Name calling

Abrdn CIO says rebrand mockery is ‘bullying’

Abrdn has been mocked over its rebrand

Abrdn, the investment manager, is again being forced to defend its rebrand after the company’s chief investment officer claimed that the mockery was a form of “corporate bullying”.

Peter Branner said in an interview that the media was engaging in a “childish” game by continuing to pick on its controversial missing vowels.

The change of name three years ago from Standard Life Aberdeen to abrdn (it also dropped the capital letter) was designed to reflect its new business model after it sold the Standard Life brand and business to Phoenix.

Critics ridiculed the new name, referring to a “disemvowelling” of the company and “irritable vowel syndrome, and said it was not even easy to pronounce.

It was likened to the disastrous rebranding of the Royal Mail to Consignia and Price Waterhouse’s plan to rename its consulting business as Monday. Abrdn’s change was highlighted in an episode of Have I Got News for You. Viewers of Countdown, spotted that the letters spelled out ‘brand’.

In comments to Financial News, Peter Branner, who joined as chief investment officer last year, said: “I understand that corporate bullying to some extent is part of the game with the press, even though it’s a little childish to keep hammering the missing vowels in our name. Would you do that with an individual?

“It’s probably not ethical to do it. But apparently with companies it is different.”

The company says abrdn is officially pronounced in the same way as the city of the same name, but critics say it can be pronounced “abradon” or even “a burden”.

The board employed London agency Wolff Olins as part of the rebranding exercise but chairman Sir Douglas Flint told shareholders in May 2022: “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.

Douglas Flint at Abrdn AGM
Douglas Flint: the name was created internally

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

“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.”

Chief executive Stephen Bird told the same meeting that 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”.

Responding to Mr Branner’s remarks, a spokeswoman for Abrdn said: ‘‘As Peter made clear in his interview, we appreciate it is for the media to make their own assessments about the companies they wish to write about.”

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