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Change of identity

New Standard Life Aberdeen name attracts ridicule

New name and logo – and comment on Twitter

Standard Life Aberdeen, the Edinburgh-based wealth firm and asset manager has faced a backlash in the City and on social media over its planned rebrand to Abrdn plc.

The company which sold its Standard Life name to Phoenix earlier this year, said the new identity will be part of a ‘modern, agile, digitally-enabled brand’.

It will also be used for all the company’s client-facing businesses globally.

The new moniker is the result of months of work between SLA and marketing agency Wolff Olins, whose clients include hip brands like TikTok, Google TV, and Virgin Media.

But the name change was ridiculed on social media with comparisons being made to earlier rebranding errors by Royal Mail (Consignia) and PwC (Monday).

One financial analyst (below) said: “You can’t help but feel they have just erected a barrier to investing that needn’t have been there.”

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On Twitter, there was a stream of criticism, with comments such as “Ridiculous”, “Is this real?” and, fittingly, “Absrd”.

Chief executive Stephen Bird said: “Our new brand Abrdn builds on our heritage and is modern, dynamic and, most importantly, engaging for all of our client and customer channels.

“It is a highly-differentiated brand that will create unity across the business, replacing five different brand names that have each been operating independently. Our new name reflects the clarity of focus that the leadership team are bringing to the business as we seek to deliver sustainable growth.”

SLA decided to rebrand under a single name to clear up the confusing range of identities, largely resulting from the merger of Standard Life Aberdeen and Aberdeen Asset Management.

It was later forced to explain how the word is pronounced, stating that it was “Aberdeen”, prompting more derision over the absence of vowels.

The rebranding will begin this summer and will mark the next stage “in the reshaping of the business and future-focused growth strategy,” SLA said.

There will be three key areas, including global asset management, technology platforms for UK financial advisers, and a savings and wealth division.

Daily Business comment: Mmm… it may be modern but it’s not offering the clarity that was intended. Initial reaction was how it would be pronounced. A colleague came up with “Abradon”…or is it “A Burden”? Not such a good idea. The company later confirmed it would be “Aberdeen” (but minus the vowels).

What does this rather convoluted abbreviation into text style speak stand for? Why identify with Aberdeen (if that is the intention) when the company is based in Edinburgh? Wasn’t this one of the current confusions that it wanted to eliminate?

Rather than being highly-differentiated this looks dangerously closer to the Royal Mail’s mistaken rebrand as Consignia in the early 2000s.

Lord Stevenson, when he was chairman of HBOS, once rhetorically asked during an address to a conference how the name of the merged Halifax and Bank of Scotland should be pronounced: “Is it H.B.O.S or H-Bos?”

In truth, if the question has to be asked then the name doesn’t work. Worse still, SLA’s new name has already been widely ridiculed on social media.

Let’s just hope the Abrdn board has not spent too much on branding consultants. That would be a burden.

AS IT SEE IT: Terry Murden says the rebranded Standard Life Aberdeen could be short-lived if bidders emerge

Market reaction

Laith Khalaf, financial analyst at AJ Bell comments: “Standard Life Aberdeen needed to sort out its branding, but the new Abrdn name will likely leave investors feeling dazed and confused. Investors need simple fund names that are recognisable amongst the thousands of investments out there, and having a brand name you can actually say, even if it’s only in your head, is a big help.

“The fact 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 might well think they’ve punched a typo into a hastily written report.

“The Standard Life Aberdeen brand has been in disarray ever since the merger in 2017. One gets the feeling no-one wanted to grasp the nettle of choosing between two brands with such heritage and pedigree.

“That seems to have been resolved by the recent sale of the Standard Life brand to Phoenix, clearing the decks for the new Abrdn branding.

“Fund performance is of course more important than branding, and Standard Life Aberdeen has some excellent funds, but you can’t help but feel they have just erected a barrier to investing that needn’t have been there.

“While the Abrdn brand might be specifically designed for the digital world, it looks far from ideal for the real one. A full stakeholder engagement plan is promised and don’t be surprised if stakeholders ask for some vowels please, Carol.”



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