy& (pronounced Strategyand) is as close as they could get to changing the name while making no change at all.
Consider: in the Booz & Co logo (also the handiwork of Wolff Olins) the ampersand is a prominent design feature. If the Booz part of the name had to go, which it did, the ampersand could be retained as a strong visual link of continuity. And then, simply by replacing “Booz” in Booz&Co with the innocuous word “strategy”, you have achieved the necessary change without the rebranding controversy.
Strategy&Co would have been an elegant solution. Unfortunately, if this was indeed the logic, they soon encountered a problem: Strategy&Co is already in use by another organization. Clipping off the “Co” gets round the problem but what PwC is left with in “Strategy&” is a name that is bizarrely incomplete. The snarks have duly had their field day, calling it the “worst marketing choice since Coke II.”
Cesare Mainardi, chief executive of Booz & Company makes a nice point in saying the name “invites a discussion about what we’re about and what we’re thinking and how we can help our clients transform.”
Yes it does. But that conversation is better left to a brand campaign rather than a name. And this is exactly what Strategy& feels like – a campaign. It has the same catchy, transitory quality of something dreamed up in an advertising agency.
Like small talk at a cocktail party the Strategy& conversation will soon grow stale, and then what? It will run its course until it is finally absorbed into PwC as PwC Strategy. Which may be the whole point of the exercise.
Deloitte backed off launching Braxton in 2003 as the credit markets tightened. Under heavy acquisition debts BearingPoint filed for Chapter 11 on February 18, 2009 and was liquidated. Accenture went on to become one of the world’s most successful multinational firms, with approximately 289,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. The company generated net revenues of $28.6 billion in 2013 and yet, for some reason that has never been made clear, Accenture has figured in numerous lists of “rebranding disasters”. Go figure.
It goes something like this: if a name has more than three syllables it will be abbreviated or reduced to initials in popular usage.
It explains why New York (two syllables) is always New York while Los Angeles (four syllables) is more popularly known as ‘LA’. Likewise, Detroit is always Detroit but Philadelphia is Philly; and Wells Fargo gets its full name while Bank of America is referred to as BofA.
Beverages & More! was shortened to ‘BevMo!’ and Federal Express became ‘Fedex’. Most people knew Network Appliance as ‘NetApp’ and the Federal National Mortgage Association became ‘Fannie May’ via its initials, FNMA, and so on.
When there’s no handy short form available there’s always initials to fall back on – so PricewaterhouseCoopers becomes PwC, National Public Radio becomes NPR and National Cash Register becomes NCR.
There’s an important clause to the three syllable naming rule: only after a name has been has been appropriated and blessed in the public domain with common usage can it be yours to adopt and used with credibility. As my friend Ray likes to say – you can’t give yourself a nickname.
Thus, when National Cash Register formally changed its name to NCR in 1974 it had long since moved beyond the cash register business and NCR was how people referred to the company.
The Federal National Mortgage Association became, officially, Fannie May in 1997. In 2000, FDX Corporation, the parent company of Fedex, changed its name to Fedex Corporation. Beverages & More! became BevMo! in 2001. Network Appliance adopted NetApp as its name in 2008, and in 2010 National Public Radio changed its name to just NPR. PricewaterhouseCoopers finally bowed to the inevitable and joined the rest of the world when it decided to call itself PwC in 2010.
All of which brings us to Ernst & Young, or EY as it now wishes to be known.
One of the big four audit firms along with KPMG, Deloitte and PwC, Ernst & Young was created out of the merger of Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young in 1989.
For years Ernst & Young and Deloitte retained the professional high ground with their proper names. Deloitte smartly recognized the value of its name and has built a world-class brand around it. Ernst & Young had the same opportunity. The name is only three syllables long, easily pronounced and rich in history.
In succumbing to the use of initials in an attempt to reinvent itself, EY joins KPMG and PwC in the fog of corporate initialisms, leaving Deloitte to rejoice in its good fortune.
The problem for EY is that it has never been referred to as EY. Falling within the three-syllable rule, people have not had any need to abbreviate the name. In syllabic terms, Ernst & Young is just as long as IBM. In the industry it is occasionally referred to as ‘Ernst’ or ‘E&Y’ (still three syllables long) or just Ernst & Young, but never EY as far as I know (although there was an interlocked E and Y in the previous logo).
EY feels forced as a result. It doesn’t help either to have two letters with soft sounds that together look like an exclamation – EY!
EY has something of the ‘CA’ problem (CA’s initial naming mistake). When Computer Associates changed its name to CA it never took. Four years later the company changed its name again, adding ‘Technologies’ to CA “to ensure that we tell a consistent story in the market that reflects the full breadth and depth of what we offer.”
Still, the new EY comes snappily outfitted in gray and yellow and that might be enough to convince people that the company has a convincing new story to tell about who it is and where it’s going.
But just as we were off and running with a new idea there’s that awkward tagline to hurdle: Building a better working world.
True, it does have some nice alliterative qualities – BBWW – but, again, it feels forced (maybe for the sake of alliterative symmetry). Is it correct to say “better working”? I want to take out my editor’s pen and make it either “Building a better, working world” or “Building a world that works better”.
