Friday, July 5, 2002

The Benefit of Hindsight

Accenture. It doesn't mean anything, really. It's just another made up, Latin-sounding word – all the rage with branding consultants and marketing gurus these last few years. A rash of big businesses have changed their names and become decidedly hard to remember. I like to think of them in the same vein as recording artist Prince: The company formerly known as Philip Morris, the company formerly known as Bellsouth Mobility, the company formerly known as Anderson...

Ah...Anderson. Almost two years ago my Cloudjamming comrades and I were having a winter meal at the Three-dollar Cafe in Buckhead when a brand new commercial for Accenture came on the bar-side TV. We joked and laughed about it. Here was a company, with one of the most respected names in business – Anderson – throwing great branding away. Of course, the truth of the decision is more complicated than a simple name change. And, in the end, no matter how much we might have laughed at the new name, no matter how much Anderson Consulting's marketing professionals chagrined their fate, a more auspicious and well timed identity crisis I can not recall.

In August of 2000 an international arbitrator ruled that Anderson Consulting could separate from it's parent company – the doomed accounting firm Arthur Anderson – without having to make payments to it. The caveat: Anderson Consulting would have to change it's name by the end of the year.

So began the great branding quest. 5,000 names were suggested. 3,000 trademarks and internet addresses were checked by over 70 lawyers from 24 firms. 60 languages were cross-referenced for alternate and obscene meanings. 2,000 possible names made it past this branding vanguard. The winner? A submission by Kim Petersen, a consultant in a Norwegian office.

Accenture. It is a hybrid for the words "accent" and "future."

The global managing director for Marketing & Communications at Anderson...ehem...Accenture described the move thus: ‘’We intend to make Accenture one of the most recognized business-to-business brands in the world - just as we did previously with the Andersen Consulting brand. This is an exhilarating challenge. No other firm the size of Andersen Consulting has ever attempted such a comprehensive rebranding campaign in such a short period of time.’’

It was a big challenge, indeed. Anderson...sorry...Accenture spent close to $200 million on the rebranding campaign. TV, radio, web, print. They hit it all. They were trying to drive Anderson Consulting from our minds. And it worked. And they seem to know it, too.

A recent check of the Accenture website revealed a curious development in the company's press release archives. Look back to November of 2000, the month the identity change was announced and finalized. Look back to the months before, when the then-called Anderson Consulting broke away from its rotting parent corporation. There is no mention of Arthur Anderson or Anderson Consulting, for that matter. Like some Orwellian revisionist, the marketing gurus at Accenture have succeeded where a dozen Anderson paper shredders could not. They have erased their past.

And with great timing, to boot. Late last year, when we first drafted a sketch for this article, we looked into Accenture's press releases and found great reference to their distinguishing name change and their proud Anderson heritage. Now, a few Enron/Wordcoms later, you'd never guess the company's parentage unless you knew better.

Now that's good branding. fb

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