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November 12, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

The name's changed, but the song remains the same

Corporate re-branding isn't just confusing, it's insidious

I have to give them this: the commercial definitely got my attention. At first, I thought I was watching a spot for a new line of golf clubs. After all, the footage focused exclusively on some guy playing golf.

Turns out the spot wasn't really about golf clubs or golf courses. It was an announcement by KPMG Consulting that they were changing their name to BearingPoint.

As Linda Rebrovick, chief marketing officer for BearingPoint, pointed out when I said I found the golf analogy confusing, "You don't watch the PGA, do you?"

"No," I admitted, "I don't."

"Our clients are golfers," said Rebrovick. "We are in the middle of a two-year endorsement deal with Phil Mickelsen (the guy I didn't recognize in the TV spot) and it was real important that our clients see Phil putting on a visor with our new name on it."

BearingPoint is just the latest consulting firm to change its name. Can you name the original company of Accenture? IBM Consulting? Cap Gemini Ernst & Young (okay that one's easy) and Braxton?

Consulting firms -- while somewhat mandated to change their identities because of scandal and federal regulation -- are not alone. Companies in all sectors of business -- insurance, banking, retail -- are changing their names faster than some people go through Kleenex.

It is so ubiquitous that many complain that there are no good names left. Rebrovick was quick to point out that BearingPoint was not their first choice -- just the best of what was available.

We've lived through oil shortages, vaccine shortages, shortages of Beanie Babies, and now we have to suffer through a name shortage.

Maybe the shortage is the reason that in the exact week BearingPoint was introduced, Reliant Energy announced its new name: CenterPoint Minnegasco.

Changing a company's name used to be a major deal. Companies worried about brand loyalty. Would they lose customers? It's not like companies didn't have a reason to worry.

Changing names has had a history of being risky business. When Nissan announced it would change the name of Datsun to Nissan, the company took about two years to make the transition. "When the name change finally occurred, Nissan lost market share and it has never recovered." said Professor Bob Ruekert of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Then there is the granddaddy of all name change snafus -- Classic Coke. As Professor Ruekert explained, "Coke had done their research. Consumers definitely preferred the new formula, but what Coke didn't understand was people's attachment to the brand."

The rest is, as they say, the rest. Classic Coke continues to live on as the classic case study of what not to do with your brand.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, we are left to contend with a plethora of new names: from Daytons and NSP to First Bank, Lutheran Brotherhood and US West, the old standards have given way to a host of new names: Marshall Field's, Xcel, USBank, Thrivent for Lutherans and Qwest. The actual list of changed names is much longer.

Experts say name changes are so common that some of the negative impact is diluted.

That reminds me of people who ask someone going through a divorce, "How are the kids doing?" Who knows? On a day to day basis, kids usually appear to be fine. They go to school. They send instant messages to their friends. They act out. Just like all kids do. It's usually not until years later, that the fallout becomes evident.

So yes, most people won't stop shopping at Dayton's because it's now Marshall Field's. And CenterPoint Minnegasco could probably change its name six more times and it won't matter -- it's not like I have a choice where to purchase gas to heat my home.

But to think that there might not be unforeseen fallout from this revolving door of names is, to echo the now famous warning from Alan Greenspan, exhibiting "irrational exuberance."

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at You can remain confidential, as can your company.