Aberdeen angst: Is abrdn firm rebrand a bullseye or BS?

Standard Life Aberdeen

Every Line of Duty fan knows how important abbreviations and acronyms are – and that they’re only useful if they’re easy to type, and say out loud.

OCG, ARU and the infamous CHIS (no sniggering please), for example, are all useful and practical for real-life police officers (and crime drama scriptwriters) because they’re simple to use in speech.

The same goes for strong, well-established brands such as BMW, HSBC or KMART which all consumers know how to pronounce.

However, things get a little awkward if you create a 5 letter brand name that doesn’t include any vowels in the middle, and leads to confusion when anyone tries to work out how to say it out loud. And that’s where Standard Life Aberdeen ran into trouble recently with its rebrand to ‘abrdn’.

The initial reaction on social media was negative with it being widely mocked (our favourite was its depiction as a Countdown letters selection – ‘Yes, we’ll have yet another vowel please Rachel’). Critics also seized on the ironic twist that a name supposedly created to be a cool, modern brand for the digital media age had fallen foul of the dreaded ‘social media backlash’. Pronunciation problems weren’t the only basis for criticism – abrdn also got a hammering on the grounds that Standard Life Aberdeen had gone too far in trying to appear digitally savvy, and had created a brand that was completely out of touch with their target market.

However, some media coverage has been positive. Sky News business presenter Ian King argues that it’s a good move. He highlights an important point that was overlooked by many critics; that abrdn is much better suited for use as the new name for the Standard Life Wrap and Standard Life Elevate platforms. King also cites some good examples of strong brands that have stood the test of time despite a shaky start when they were launched.

What’s MMC’s view? Well, first of all we have sympathy for fellow marketing professionals who will have put a great deal of time and effort into developing, creating and launching the abrdn brand. It’s easy to criticise, and unfair to judge a new brand immediately after it has been launched. A verdict on the success or failure of a brand can only be made after seeing how it performs in the long-term. It’s true that the evidence so far looks like abrdn won’t go down as being the greatest brand ever, but the jury is still out so time will tell what the final verdict will be.

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