Perspective | From Aberdeen to Abrdn. Is Bonkers Branding Killing Meaning?

By: | June 16, 2021

Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected].

Language, William Burroughs wrote, is a virus from outer space. Like many a virus, language evolves, sometimes in odd directions.

Some British universities, keen to attract a more diverse student body, have decided that command of language and grammar are no longer necessary. Students may write in any approximation of English, without being penalized for atrocious spelling or grammar.

Communication, the professors say, trumps spelling.

Publishers, columnists and readers now adhere to a higher editorial standard than that of major universities.

I can’t say it makes me feel good, though. Modern language frequently presents its users with unexpected challenges.

If I say ‘Monday,’ you probably think of the first day of the work week. Not long ago, a management consulting firm, PwC Consulting, dubbed itself Monday, to hoots of derision. The accountants presumably felt that their stuffy nature should be emboldened by something hip, something ‘now,’ something the kids could get down with.

Kids, though, rarely buy management services.

Thankfully, it didn’t catch on. State Farm didn’t change its name to Sick. Allstate didn’t become Stateflix And Chill. Monday didn’t last long and died on Tuesday.

You might imagine that this was a one-off, because financial institutions are too smart to make so fundamental an error. Surely finance is not likely to  damage a solid reputation by adopting a parlous moniker.

Enter Standard Life Aberdeen. The $650 billion UK asset management and advisory business went in for a rebrand earlier this year. (Full disclosure: Standard Life insured me for 41 years.)

The firm must have wanted to retain Aberdeen as its name, but the city of Aberdeen owns the name on most platforms. That’s probably why no insurance company is known as Connecticut or New York City.

Standard Life Aberdeen got its wish, sort of.

Its new name was introduced by the company as “part of a modern, agile, digitally-enabled brand.” Every one of those words shrieks a warning. The company’s new name, in full, is Abrdn.

Yes, Abrdn.

“It’s pronounced Aberdeen,” the company had to formally explain.

Corporate branding 101: pick a name people can pronounce. Abrdn reads like ‘a burden’ to some, and is only coincidentally an anagram of ‘brand.’

Commentators had a field day. The company obviously had “irritable vowel syndrome,” one wag wrote. “To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’?” asked Reuters. “Vowel play!” cried someone else.

The chief villain of the piece, of course, is the Internet, which has a great deal to answer for.

One senior investment manager called the new name “scary and confusing. It is a mid-life crisis,” he said. “It is as if I started to wear diamond ear studs and ripped jeans and posted things on TikTok. It is wrong on every level.”

The chief drivers of Abrdn’s choice would seem to have been a lack of imagination and the desire to be in touch with young people. Also, a stunning lack of foresight, insight, and second sight. If only, they had chosen to buy a vowel.

Thanx for reedin. &

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