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Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Should companies stick with tried and tested names?
British Telecom has announced it is to rename its BT Wireless mobile phone business 'O2'. They say the new identity is modern and universal, symbolising committment.

BT is not the only company to rebrand itself. Britain's state-owned post office is now 'Consignia', British Steel and Hoogovens are known as 'Corus' while the two Swiss-based companies Sandoz and Ciba have become 'Novartis'.

Are companies wise to swap hundreds of years of tradition for new corporate identies? Or should they stick with tried and tested brands? Do new names signal new ideas or just confuse customers? What do new names such as O2, Corus, and Novartis, amongst others, mean to you?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

BT is far more contemporary and appealing than the GPO of old

David Mclean, Wales
Most people like to have a moan about rebranding, but conveniently forget those companies, products and services which have clearly benefited from name changes. BT (British Telecom) is an excellent example, far more contemporary and appealing than the GPO (General Post Office) of old.
David Mclean, Wales

If the rebranding was only in preparation for BT selling off the wireless arm, why not revert the name back to Cellnet?
A Confused BT Cellnet Customer, UK

I heard a PR man for BT explaining how the new name "O2" is so evocative of something. To me "O2" is evocative of absolutely nothing to do with the mobile comms industry or products, in the same way that "Consignia" conjures up absolutely no ideas at all of the Post Office services. By the way, does anyone know why we can no longer buy those old, old favourites "Opal Fruits"?
Gary Dale, England

I hate these trivial changes because they're a waste of time and (quite frequently) an unwarranted assault on my sense of nostalgia. If you must change the names, can you at least leave the logos and mascots alone? It's been years but I still have fond memories of the dinosaur that was used in advertisements for the Standard Oil Company.
Robert del Valle, USA

A marketing exercise fraught with danger

John B, UK
A marketing exercise fraught with danger. Consigna (note the missing 'i') is Spanish for lost property. Nescafe had troubles in Portugal where their name means "It's not coffee". Even the mighty Rolls-Royce fell foul of it when their Silver Mist sold everywhere except Germany where "mist" is what comes from the back end of a horse.
John B, UK

I laugh at the name Consignia every time I stand in an enormous queue in my extremely badly run main local post office. Mind you, it does have appropriate overtones of the phrase "to consign", and that's exactly what we should do with both the new name and the tired, worthless and sadly familiar style-over-substance trend - straight to the bin.
Alison Lowe, UK

Rebranding is fine as long as the new name says something about what the company actually does. I once got quite irate with a van driver who had parked outside my house (private road) with a van marked "Transco". It was some time before I realised that he was a gas board employee repairing a leak at the house opposite!
John Welford, UK

Rebranding always smacks of desperation to me, as a company tries anything to revive its fortunes, and cares little for the confusion and loss of identity it will cause in the marketplace. Tradition is a great factor throughout all aspects of British life, and rejecting old names just throws away possibly hundreds of years of customer awareness and loyalty. And what a waste of money! I'm sure most customers and shareholders would like to see funds spent more usefully. The impending confusion with Orange, as Jonathan Reynolds said, surely won't do BT any favours either.
Reg Pither, England

Companies rename themselves because it is a fairly cheap and easy alternative to good management

Manu, Belgium
Companies rename themselves because it is a fairly cheap and easy alternative to good management. Renaming is simple, grabs the attention, and doesn't fundamentally change anything. Most new names are too bland to be of any interest, anyway.
Manu, Belgium

I think rebranding is just a gimmick by top executives to divert the attention from staggering losses. The top bosses still don't understand that it is the quality of services and less overheads that makes the company grow and not rebranding. Renaming increases costs tremendously. BT bosses must have spend lots of money which could have been spent in a better manner and could have saved some jobs. BT Cellnet is not a bad name O2 looks like short form of another competitor-"One to One"
Gagan, UK

This is just another element of globalisation, with the amount of cross ownership in the world, especially in the mobile sector, companies need a generic non-offensive name that can be interpreted in many countries, they then unify all their acquired companies under this brand. The name "British Telecom" would probably not go down too well for BT's German operations, but their O2 brand is perfectly anodyne.

