For Companies, The Right Name Means a Lot

ByCatherine Valenti

July 15, 2002 -- As the Mamas and the Papas once sang, "Monday, Monday, can't trust that day."

Let's hope those lyrics aren't prophetic for PricewaterhouseCoopers' consulting arm, PWC Consulting. That firm plans to change its name to Monday once it separates from its parent company later this summer.

PWC Consulting isn't the only company embarking on a name makeover.

Philip Morris, the conglomerate that owns Kraft Foods but is probably best known for its cigarettes and costly tobacco litigation, recently decided to change its name to Altria to reflect the diversity of the company's brands.

And Enron, which is in the process of moving its core energy assets out from under bankruptcy and into a separate company, is looking for a new name for that entity.

The recent name changes highlight the importance for companies of choosing a moniker that is relevant and authoritative while still being catchy and appealing to consumers, say marketing experts. A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if a company chooses a name that doesn't work, the stench can hover for quite some time.

"Every time you think of a company, you think of their name," says Anthony Shore, senior director who leads the naming and writing practice at San Francisco-based brand consulting firm Landor Associates. "A name could be singled out as being an absolutely critical element."

Royal Blunder

Companies often decide to change their names in an effort to re-brand themselves after a merger or a spin-off.

For instance, Andersen Consulting changed its name to Accenture shortly after that firm split from parent Arthur Andersen — a move that turned out to be fortuitous, given Andersen's troubles.

And Aventis, the pharmaceutical company that makes allergy medicine Allegra, chose its new name after it was formed from the merger of German pharmaceutical company Hoechst and French drug firm Rhône-Poulenc.

Companies may also want re-invent themselves after a scandal has tarnished its name, as Enron is doing.

Or perhaps they simply want to give their image a makeover. Restaurant group Tricon Global Brands, which owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, recently changed its name to the tastier-sounding Yum! Brands.

But a new name that doesn't work can be a mistake that can cost a company customers, credibility and millions of dollars.

One example out of Britain last year was the U.K. Post Office's decision to change its name to Consignia. The postal service, which reportedly spent 2 million pounds (around $3 million U.S. dollars) to support the name change, recently renamed itself once again to Royal Mail plc, capping off a year of steep job and revenue losses for the entity.

A Mercedes or a Daimler?

Though a hefty advertising and marketing budget will help to make a new name successful, other factors, such as familiarity, a coherent message from the company and a name that simply makes sense, help to embed a new name in people's minds.

Jim Gregory, chief executive of CoreBrand, a branding firm based in Stamford, Conn., tracks the public's perceptions of new corporate names after mergers. When U.S. automaker Chrysler merged with German company Daimler-Benz to form DaimlerChrysler in 1998, Gregory found that a year after the deal, the familiarity of the newly merged company dropped to a score of 65 from a score of 89 when the company was just called Chrysler. Gregory based his consumer perception scores on a survey of 10,000 households.

"The familiarity with Chrysler dropped because of Daimler being introduced," says Gregory. "If they had chosen 'Mercedes' I think the brand equity would have been higher."

But it's not just a familiar name that is at stake. Gregory estimates that a company's branding can affect its stock by 5 percent. He says it can take anywhere between three and five years before a company gets a return on its investment in a brand name.

Blue Monday

These days, PWC Consulting's new Monday title is causing more than one brand expert to raise their eyebrows in puzzlement.

The company's Web site proudly announces that "Monday is a fresh start, a positive attitude, part of everyone's life. Monday is a real name universally understood and easy to remember. Monday is confident. It stands out and it stands for something."

Too bad the only thing Monday stands for in most people's minds is the beginning of a week full of toil and drudgery.

"Monday is not everyone's favorite day," says Kevin Keller, the E.B. Osborn professor of marketing at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business in Hanover, N.H. "It's just an odd choice."

"They're initially going to have an uphill battle in terms of building favorable perceptions of that name," agrees Shore. "They're going to have to put a lot of resources against it and really deliver in turning Monday into something that's positive."

While Monday might seem like a strange choice for a company, the firm liked that the word evoked a wide variety of responses from people, says a company spokeswoman. The company plans to support the name's launch with a $110 million campaign, which branding experts say is a healthy sum.

"Like with any name, it's going to be what we make of it," says PWC Consulting spokeswoman Sehra K. Eusufzai. "Whereas some look upon it perhaps with dread, we see it as a fresh start and a new beginning."

Gas and … Intestines?

The name change for Philip Morris, meanwhile, is a logical step since the company wants to be known more for its stable of brands than for tobacco litigation, says Gregory.

"In the case of Philip Morris, it's the tobacco company's name as well as the parent company's name," says Gregory. "It makes sense for them to change the corporate name to Altria. It's short and concise, and it's starts with an 'A.' It's at the top of the list."

Others note that in this case, the name change may not rid the parent company of the stigma the Philip Morris name has acquired over the years from its entanglements in tobacco litigation.

"It's not clear to me that this doesn't fall into the 'You can run but you can't hide' category," says Keller.

For its part, Enron, whose name has become almost synonymous with scandal, hopes a new name will give it a fresh start as a stand-alone company free of associations with the past.

"If a new company were to go forward apart from the bankruptcy, it would need a new identity to represent the company that it will be," says Enron spokeswoman Karen Denne.

The company, which is soliciting ideas from employees for its new name, is no stranger no unfortunate name choices. Enron almost had a nomenclature nightmare when it was formed by the merger of InterNorth of Omaha and Houston Natural Gas in the early 1980s.

The original name for the company was Enteron, but that name was scrapped after a few days, when company executives realized that "enteron" is another word for intestines — a rather unappetizing name for any company.