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Can we buy a vowel? Name review of Abrdn

By Catchword

May 31, 2021

It’s hard to make a financial services company sound young and edgy. But is “young and edgy” really what you want from the people holding your financial future in their hands? The financial services company formerly known as Standard Life Aberdeen is betting that you do. We, however, are not convinced.

But, before we light them up, let’s talk about what Abrdn gets right—that’s the new name, by the way. Abrdn.

(By the way, when first announced in April, the name was abrdn, all lowercase, which they rightly changed to Abrdn, though the logo still uses lowercase. We say rightly given that media would have insisted on capitalizing that A no matter what the brand said, not to mention how difficult it is to type abrdn without autocorrect stepping in to help.)

Abrdn is nothing like the traditional Standard Life Aberdeen, the name the company carried after Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life merged. But then the company sold Standard Life, and a rebrand became very necessary, especially since the company is headquartered in Edinburgh and not, you know, Aberdeen.

So, what does the name Abrdn get right? First, it does feel fresh and updated for a young audience, which is right in line with the company’s new positioning. The video that accompanies the name change opens with “It’s time for a new era” and leans hard on concepts of what’s next, technology, and investing now to build a better future. All the people shown appear to be under 35, maybe younger. You’re certainly not going to confuse Abrdn with, say, Vanguard.

   

The new name will likely appeal to the much-coveted young adult audience, who grew up with texting and hashtags. Abrdn does feel like something you could casually text to a friend.

And, even though the altered spelling/missing letters may annoy many readers, the name looks balanced, simplified, streamlined, and even—dare we say?—artistic. Importantly, the new name bears enough resemblance to the old that the company should be able to hang on to the considerable equity the old name carried.

Despite all these positives, Abrdn has issues, not the least of which is, how do you say it? The company made it clear in its release that the pronunciation hasn’t changed from Aberdeen Asset Management days: “The new Abrdn name (pronounced ‘Aberdeen’) will be part of a modern, agile, digitally-enabled brand that will also be used for all the Company’s client-facing businesses globally.” But with all those missing letters, one could just as easily read “a burden.” Hmm. Financial and burden.

Let’s look at that pronunciation problem more closely. Many brand names over the past couple decades have dropped an before a final r, such as Flickr and Grindr, which doesn’t impact pronunciation because in English “r” in a word sounds pretty much the same as “er.” That works fine for the first dropped e in Abrdn, but the other two make an “ee” sound, not “eh” as in “en.” Without them, you end up with “A BUR den” or “A bur den,” depending on what syllable you emphasize (also unclear).

Secondly, how do you spell the name? Brand names don’t have to pass the radio test to be great, but it certainly makes marketing easier. (The radio test: knowing how to write a name if you’ve only heard it, not seen it.) When you don’t know how to spell or pronounce a name, it’s a lot harder for your brain to get a handle on it, file it, engage with it, and remember it.

Thirdly, this unusual spelling could signal a bit of desperation rather than hipness to those millennials the brand is courting. Dropped-letter names like Flickr and Tumblr came on the scene nearly two decades ago, when altered spelling made a brand feel relevant and hip. Dropped letters now are just—cheugy, a sign a brand is trying too hard to impress the young.

We get the appeal of positioning your brand as youthful, approachable, and bold. But the flipside of these characteristics is lightweight, inexperienced, and irresponsible, not qualities most folks want in financial services.

The controversial name change has already brought the company a lot of publicity (which is not a bad thing) even though most of the publicity has not been good. And criticism in general doesn’t necessarily mean the name is bad—pretty much every company rename receives criticism—but this one serves up smart-ass critiques on a silver platter. Check out these headlines: “Why brands ditching vowels are rlly stpd,” “Absml,” “Who Nds th Lttr E?” Even we couldn’t resist the gag in our headline.

So what about after the hubbub dies down?

People in the financial sector and existing customers will know the brand’s history and mentally add the missing letters easily. Their brains will automatically associate Abrdn with Aberdeen, and all the company’s hard-earned reputation will follow.

But for people completely new to the brand, now and forever after, Abrdn will be meaningless letters. Since young people, the brand’s target demographic, will likely fall into that category, we predict big marketing budgets in Abrdn’s future.

The new name does give the brand a young, edgy, bold vibe—but, again, is “young and edgy” what you want from the people handling your money? Only time will tell.

 

Grade:
C-
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