Top 5 Worst Company Name Changes

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Odds are that whoever said, “Words have meaning; names have power,” knew something about marketing. Company names in particular wield considerable influence on success. They equate to brand, and brand dictates market share. A new name can resuscitate a tarnished brand or steer an accepted one down a new road. With time–and a huge promotional budget–initial rejection can lead to household name status. Or, does it?

5 Houston Texans

The history of the NFL in Texas may not represent a true renaming tale, but it illustrates how the conservative side of name choosing can create brand boredom. When owner Bud Adams moved the Houston Oilers franchise to Nashville, he renamed it the Tennessee Oilers. Since that fateful day in 1997, Adams sidelined the Oilers label in favor of “Titans,” and football returned to Texas’s largest city with a new lineup that needed a name. Focus groups and research led by National Football League Properties and the fledgling Houston team created a top-five list of potential team titles: Wildcatters, Texans, Stallions, Bobcats and Apollos. “Texans” became the official name in 2002. Calling a Texas-based team “Texans” sounds redundant and patronizing, but it plays better than the other four choices. Too bad the team and the NFL couldn’t resurrect the Oilers brand. Even if it never produced a Super Bowl championship, it carries a slick connotation.

4 Blackwater Worldwide to Xe to Xe Services to Academi

You can change your name, but you can’t hide, especially if you work as a security contractor for the government. Ask Blackwater Worldwide. It had five employees who were indicted in 2007 on charges related to the deaths of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians and a founder who was implicated in murder in 2009. The first reputation bruise led the company to rename itself Xe, reportedly chosen for its lack of meaning. “Xe” did little to erase the stigma of wrong-doing attached to Blackwater. The name was renamed Xe Services LLC a year later when the case against the five guards was dismissed. In 2010, the new owners of Xe Services christened the firm “Academi” in reference to its leadership in security training. Three may be a charm for this firm, provided its customer base doesn’t lampoon the name “Academi” as a B-movie about military cadets.

3 Philip Morris to Altria Group

Hard to believe a time existed when smoking was completely acceptable. When the tide turned against cigarettes and its press clippings began to indicate what “Time” magazine called “a publicity nightmare,” tobacco and food conglomerate Philip Morris Co., Inc. did what Anderson Consulting did: rebranded itself with a bland name that communicated zilch. Unlike Accenture, the new Altria Group didn’t time its move well: Unveiling day coincided with a court decision that cleared the company of causing a woman’s death from smoking. Good news on the liability front, but bad news for image building. Instead of establishing a positive, progressive brand, the new name made Altria Group synonymous with big business smoke screening. A decade later, it’s doubtful that even Pictionary players have enough awareness of the firm to associate a picture of a cigarette with “Altria Group.”

2 Anderson Consulting to Accenture

Anderson Consulting, a former arm of Anderson Worldwide and sister firm to the Arthur Anderson accounting group, had to name change when it parted ways with all things Anderson in 2000. One marketing consultant and $100 million later, the company became Accenture on New Year’s Day of 2001. The name conveys nothing, making it the antithesis of what a brand should do and erasing any traces of the strong brand identity Anderson Consulting enjoyed before the breakup. In spite of the company’s claim that the name’s origin — accent on the future — correlated to the service it provides clients, the marketing and business world panned it as a rebranding nightmare. Later that year, the name Arthur Anderson fell from corporate glory in the Enron scandal, which put the accounting firm out of business in 2002. The new name may have allowed Accenture to carry on without any Anderson baggage, but it remains more of a computer-generated generic moniker than an image-builder.

1 SciFi Channel to SyFy

When the SciFi Channel had an identity crisis in 2009 because the genre-describing term “SciFi” couldn’t be trademarked, it chose a phonetic version: SyFy. Give the company credit for at least running the new name past its target demographic: adult 18- to 34-year-olds, who gave it a thumbs up for “text friendliness.” Although meant to lend an edgier image that could serve as an umbrella brand for future ventures, the rebranding effort forever sealed the channel’s association with an STD and ridicule. “Syfy,” according to Urban Dictionary, is slang for “syphilis.” Five months into the new name, ratings soared, but the comic shadow stuck. Seriously?

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