Market Thinking

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Red Glasses Award

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Back in the 1990s a colleague used to pronounce on the annual “Red Glasses Award’ designed to highlight the most egregious examples of rent extraction from gullible management teams for corporate ‘rebranding’. Our favourite back then was the 1989 multi million dollar ‘transformation ‘of the BP Brand as follows. From this

To this.

Impressive eh? Definitely worth the money we’re sure and a very valid winner of the RGA. But this was peanuts compared to the $211m or so BP spent on its subsequent rebranding as ‘BP – Beyond Petroleum’ under CEO John Browne, after the purchase of Aramco in 1999/2000, replacing the shield with the Helios logo and, let us not forget, essentially ‘inventing’ the concept of the Carbon Footprint. Unfortunately for BP of course the deepwater Horizon Oil Spillage in 2010 led to a politicised ‘rebranding’ by Barack Obama back to ‘British Petroleum’ (ignoring the roles of US companies Transocean and Haliburton). However, the long term benefits of the Carbon Footprint paid off handsomely in our view as we would argue that the concept of the Carbon Footprint was the chief weapon in the ‘green’ fight between Natural Gas and Coal fired power stations, leading to the virtual elimination of the latter, very much to the financial benefit of BP and the other ‘oil’ majors’ – who ironically Climate Activists think they are ‘fighting’.

Other Red Glasses Award winners included the 2001 Royal Mail disaster rebrand to Consigna – or something – before switching back again and latterly the 2008 rebranding of the Pepsi logo (not that you would notice, rather like the BP shield) at a cost of $1m for the logo and a staggering $1.2bn over 3 years for the whole marketing cost. For it’s not just the price of the logo it is years of new signage and everything that goes with it. The advertising, Marketing, PR industry is nothing if not vertically integrated.

Which brings us to this week’s strong contender for the 2021 RGA, Standard Life Aberdeen, to be rebranded as Abrdn. Yes really.

Apparently it is to be pronounced ‘Aberdeen’ as opposed to ‘A Burden’ and presumably was triggered by the fact that they are selling the life business and thus Staberdeen didn’t sound that great.

We assume they tried a few anagrams for the brand, before settling on an anagram of…..brand.

As the comments below the linked FT article highlight, it is already leading to more ridicule than admiration – a pre-requisite for a RGA – as well as highlighting something that the management were clearly trying to distract from, a feeling that they are admitting that they can’t compete on the actual quality of the underlying product. In fact it looks rather like new CEO Stephen Bird, who like many a head of an Asset Management firm these days has never actually managed money, or indeed been in the business at all, has a plan to drop active fund management and compete with Blackrock and offer cheap ETFs rather than active funds through a Robo platform, although why he thinks that the existing brand, let alone the new one has any advantage over, say, Apple in this area is unclear. This all, ironically, comes at a time when, as we suggested in the previous post, the opportunity for Active ETFs and smart beta is emerging for asset management companies to compete with tech companies.

Finally in terms of brand, how about this one? Got that one for free!

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