How to avoid a brnd backlash

Rebranding lessons from Standard Life Aberdeen/Abrdn.

by Michael Gough

Here’s a classic anxiety dream: it’s the day of the big launch. You’re nervous, but everything is going fine so far and you’ve managed not to spill coffee on your clothes. There’s a buzz of anticipation as you step up to the podium and all attention turns to you. It’s your big moment. You look down at your notes, and a shock of horror runs down your spine. Here you are, standing in front of everybody, and you’ve forgotten to bring any vowels. 

I refer to the rebranding of Standard Life Aberdeen, which recently prompted a round of internet mockery for announcing the new name Abrdn. CEO Stephen Whitehead says they were after “a bold move to stand out”, and on that front it was mission accomplished – though perhaps not in the way he intended. 

For a start, there’s the problem of how to pronounce the new name. You’re supposed to still say ‘Aberdeen’, but you have to be told that. (And pronouncing it that way undermines the firm’s intention to move away from associations with the city.) If you were encountering it for the first time, Abrdn is probably going to read like ‘a burden’, which is what their rebrand may prove to be. 

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