To some, Santander‘s decision to rebrand Abbey and its other UK retail banking operations under a single banner marks yet another regrettable example of global businesses squeezing out local differences. To others, the move is just good business by the Spanish banking group as at least one of the brands – Bradford & Bingley – is fatally stymied by failure and government rescue.
The Financial Times, May 27th 2009
Aviva is another financial services operator which is currently spending millions advertising its original Norwich Union brand out of existence. Mergers, takeovers, disasters and transformations in the nature of business all provide justification for corporate rebranding. The rebirth of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan in 1997 under the Diageo banner and BTR Siebe as Invensys in 1999 are examples.
But companies introducing or extending their brands do so at their peril.
Abbey itself, then under Luqman Arnold, chief executive, was forced into an embarrassing U-turn over the pastel-coloured, lower-case livery of its identity when it dropped the “National” from its name in a £11m rebranding in 2003. It soon reverted to a branding style close the Abbey National original.
British Airways also found itself at the centre of controversy when as part of a £60m rebranding in the 1990s it ditched its Union Flag tail-fins in favour of a range of multicultural designs which it was eventually forced to abandon.
Most embarrassing, perhaps, was the case of Royal Mail, which under the leadership of John Roberts followed the trend of adopting a Latinate name, Consignia, to distance its post office service from its old-fashioned, public sector roots. Mr Roberts explained that Consignia described “the full scope of what the Post Office does in a way that the words ‘post’ and ‘office’ cannot”. Within two years, the name was gone.
But Latinate names such as Aviva are thought to work well in being understood and recognisable in globalised markets, and have also been adopted by companies such as Andersen Consulting which renamed itself Accenture in 2001. At least Accenture did not suffer the ridicule heaped upon PwC when its consultancy arm was briefly rebranded Monday – to signify the excitement of the weekly return to work.
And the subsequent demise of its former namesake Arthur Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandal made the name change particularly fortuitous.
Coca-Cola was also hit by a consumer backlash in 1985 when it rebranded its main cola line simply as “New Coke” – but was forced to retreat within months.
In spite of consumer complaints, some great British brands have been consigned to the marketing dustbin of history. Marathon and Opal Fruits now sell under their global names of Snickers and Starburst.
The imposition of a Spanish name on 25m UK banking customers may well pass without too much comment. But Mitsubishi found itself embarrassed when it introduced its “Pajero” – or Pampas cat – SUV model in the 1980s.
The name, a pejorative term in some Spanish-speaking countries, forced Mitsubishi to rebrand the car – known as the Shogun in UK – as the Montero in Spain and Latin America.