The true cost of rebranding?

Norwich Union logo

You can only estimate the value of a brand that has lived through four centuries, so at what cost is a name-change from one established more than 200 years ago, to another born this decade?

It’s happening now with UK insurance company, Norwich Union, established in 1797.

In May 2000, Norwich Union merged with insurer, CGU, and in 2002 was rebranded as Aviva. Since then, however, and despite 4,000 jobs being axed in favour of Indian call centres, the company has retained its separate UK identity, as you’d expect from one of Britain’s best-known financial brands.

With almost 23 million customers, this is a risky move, and were it to fail, Aviva wouldn’t be the first multi-national to botch a brand launch.

Mitsubishi, for instance, introduced a range of vehicles named ‘Pajero‘ (known as ‘Shogun’ here in the UK). No-one told the company directors that ‘pajero’ is Spanish slang for “wanker”.

Or do you remember Consignia from 2001?

What could be more sacrosanct in branding terms than the Post Office? Its management hasn’t always seen it that way. In 2001, the company was rebranded as Consignia in an attempt to distance itself from its state history and claim a greater share of international markets. The public was not impressed with this attack on a British institution. The following year, Consignia had been dumped in favour of the more traditional Royal Mail Group.

More rebranding disasters at the foot of the following article from The Independent: Norwich Union name to disappear after 200 years.

Aviva logo

Here’s the high-budget Aviva ad currently aired in the UK.

I’m sure Aviva directors will say the change heralds a bright future, and I can see the benefits of having a single international brand, but unlike Ringo Starr, Elle Macpherson, Alice Cooper, and Bruce Willis, Norwich Union had already achieved top-of-mind positioning.

200 years of trust is a long time, and we humans are creatures of comfort. 23 million customers are going to need a little comforting.

28 responses

  1. It is probably a dangerous time to re-brand in a financial climate like this. or maybe its the perfect time? Seems like a LOT of money went on that advert… hmmm.

  2. The majority of adults in the UK can fondly remember the “Marathon” chocolate bar being rebranded as “Snickers”. It didn’t go down to well, and to this day, many people still refer to these bars as Marathon bars. Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned here…

  3. I do think it’s indicative of the fact that you don’t always have the privilege of controlling your brand, as much as you’d like to do it with money and creativity. A story is a story, and people don’t forget stories too easily once they’ve heard it a thousand times.

  4. Norwich Union sounds like an insurance company. Aviva sounds like … a name generated by either computer or committee. After 200 years you would expect the name recognition would be fairly high for NU (and if not, why not?) so it’s difficult to know why they would want to rebrand without having more background information on the company. But in uncertain economic times I would have thought that consumers would be more comfortable with a brand that symbolises familiarity and stability. I hope the rebranding exercise pays off, and if it does I would be interested to see the entire marketing strategy and how it succeeded.

  5. Anyone want to take a stab at the symbolism of Norwich Union/Aviva’s logo? I can’t quite see the correlation. And, with the name change, is the logo still relevant?

  6. I can’t help but feel that this rebrand is more the result of internal middle management attempting to cut costs – as with other failed rebrands, such as Royal Mail (Consignia) – they have failed to explain the why’s.

    Which in a economic climit as volatile as this is bound to leave consumers bewildered.

  7. The reason for re branding is very often that a company wants to shake off the old, being old does have good values, but also comes with its negative associations. So the intention is always good, shake things up, be of the time faster and fitter international etc. the logo still represents Norwich and its cathedral and perhaps they hope this is enough to represent its origins? Does anyone have any rebranding success stories?

  8. Duncan (dmk), the Aviva chief wouldn’t say how much the rebranding will cost, but I’m sure those A-listers didn’t come cheap (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

    Andrew, Marathons just don’t taste the same now these days.

    Tracey, I couldn’t help but think of my ambigram logo feature when I saw AVIVA. Norwich Union holds a great deal of prestige in the UK, and as you say, it’s a strange time to be putting millions into a rebrand. I’m far from familiar with the ins and outs, and I hope it proves a success. I just find it odd.

