February 21, 2024


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The corporate rebrands that missed the mark

4 min read
The corporate rebrands that missed the mark

A shattered Google logo
A shattered Google logo

Fiat Chrysler’s $50bn (£40bn) merger with PSA Group will create a new corporate entity called “Stellantis”, the carmakers announced on Wednesday, a word “rooted in the Latin verb ‘stello’ meaning to brighten with stars”. 

The businesses added that the new title “draws inspiration from this new and ambitious alignment of storied automotive brands and strong company cultures that in coming together are creating one of the new leaders in the next era of mobility”.

It is not uncommon for companies to rebrand, to signify a change in the corporate culture of the company; the leadership team, to communicate a brand’s new vision and message. But some name changes are better than others. Here are some of the more interesting rebrands of the past few years.

Yahoo to Oath to Verizon Media Group

When Verizon Communications bought Yahoo in 2017, it announced that it would bring AOL (which it acquired in 2015) and Yahoo into a new subsidiary called Oath. Tim Armstrong, AOL’s chief executive at the time, tweeted “#TakeTheOath” to publicise the changes, but it didn’t take long for people to mock the plans online. 

And in 2018 boss Guru Gowrappan announced that Oath would be no more; Verizon’s collective media outlets would be called the Verizon Media Group from 2019. 

Google to Alphabet

Google became the largest subsidiary in a new holding company called Alphabet in 2015 as part of a restructuring at the tech giant. The company said that the rebrand was an ode to language, “one of humanity’s most important innovations”.

The move was supposed to bring more transparency to its business, especially regarding its experimental projects, but the company faced some difficulties when it was revealed that BMW already owned the trademark and alphabet.com domain. 

Statoil to Equinor

In 2018, Statoil, Norway’s largest company, rebranded in order to drop “oil” from its name as its sought to diversify its business and attract young talent concerned about fossil fuels’ impact on climate change. The company declared at the time: “Thank you, Statoil, it’s been a pleasure!”

“Equi” refers to equal, equality, equilibrium, while “nor” is for its Norwegian origin.

Royal Mail to Consignia

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, goes the mantra. But in 2001, Royal Mail decided 485 years of its name was enough and changed to Consignia.

The change was designed to modernise the company and help it compete with the new kids on the block in delivery services. Its chief executive at the time, John Roberts, said that Consignia encompassed the “full scope” of what it did.

Consignia was universally ridiculed and its chairman Allan Leighton dumped the rebranding as soon as he arrived. The name survived for 15 months in total.

Tribune Publishing to Tronc

Tribune Publishing, which has a portfolio of US newspapers, changed its name in 2016 to Tronc – a diminutive of “Tribune online content” – to help reflect its step into the digital age. However, the change attracted a lot of criticism, and in 2018 it was revealed that Tronc would revert back to Tribune Publishing.

Dong Energy to Ørsted

In 2017, London-listed Danish firm Dong Energy rebranded to “Ørsted”, saying oil and gas was “no longer who we are”. The new name was in honour of the scientist Hans Christian Ørsted. 

The identity change wasn’t without its obstacles, with descendents of Ørsted complaining of appropriation and launching a lawsuit.

Offshore Wind Farm - Simon Belcher / Alamy
Offshore Wind Farm – Simon Belcher / Alamy

Andersen Consulting to Accenture

The management and consultancy company rebranded after it cut off ties with accountancy firm Arthur Andersen and was ordered to change its name by a court.

It said the name had been chosen as Accenture demonstrates the company “putting an accent or emphasis on the future” but the $100m (£80m) rebranding, which was supposedly dreamt up by one of its Norwegian partners, was mocked for being meaningless.

Quindell to Watchstone

Insurance outsourcer Watchstone Group rebranded in 2015 to distance itself from its old name Quindell after it was caught up in a scandal where the company had dramatically overstated its revenues.

Matchtech to Gattaca

In 2016 engineering recruitment specialist Matchtech announced it would change its name to Gattaca, apparently not realising this was the name of a science-fiction film about eugenics.

Ethan Hawke in the film Gattaca - Rex Features
Ethan Hawke in the film Gattaca – Rex Features

Matchtech Group said its name change was to eliminate confusion about its different brands after the acquisition of an international recruitment company. 

The 1997 film Gattaca depicts a not too distant future where people’s jobs are dependent on their genetic make-up, creating a divided society. Those without perfect DNA form an underclass and are only able to obtain menial jobs, with plum roles going to “perfect” specimens.

Smith & Wesson to American Outdoor Brands 

The firearms manufacturer has been an iconic name since the American Civil War but that didn’t stop the company’s board changing the name in 2017 to American Outdoor Brands.

Although guns accounted for around 85pc of the company’s sales, it decided to accommodate a new range of outdoor products and future-proof itself from any changes in US legislation on gun ownership.

In November 2019, American Outdoor Brands said it would split into two companies: Smith & Wesson Brands, which would retain gun sales, and American Outdoor Brands. The company’s chairman cited changes in the political climate as part of the motivation for the move.

A Smith & Wesson revolver - George Frey /Bloomberg
A Smith & Wesson revolver – George Frey /Bloomberg

Isis Equity Partners to Livingbridge

The London private equity firm had to change its name in 2014 due to the rise in prominence of the terrorist organisation in the Middle East.

But Livingbridge is not the only company to rebrand due to the unfortunate coincidence. American e-wallet start-up Isis also changed its name to Softcard as it didn’t want its brand to be “synonymous with violence”, while Nasdaq-listed Isis Pharmaceuticals changed its name to Ionis Pharmaceuticals as it was trading under the ticker symbol “ISIS”.

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