If you take "Consignia" for instance, even though this is the group name they will remain Royal Mail in the UK but their international operations will take the new name. A name change is certainly an indication a company is pursuing an international agenda, which gives the impression our stodgy old companies are modernising, and perception is everything.
Andrew Pitt, UK

I like to think I am reasonably intelligent and fairly well clued up, but I am so confused with the new brand names. Subconsciously at least it turns an established company I have heard of for years into a start up I have never heard of. I had no idea JMC was Thomas Cook and I can't remember who Centrica was for example. Companies should be really careful about this and survey their potential customer base before taking decisive action. By the way is there a central reference table to correlate new names with the originals because it would be really helpful? - and I'm not joking.
Adam, UK

A lot of the examples given relate to when companies are trying to expand internationally and/or diversify their business. To do this they feel they need a name which can be pronounced in virtually any language and which isn't already in use anywhere, hence all these strange vaguely Greek or Latin sounding words. Or companies could simply be trying to shake of an old image that they no longer wish to be associated with.

AH is wrong about Consignia. In the UK, the arm of the company that runs post offices, delivers mail etc is still called The Post Office and probably always will be, it's the parent company who work in international markets that are called Consignia - most countries already have a post office so they needed a new name. I don't think you'll be hearing someone say "I'm just popping down to Consignia for some stamps" any time soon.
Stuart, UK

In defence of the rebranding fad at the moment, companies are now global entities, and adopting a name like "Consignia" means that the Post Office can now deploy a unified brand across language barriers. From that point of view, money can be saved by being able to use (for example) the same stationery and promotional material in any country - previously, brands would have to be translated across borders.

However, I do think that the likes of BPs recent rebranding (a "new" logo, using the same colours and same name) are the real money and time wasters. BP paid a ridiculous sum to have very little changed. At least we can see where the money went with "Consignia"!
Jonathan, Scotland

Oh....well I'm fooled. Windscale must be perfectly radiation free now they've renamed it! And I simply must post more letters now the Post Office sounds less like a post office. Stop this nonsense, like now!
Richard, UK

Tastes change, and so brands need to change too. Look at Marks&Spencer - once the darling of the high-street, now perceived as dowdy and lacklustre. A name-change gives the opportunity for a business to throw off its' old image, and with it their old ways of working - perhaps it's time they tried this idea in the NHS?
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

These marketing bods must be laughing like hyenas! They earn huge sums of money for somehow persuading companies with a well-respected names and strong images to rename themselves to something totally bland and forgettable.
Paul, UK

The O2 change has been made for a very real reason, and that is to allow this part of the business to be sold off from BT. In the circumstances, it seems quite a sensible (if expensive) move.
Colin, UK

Changing brands is the only way ahead

Dennis MacMillan, Bristol, UK
In this fast-moving age, companies that don't adapt with the market can be seen as being behind the times. Changing brands is the only way ahead if a company wants to lose the 'fuddy duddy' image and compete in the market. Mind you, not sure about the O2 brand...
Dennis MacMillan, Bristol, UK

It all started with Diageo, which sounds faintly like a Chinese pastime rather than a major, multi-national drinks manufacturer. I hear a Corus of people saying we should Consignia this nonsense to the bin. As always it is the consultants who win. When will we notice that they are wearing no clothes?
Chris Klein, UK

I really don't care what the company calls itself. If it's any good, I'll use it. And I'd rather have a price cut than an expensive rebranding exercise.
Stuart Pattullo, UK

Advertising under a different name is going to cause a loss in business when your staff and transport do not carry that name!

AH, Scotland
I think two major changes occur in such a situation. One is that the letter headings and signs carry a different name, obviously. The second is that some people in society will disregard the company as they no longer recognise it. This clearly applies to the minority. However, I'm sure the loss of their business would cost the likes of O2 and Consignia a great deal of money. So, I have to ask, what is the point? Why change the letter headings and advertisement campaigns to Consignia for example, when Royal Mail is still prominent on the vehicles and staff uniforms. Surely, advertising under a different name is going to cause a loss in business when your staff and transport do not carry that name!
AH, Scotland

You know, I would have thought that O2 would be a more apt name for the British Oxygen Company (BOC), not BT.
Alex Banks, UK, living in Ireland

1. A name change can help dissociate a company from a bad reputation. (They changed the name of Windscale to Sellafield after it blew up in 1957.)
2. It provides a way of paying less tax if written down as the 'business expense' of paying for new stationery, packaging, and advertising.
3. It generates income for advertising, media, and image consultants; if they didn't have the task of dreaming up meaningless names and logos they would be on the dole or still worse might have to become politicians.
4. There is no benefit to the consumer, other than money going round the economy. The basic signal is "New Global World Order Ripoff".

Now, if I was Orange I would be launching a marketing campaign saying that consumers should stick to the original - O1! No room for second best ..
Jonathan Reynolds, UK

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Business
BT unveils new mobile brand
09 Jan 01 | Business
UK Post Office name change
28 Jan 00 | e-cyclopedia
Renaming: Sleight of brand?
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