    Neil, Henrik’s right. The yellow section in the logo is a stylized version of the Norwich Cathedral spire. You can find a little more information about it here on the Aviva Canada logo usage page.

    Paul, thanks for dropping by. A little off-topic, but I notice you removed the header image from your site. How come?

    Steve, absolutely. It’s the success I doubt, not the positive intentions.

    Here are some successful logo re-designs. One that isn’t mentioned there is the Coke (back to basics) change. That tops them all.

    I hope everyone has a fantastic new year. I don’t see what all the fuss is about, but I’ll not pass up the chance to enjoy some stout, good food, good company.

  9. David –

    Interestingly enough – I A/B tested with and without – people weren’t bouncing as much when the image wasn’t there – I suppose taking them straight to the content worked better.

    Incidently I have been working on a new design for 2009 – a much more personal one – so stay tuned.


  10. Slightly off topic (?) but I’ve got a bit of a problem with the TV advert going on about this name change. I’m sure Ringo Starr would have made it with the Beatles even if he kept his old name. And if Alice Cooper was famous as Vincent Furnier we’d all be pretty sure that “Alice” was the last name to choose for a rock star.

    As for Aviva, well they’ve already made it. I hope this doesn’t sink them. It does sound like a very far flung name, of the kind of company that is just very new and very now and a bit trendy. As for what works, I remember being comforted by Midland Bank’s new name. Knowing it was Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation made me feel like my money was safe in the hands of some super-company (even though I was only 12).

  11. “Mitsubishi, for instance, introduced a range of vehicles named ‘Pajero‘ (known as ‘Shogun’ here in the UK). No-one told the company directors that ‘pajero’ is Spanish slang for “wanker”.”

    Funny, but Honda made a new small car with the name Honda Fitta, to be released on the European market. Well, in Norway, the word “fitta” actually is the same word as “pussy” (on a woman…). Honda planed to market the car as “Honda Fitta – easy to fit in to, but with great space”…

    After the Norwegian dealers called, Honda changed the name to Honda Jazz…

  12. In the Netherlands a similar operation is in progress. The Postbank is being rebranded to ING Bank. It is interesting to see the amount attention this bold move has been given but unfortunately so far most reactions have been very negative. The Postbank has a reliable image (being a former state-company), while the ING Bank has a very bland branding that does not inspire the same safe feeling the old name provided.

    I am very curious to see how this rebrand has worked out in a year or two. I think it is going to be a massive faillure, but I am prejudiced because I have been a loyal Postbank customer for many years.

  13. Although I dislike “Aviva” as a brand name for an insurance company, I have reasons to beleive that the campaign will be successful. They hired stars like Alice Cooper, Ringo Starr, Bruce Willis and so on – to power the campaign. Besides “Aviva” is easier to remember and easier to pronounce. In this financial crisis it is also a good move: it generates massive PR. The timing is right.

    The already existing customers… I doubt they mind or they care. After all… no one really cares about the name of the insurer, as long as the fees are low and the coverage fair. Aviva is smart enough to advertise for special promotions as well, parallel with this name change… The message is simple: the insurance company doesn’t change just a name, but the way they do business as well.

    And let’s not forget… the world’s world’s fifth-largest insurance group is already known as Aviva in more than 20 countries. :) rebranding in UK makes sense…

  14. Seems like an awful idea to me. Why throw away 200 years of branding to start all over again? Especially with something like insurance. That makes no sense to me at all. I’ll be curious to see how this plays out.

  15. Aviva reminds me of Arriva the train company in the north of England, everytime I see the advert it makes me smirk.

    I did some promotional work for Norwich Union last year and they insisted on using a logo that had the tag line ”part of the Aviva group” at the bottom of it, so maybe they’ve slowly been implementing this change for a while now.

