When brand chief Stephen Whitehead presented the decision to rechristen the financial services brand Aberdeen Standard Life as Abrdn, he prepared the company's board for a backlash.
People like to scoff at change. Proverbial mouthfuls of coffee were spat out when Norwich Union became Aviva. Royal Mail’s ill-fated, short-lived name change to Consignia had about as much chance as David Moyes at Manchester United. Then how about Thomson’s Tui? Why would Abrdn be any different?
“We were quite clear that with every name change, particularly a name that has a lot of heritage and legacy, consumers and newspapers particularly, react very strongly,” Whitehead, Abrdn's chief brand, marketing and corporate affairs officer, says. “People took the piss out of poor old Aviva for months. Now it's at the top of the FTSE with good brand resonance.”
As predicted, social channels went into a frenzy. But, once the dust had settled on the rebrand, the newly emerged Abrdn launched a rigorous pitch process, searching for the right agency to help it herald itself as a modern, digitally enabled brand.
“We selected Iris because it got the brief so quickly. It has a way of engaging that enabled us to form a close working relationship very quickly which, in turn, really helped unpack our brand strategy and proposition into a striking creative brief.”
With Iris now in tow, Abrdn set about trying to transcend the financial services category as a global force for change. “We wanted to make a statement – not just about our organisation and our devised focus, beliefs and capabilities – but also to address the fundamental truth that the industry's efforts to engage the public to plan, save and invest is inadequate,” Whitehead says.
Challenging the conventions of the category, the tagline "investment as a force for good" soon emerged as the right positioning. “It would help elevate the conversation to new and existing audiences, from being perceived as greedy, self-interested and only about personal, capital growth, to being a positive power,” he says.
A critical step in Abrdn's infancy, the rebrand film centres on the progress made in the field of robotics, which has led to advancements in prosthetics technology.
It stars a real-life father, Ben, who created a fully functioning prosthetic arm for his son, Sol. And, thanks to technological progress made in these industries, he now makes them for children around the world.
Considering the rebrand caused a stir back in April, was the team worried about landing the first campaign? “We weren't concerned. People have moved on from our name change,” Whitehead claims. “They are much more interested in what we offer and what drives us. The campaign provides us with the exciting opportunity to project and engage with this narrative.”
With the first rebrand film out, Abrdn says it will continue to use this campaign platform to showcase its brand and drive awareness and engagement. “A key part of the next step is to articulate the key pillars of our business – investments, adviser and personal – giving clients further opportunities to engage and access a wider set of products and services that meet the outcomes that they seek," he says.
Reflecting on a tumultuous 2021, Whitehead says there is a strategic rationale behind the Abdrn rebrand. “There was a real need. This was a messy branded organisation that was disconnected, unstructured and culturally not defined,” he recalls.
“What we're moving towards is something that changed the company completely. It identifies us all with one brand. And then, most importantly, of course, it reaches different clients and customers as we build our journey to be based on different growth elements, both the investments, the advisor and the personal. So it was a great year.”