Standard Life Aberdeen to change name to Abrdn
Standard Life Aberdeen has announced it is changing its name to Abrdn – pronounced “Aberdeen” – in a move that prompted immediate criticism of the asset manager’s “ill-thought out” rebranding.
The Edinburgh-based company, which dates back to 1825, said that the vowel-banishing change reflected a “modern, agile, digitally-enabled brand”. The new name, however, was not universally well received on Monday.
“This is ill thought-out, it could be pronounced ‘a burden’,” said Jonathan Gabay, a brand expert. “They are a financial company. What they do for customers is look at details, getting rid of vowels and letters makes it look like they’ve skipped over the most basic details in their name.”
Critics say the dropping of vowels, a strategy employed by TikTok stars and YouTubers such as the Strictly Come Dancing star Hrvy, makes for spelling and pronunciation issues. The press release announcing the new name sought to head off any confusion by confirming that the brand would be pronounced as “Aberdeen”.
The new identity, developed by the branding agency Wolff Olins, will be rolled out this summer “alongside implementation of a full stakeholder engagement plan to manage the transition”. The company would not reveal the cost of rolling out Abrdn, which will replace five brands the company had been using across its business.
“While the Abrdn brand might be specifically designed for the digital world, it looks far from ideal in the real one,” said Laith Khalaf, a financial analyst at investment firm AJ Bell. “Investors need simple fund names that are recognisable among the thousands of investments that are out there.
“The fact that Standard Life Aberdeen has actually had to explain how to pronounce the new name won’t be lost on financial advisers up and down the country, whose clients may well think they’ve punched a typo into a hastily written report.”
Stephen Bird, who took over as chief executive of the company in September, defended the new brand, saying it “reflects a clarity of focus” at the company.
“Our new brand Abrdn builds on our heritage and is modern, dynamic and, most importantly, engaging for all of our client and customer channels,” he said. “It is a highly differentiated brand that will create unity across the business.”
The company, formed by the £3.8bn merger of Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management in 2017, has been on the hunt for a new name since February. As part of a deal to sell its UK and European life insurance business to Phoenix Group three years ago, the company licensed the use of the Standard Life name. In February, the company formally sold the name to Phoenix Group.
Martin Gilbert, who founded Aberdeen Asset Management in 1983 and left the merged business last year, welcomed the rebrand. “This is the right time to create a modern brand that is as resonant and relevant in the 21st century as its predecessors were in the 20th,” he said.
Sources said that in choosing the new brand, Aberdeen was rejected because as the name of a city, the company would not have been able to control the intellectual property rights.
“Our new name reflects the clarity of focus that the leadership team are bringing to the business as we seek to deliver sustainable growth,” Bird said.
Rebrands that have failed to take off
As the digital age beckoned at the turn of the century, Royal Mail decided it needed a millennial makeover. In 2001, after two years of research into what should replace the brand equity built up since Charles I introduced a public mail service in 1635, out popped Consignia. John Roberts, the chief executive, called the made-up name “modern, meaningful and entirely appropriate”. Sixteen months later Roberts was gone and Consignia was scrapped, leaving Royal Mail with a £2m rebranding bill.
In the 1980s, as upstart Pepsi poured millions of dollars into marketing, including a record-setting deal with Michael Jackson, Coke decided to go one better. In 1985, the company radically changed its top secret recipe and launched a new product under the brand “New Coke”. Fans were furious at the change, with Coke acknowledging that it had inadvertently created a “firestorm of consumer protest”. Less than three months later, New Coke was consigned to history, and the company returned to its original recipe with a new name, Coca-Cola Classic, underlining to fans that it had gone back to its roots.
As the well-known maker of household-name brands such as Marlboro, it was perhaps always inevitable that at some point Philip Morris would look to rebrand its way out of direct association with tobacco products. Altria was unveiled in 2003, supposedly inspired by the Latin word altus for high, reflecting its desire to “always reach higher”. The change was made to emphasise that it was involved in many businesses, from Kraft to the Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch, but despite the rebrand it is still synonymous with its cigarette business.
The big four accounting firm, itself formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, attempted to rename its consulting arm as “Monday” in 2002. PwC’s then chief executive described Monday as “a real word, concise, recognisable, global and the right fit for a company that works hard to deliver results”. The new identity was dropped after PwC sold the business to IBM a month after the announcement.