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Brand Strategy Rebrand Marketing

It’s time to stp tkng th pss out of the Abrdn rebrand

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By Ian Henderson, CEO

April 12, 2024 | 4 min read

We’ve had our fun, but now we should stop “bullying” the abrdn rebrand. Two years on, AML Group’s Ian Henderson believes it deserves more credit and less ridicule.

Abrdn rebrand 1

The CIO of Abrdn (the merger of veteran investment firms Standard Life and Aberdeen) is upset about the media mkng fn of the firm’s rebrand. But both sides look in the wrong place – the problem is in the business, not the brand. I may be one of the few people who don’t have a problem with the Abrdn rebrand. Hear me out.

When the new name and logo were announced in 2021 almost every press story, every ‘brand expert’ was unanimous in condemnation. CEO of the newly merged Standard Life and Aberdeen £495bn fund management group, Stephen Bird, said it was to ‘create unity’ and that clients ‘fully embraced’ the change.

Almost no one agreed. Corporate insanity, they said. Echoes of ‘It’s another Consignia’ (the famously failed Post Office rebrand) or ‘the name’s a burden to the business’ were common. ‘They’ve disemvowelled Aberdeen Standard’ was another (quite good, that one). And some suggested calling Stephen Bird ‘BRD.’

And now, three years later, the Abrdn’s chief investment officer, Peter Branner, is complaining that the media are indulging in ‘childish … corporate bullying’ by continuing to make fun of his company’s name.

He asked plaintively, “Would you do that with an individual? How would you look at a person who makes fun of your name day in day out? It’s probably not ethical to do it. But apparently, with companies, it is different.” [editor’s note: It is different.]

This has given our grown-up media an excuse (not that they needed one) to poke fun all over again. Much as they did with Consignia, Dong Energy and even Twitter’s rebrand as X.

But let’s just look at it objectively.

A tough brief

We’re not always fans of brand designer Wolff Olins, but I have to admit. This was a tricky brief. It had to te together some tired city brands, with a lot of corporate baggage, following a difficult merger.

Add a change of business strategy, including moves away from traditional asset management like the acquisition of successful digital platform Interactive Investor. Find a name that works in different languages around the world. Globalize. Digitize.

And, of course, make sure it’s distinctive and memorable – a box that even Abrdn’s sharpest critics would agree has been ticked. We ARE still talking about it.

See Abrdn as a pure brand design response to all that, and it’s actually pretty good. (A better launch strategy might have helped make that clear at the time.) [editor’s note: maybe get in on the joke?]

Revenge is best served cld

Since the rebrand, Abrdn’s business performance has been poor, in common with swathes of the UK’s world-leading investment sector. But it’s simplistic – childish, even – to attribute that even in part to the rebrand; it has far more to do with investor confidence, market performance and pressure from new competitors.

For a moment, let’s suppose the business had seen stellar results since the Abrdn rebrand was launched. The same media experts would be saying it was genius.

And stp tkng th pss prtty fst.

The problem is not in the name, it’s in the business environment. Abrdn needs to reform, rebuild and keep delivering positive news about what is still a major UK business. Not easy, and it’ll take time. But it’s always been true of bullies, corporate or otherwise, that success is the best revenge.

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