Do you see a word? Or do you see four letters just strung together like a row of initials – E, V, R, Y?
Norway’s largest IT company is counting on you reading ‘EVRY’ as a word.
EVRY is the new name for EDB ErgoGroup, which was created out of the 2010 merger of Norway’s two largest IT companies, EDB and ErgoGroup.
“By changing to a completely new and unfamiliar name, we are nullifying people’s awareness of a business with almost NOK 13 billion of annual turnover”, says CEO Terje Mjøs in a press release.
He goes on: “This makes it crucial that we quickly build a strong market awareness of our new name, EVRY. However, we could not ask for a better starting point. The new name suits us perfectly!
It does!? Then do tell us: what is the name, and why is it perfect?
I assume EVRY is meant to be read as ‘Every’, but EVRY is not being very helpful in this. Just seeing it written as EVRY, and all in caps, can be misleading. It looks like an acronym. The problem with EVRY is that you have to hear it spoken to get the name. And even then, why EVRY?
The press release attempts to explain:
“We were keen to develop a name that has only a few characters, that will work in different combinations and that can stand on its own and convey our message without the need for any additional logos – and of course we wanted a name that will represent the company in the best possible way”. Of course. That’s good.
“At the same time, the name EVRY does give the sense that our business has its roots in Norway, Sweden and the Nordic region, in terms of both its ownership and its activities”. Sorry, lost me again. Why EVRY exactly?
“The name also represents what we stand for, and we are committed to ensuring that the company creates value for our customers and society as a whole through:
– Each and every employee, every single day
– Every customer for which EVRY creates value
– Every critical system for which EVRY plays a role
– Every colleague who takes responsibility and inspires others
– Every person who is affected by EVRY through the benefits for society in which we play a role
– Every opportunity that EVRY recognizes and takes up”.
So, there it is: EVRY wants to be everything to everybody, in a uniquely Nordic way.
EVRY is, potentially, a great idea. But it has to be at the core of a deeper brand idea that means something to customers and employees. It’s just not coming through in this turgid press release that assumes the name and the idea are so brilliantly self-evident they need no explanation at all.
They do. EVRY new name does. Just ask my good friends at MBLM.
Most people would agree that the 1996 Lucent spin-off from AT&T was a brilliant success. The name ‘Lucent’ is cited as a triumph, as shiningly transformative as the literal meaning of the word on which it is based (lucent:from Latin lūcēns, present participle of lūcēre to shine).
And yet, according to one authoritative account, the whole naming process was a debilitating, angst-ridden affair. Lucent was unloved and unwanted. Right to the end AT&T executives were ready to ditch it. Consider this passage from Optical Illusions: Lucent And The Crash Of Telecom:
“No one loved the name Lucent…The choice of both name and symbol were controversial until the last, and Landor continued to developed the AGB name [Alexander Graham Bell’s initials] and an alternative, Telascent or Telescent.
As the process dragged on, Rich McGinn and Henry Schacht [President and CEO elect respectively] chatted in front of an elevator one evening. They had reconciled themselves to the fact that the Bell name [American Bell] would not be available, that no new name would emerge to sweep them off their feet, and as their elevator car descended to the ground the two agreed that Lucent was the best option available.
Yet neither was overly enthusiastic about the name, and as they ascended the stage to announce it to their employees, McGinn turned to Schacht and said, “Come on, Henry. One last chance, we can still change it if we want to”.”
Their worst fears were realized on launch day when newspapers ran their usual ‘What’s in a name’ story with quotes such as this:
“It’s a horrible name,” said Danny Briere, president of TeleChoice, a telecommunications consulting firm. “The good news is that it doesn’t sound like anything else; the bad is there’s a reason for it.”
For engineers steeped in a century of the Bell culture and telecom jargon Lucent was outside of their frame of reference. It was a gift thrust upon a recalcitrant management by force of circumstance: a spin-off needs a unique, ownable name in order to be spun-off, and all other options that were within their comfort zone were not available.
Kathy Fitzgerald, Lucent’s VP of Corporate Communications, was revealingly philosophical on this point:
“It turns out you don’t need to love the name or the logo to be able to turn it into one of the best known names in communications in less than two years. Because, trust me, I was at best lukewarm about the name – with its key virtue being that it wasn’t a made-up name and was actually a word in the meaning ‘marked with clarity and glowing with light’.”
The definition was repeated like a mantra to ward off evil spirits. How many people knew Lucent was a real word? Why does it matter? And how is ‘marked with clarity and glowing with light’ relevant?
Underlying this comment is an atavistic fear of what many executives think of as ‘made-up’ corporate names and a bias towards the tried-and-true of the familiar.
In spite of its eventual business decline and merger with Alcatel of France, Lucent’s initial success gave rise to a tranche of sound-alike imitators, circa 2000 – Agilent, Navigant, Thrivent, Mirant – all of them made-up names for companies hoping to borrow some of Lucent’s magic. Such is the corporate world psychology of naming.
