What do Google, Best Buy, Nike, Netflix, Accenture, and Apple Inc. have in common? The answer: All these companies had a different name when they were founded. Google’s earliest name was BackRub. Sound of Music became Best Buy. Blue Ribbon Sports was rechristened as Nike. Accenture was called Arthur Andersen. Apple Inc. was Apple Computers. It is, in fact, quite common for established companies to have their names changed for reasons varying from business expansion and mergers and acquisitions to new identity and brand crises.
Last month, Indian home services startup, UrbanClap became Urban Company. The move came after the brand expanded its international presence and forayed into new services. “It was imperative to have a name which resonates with consumers worldwide as well as that which encapsulates the bouquet of home services we do,” says Pratik Mukherjee, associate VP – marketing, Urban Company.
We asked Vani Gupta Dandia, founder, CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners and a former marketing director of PepsiCo India, what she thinks of this latest renaming exercise. Urban Company, she thinks, sounds ‘generic’, but there’s an advantage to changing a company’s name in a relatively early stage. Dandia says, “Nobody really knew the story behind the name UrbanClap. With the new name change, the brand could create a more meaningful story that is easier to understand and fit in a global cultural context.”
Interestingly, the company is not planning to spend any additional marketing monies to promote the new brand name. Mukherjee says, “It will be a gradual transition over the next few months leveraging existing marketing calendar and touchpoints.”
Brand names cannot be changed in isolation, they need a build-up and a robust communication plan in order, think experts. According to Ashita Aggarwal, marketing professor SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, when a company changes its identity, building awareness is critical because “for consumers ‘out of mind’ is out of sight’.”
While UrbanClap and WeWork changed identities, Thomas Cook India Ltd (TCIL) shelled out approximately Rs 14 crore to acquire brand rights of the iconic UK travel giant Thomas Cook Plc that went bankrupt last year leaving customers stranded. At first, the Indian entity mulled a renaming after being linked to the UK company that it had no relation to. TCIL was previously contracted to pay an annual brand licence fee of Rs. 2 crore to TCUK until 2024 for usage of the brand. Eventually, management decided against a name change to distance itself from the bankrupt entity. In a news report, Madhavan Menon, managing director, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, said, “I am delighted that we have been able to sign an agreement to acquire the rights to the iconic Thomas Cook brand across India, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. The brand is one of the most respected names in the travel services space and one that we at Thomas Cook India have operated uninterrupted for 138 years since 1881.” The estimated cost of a new identity and rebranding was around Rs 40-50 crore.
Historically, some successful cases of rebranding to signal expansion and move away from out-of-date attributes include Indian multinational corporation Wipro. The company’s name changed a few times – first from Western India Vegetable Products Limited to Wipro Products Limited. In the early 1980s, it went from Wipro Products Limited to Wipro Limited. Each time the change was created around the brand’s purpose of expanding its offerings.
When Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) was in the process to change its name, many thought it would be difficult for the company to navigate the identity associated with the ‘Hindustan’ prefix. HLL was adopted in 1956, consequent to the amalgamation of Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Company Limited and Lever Brothers India Limited.
It took three years and long deliberations with employees, consumers, and other stakeholders to arrive at Hindustan Unilever, a new identity after 51 years as HLL. Harish Manwani, who was chairman, HLL and president, Unilever Asia Amet, at the time, said, “The name change is a significant milestone. It retains the company’s continued commitment towards its local roots while leveraging the global scale and reputation of Unilever with its consumers and other stakeholders in India.”
Two tips to take into account if one’s mulling a renaming exercise in today’s world.
Name games in a Voice world: As more consumers move to voice-activated commands, it’s best to have clear and easy to pronounce names. Interestingly, Apple’s virtual assistant’s name ‘Siri’ is also slang for “penis” in Georgia (the country) and in Japanese, it is a term for “buttocks”. That brings us to the next top tip.
In an increasingly borderless consumer world, brands have to pay more attention to language and cultural differences. ‘Irish Mist’ is a great name for a whisky, just not in Germany where ‘mist’ means manure. Nokia’s once popular phone Lumia translates to Spanish slang for prostitute.
Fun Fact: A mash-up of the words for “world” (monde) and “delicious” (delez) in Latin led to Mondelez, the global foods major that owns global snack and food brands of Cadbury and Kraft Foods Inc. The word was coined by two Kraft employees after the company held an in-house naming contest that got about 1,700 entries. But the new name didn’t go down too well initially. One investor thought it sounds like a disease. Experts also pointed to the fact that the word sounds like a Russian word for a sexual act.
The company press note announcing the change came with a pronunciation guide – it is “pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ.”
Will it work?
Last year, WeWork, the startup operating co-working spaces in more than 25 countries, was rebranded to The We Company. The new name was meant to better reflect the ambitions of ousted CEO Adam Neumann to expand the company “to encompass all aspects of people’s lives, in both physical and digital worlds,” as per reports. But the rebranding also came a day after reports surfaced that WeWork would not receive an expected $16 billion investment from SoftBank, the company’s biggest investor. 2019 turned into a nightmare year for WeWork after an attempt to go public led to several tumultuous months as concerns over its falling valuation, corporate governance, and Neuman’s actions kept mounting. We suppose WeWork will need a lot more than a mere renaming ceremony to change its fate.