    Norwich Union has been around for ages but it did have the feeling of a local company, specific to one area of the country, instead of a nationwide company. Consumer confidence in local companies such as Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester is at an all-time low, so a bit of solidarity and re-branding across the group may regenerate some much needed confidence.

    It seemed to work when Midland Bank was re-branded to HSBC.

  16. Interesting to see how there seem to be two opinions; those who welcome the change and see this as a fresh start with a more modern brand and those who don’t like the idea of throwing away the comforting feeling of a long trusted brand. I think I am part of the second group. Let’s see who will be right.

  17. Paul, looking forward to the new design. Good luck.

    Johan, your localised example is very similar to what happened with the Post Office, and it wasn’t long before the big wigs u-turned.

    Mig, I don’t think the fact that Aviva may seem easier to remember makes much of a difference. Especially when almost half the UK population are already customers of Norwich Union. Aviva is the name abroad, certainly, but only for a few years — compared to more than 200 years here.

    Abbas, I noticed the strapline on the Norwich Union logo, and believe it was around a year back when it was first introduced.

    I’m not too familiar with the success of Midland Bank’s change. The one major difference between the two examples was the huge brand that HSBC already was prior to the switch — HSBC being established in 1865, long before Midland Bank, whereas Aviva is just a few years old.

  18. Frankly, I don’t think NU could have chosen a worse time to do this. In these uncertain times, people need comfort and familiarity. Add to that the financial cost of running the adverts on top of the money already spent on re-branding and it begins to look even more risky. I have to say it reminds me more of the Post Office Consignia disaster and Arthur Anderson changing to Accenture, than it does of Midland becoming HSBC.
    From a UK perspective, I think that the problem with the PO re-brand was that Consignia was meaningless to most of us, and I fear the same for Aviva.

  19. Jennifer, must’ve missed that Pepsi post of yours, and appreciate you referring to it. The short post I published on Logo Design Love brought mixed reviews — mostly negative.

  20. The word VIVA has its roots in Latin vīvere (to live, from
    Which i guess would make AVIVA a bad name for a life insurance company…or perhaps the best name

  21. • Jif cleaner became Cif. The graphics stayed the same and sales didn’t suffer.
    • Marathon bars became Snickers. The graphics stayed the same and sales didn’t suffer.
    • Midland bank became HSBC. They changed the graphics first, then changed the name.

    So what’s in a name anyway? If you recognize it s the previous product, it tastes the same as the previous product then do you really care that the name has changed? Does this mean that the branding, the GRAPHICS are more important than the name? After all, consumers recognize WAY before they read a brand.

    • Brand names get swallowed up and disappear. In the UK Austin, Morris, Riley, Rover, Wolseley, Triumph, BSA, Woolworths, Timothy Whites, Lagonda, Vanden Plas. Only MG survived and that was gone for many years. How many people miss the passing of these names? I have nostalgic memories for some of these, but in reality, has it made may life worse not being surrounded by these names?

    I’d argue that design and graphics are more important than a name. A name is a bit like pasta. Often boring on it’s own, but add some sauce and it’s unique and appetising.

  22. Lee, I particularly like this contribution of yours:

    “I’d argue that design and graphics are more important than a name. A name is a bit like pasta. Often boring on it’s own, but add some sauce and it’s unique and appetising.”

    It’s been a while. I hope you enjoyed the holidays.

  23. Lee, design and graphics are useless on the radio. Every element has it’s value, none more than other.

    Amusing that generally the definition of re-branding ( here) is changing the logo. If there is something wrong with the brand a new logo is like putting lipstick on a pig. At the end of the day it’s still a pig.

  24. Lee, I partially agree, but when one company merges with another, causing the name, visual appearance, and most likely the goals to change, the brand will also change (not just the brand identity, as you’re referring to). When you consider that a customer’s experience with a company is part of the brand, I can’t imagine the experience with Norwich Union will be the same as that with Aviva. And I’m sure the 4,000 employees who got the boot will agree (although I realise it’s not guaranteed these job losses wouldn’t have happened without the merger).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *