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Abrdn chair says rebrand was created internally

Douglas Flint at Abrdn AGM
Douglas Flint at the AGM: we did a lot of test marketing

Abrdn’s chairman and chief executive have again been forced to defend the company’s controversial re-brand and revealed that it had been conjured up internally, despite employing a top outside consultancy.

Critics poured scorn on the new name for Standard Life Aberdeen when it was unveiled in April 2021, with one calling it an act of “corporate insanity”.

At the company’s AGM in Edinburgh today, one shareholder – who referred to it as A.B.R.D.N – asked about the cost of developing the brand and whether there had been any research to compare public recognition with the 196-year-old Standard Life name which was sold to savings and pensions group Phoenix.

The company employed London agency Wolff Olins as part of the rebranding exercise but chairman Sir Douglas Flint told shareholders: “I am pleased to say the abrdn brand – and we do pronounce it as Aberdeen – was actually created internally.

“We had it benchmarked by one of the world’s leading brand advisory agencies and they introduced alternatives that certainly were not as good.

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“We did a lot of test marketing. We never disclose the figures, but the cost was not a particularly large amount and we didn’t spend a lot on outside consultants.

“We have won a considerable number of awards for the brand… and because the brand attracted such a lot of attention we got a staggering amount of free publicity.”

He mentioned it being referenced on the the television programmes Have I Got News For You and Countdown, with viewers spotting that the letters spelled out ‘brand’.

He said the Standard Life brand was ‘amazing’ but it had been licensed to Phoenix when the Standard Life business was sold to the company.

Pointing out the pivoting of the abrdn business from its traditional markets, he said: “All the research we did showed the Standard Life brand was associated with insurance, not with investment management.

“So the real benefit was that we could use it as part of our negotiations with Phoenix.”

He noted that in a digital world the company wanted something short, and a word beginning “AB” had its advantages.

Chief executive Stephen Bird said an independent measure of brand strength showed Standard Life was ranked 48th while four months after launching abrdn it was second to Blackrock. The indexing firm said they had never had a client climb so many places, he said.

“Abrdn works digitally,” he said, adding that the dotted-A logo was becoming “massively well recognised” and “will become synonymous with better investing”.

Stephen Bird: the name works digitally

He said: “Standard Life is a great brand for workplace pensions and it is important that we liberated Phoenix to promote that… and of course we own 10.4% of Phoenix.”

Mr Bird told the AGM that recession was possible and it would be harder to drive revenues. Sir Douglas added that the year had begun positively as Covid restrictions eased, but the war in Ukraine and rising cost of living meant it was “difficult to predict how the current year will play out.”

He added that interest rates of up to 6% “would not be a comfortable scenario” and that there was “a real risk of stagflation”.

All resolutions were passed at the meeting, though there was a sizeable vote against the re-election of some directors and board plans.

Brian McBride was opposed by 16.45% while 15.75% opposed the re-election of Catherine Bradley who only joined the board this year.

The resolution to authorise the directors to issue further shares was opposed by 19.12% and the resolution to disapply share pre-emption rights was opposed by 17%. The resolution to authorise the directors to allot shares in relation to the issuance of convertible bonds received a 17.27% no vote.

A special resolution to disapply pre-emption rights in respect of allotments of equity securities in relation to the issuance of convertible bonds got 18.01% of votes against.

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