So what transformed Lucent from the unpopular choice it was into a celebrated case of rebranding brilliance?
In a word: success.
The Lucent Technologies IPO was a huge success, thanks in no small measure to a $100 million ad campaign designed to underwrite the stock issue. Ipso facto, the name is a success.
At the other end of this spectrum there is the example of Consignia, which one newspaper was moved to call “one of the most disastrous corporate rebrandings ever undertaken”.
Consignia was launched in 2001 as the new name for the UK’s Post Office Group, a cumbersome collection of inefficient delivery services which included that most royal and ancient of institutions, the Royal Mail.
The rigorous restructuring plan was years in development. It was designed to bring the government-owned enterprise into the 21st century as a modern, competitively viable and internationally focused business. However, they didn’t reckon with public sentiment and the media’s penchant for indulging it.
If you can include the three words ‘royal’, ‘institution’ and ‘branding’ in the same sentence you have a potent complexity of popular interest that is red meat to the rabid British press.
After a remorseless torrent of negative news stories, union strike threats over job cuts and mounting financial losses the restructuring strategy was abandoned. In a final act of high symbolism, the whole sorry mess was renamed yet again, this time as the Royal Mail Group. Political expediency won the day. Consignia was sacrificed as proof of the plan’s demise.
Was Consignia a bad name? No. There are other names out there of similar ilk doing serviceable duty – Altria, Aviva, Centrica, etc. Consignia was pilloried in part because it did not do a very good job of explaining itself. In the end the strategy failed and, therefore, the name is associated to this day with a failure.
It was a lesson learned well by Aviva a few years later. When the British insurer Norwich Union decided to unify its global operations under a single name, Aviva, they took no chances. Ringo Starr, Bruce Willis and Alice Cooper were featured in a series of high-profile TV ads to make the point that changing your name is really OK; we did it – and just look at how successful we are.
It was rebranding 101 to the letter. The name and the campaign may have been pretty banal stuff but it worked. Aviva got its version of the story out first and stuck to it.
Is Aviva a better name than Consignia? Is Consignia worse than Lucent? It doesn’t matter.
In business, as in war, the victors get to write history. Ultimately, all rebranding is about PR and the battle for control of the story.
Santander is a port city on the northern coast of Spain. It was known to the Romans as Portus Victoriae Iuliobrigensium, but its present name is derived from that of a 3rd century Catholic martyr, Saint Emeterio (Santemter – Santenter – Santander).
These days the city is noted for nothing in particular according to my friend Dave who lives in nearby Oñati. He says it’s very nice for a seaside promenade if it isn’t raining, as it frequently does, but he much prefers Bilbao or San Sebastian.
And yet the name of this wet, nondescript Spanish city has become one of the most ubiquitously visible on the high streets of Britain. How so?
Santander is also a bank. It took its name from the city in which it was founded in 1857. Having survived the economic maelstrom of the last 18 months in better shape than most if its European rivals, Santander is intent on capitalizing on its good fortune by forging its name into a global brand. Through furious acquisition the bank has become the third largest in the world in terms of profits.
Its entry into the UK was made only recently through a series of acquisitions that focused on Britain’s battered building societies, those uniquely British inventions that began as co-operative savings groups. The first was founded in Birmingham in 1774. By 1910 there were 1,723 providing the British middle class with mortgages to buy houses.
For most of the 20th century these admirable but eminently boring institutions were granite-like proclamations of Victorian thrift and the virtues of home ownership. Their names constituted a national inventory of British towns – Halifax, Bradford & Bingley, Leeds, Yorkshire, Barnsley, Woolwich, Coventry. Just about every high street in the country had a building society branch.
Most are gone. Only 52 remain as independent societies. Many merged to form larger ones after ‘demutualization’ in the 1980s allowed them to change their legal status and operate as banks. They were swallowed up by larger banks such as Santander which acquired the largest, Abbey National, in 2004 quickly followed by the Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley.
Over the last couple of months Santander has been busy replacing the signs on branches across the length and breadth of Britain. By the end of this year there will be 1,300 buildings in the UK bearing the name of a remote Spanish city.
What the man-in-the-street in Bingley will make of the name change remains to be seen. Britain’s largest insurer, Norwich Union, took no chances when it changed its name to Aviva. It enlisted the aid of Ringo Starr and Bruce Willis in TV ads recently to explain to the British populace why it was becoming Aviva which is not, as you might suppose, a another city in Spain but just a made-up name that better suits the company’s international ambitions.
Such is the Darwinian way with names as industries become increasingly globalized. Rich local diversity is replaced with international bland. Here in the US we lived for a while with a bank called Wachovia, named after an obscure region of Germany, before it was swept away in the recent financial crisis which also saw off the hitherto financial stalwarts of Washington Mutual, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, together with 140 local banks that failed in 2009.
Last year Santander quietly made its first move in the US. It acquired Sovereign Bancorp of Pennsylvania for approximately US$1.9 billion giving the Spanish bank a foothold in United States. Odds on it won’t be long before we too become very familiar with the name of that small, insignificant city in the north of Spain.