When Research In Motion unveiled its long-delayed BlackBerry 10, it also announced it was changing its name to BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY). CEO Thorsten Heins argued that the new name reflects how the company had “transformed [itself] inside and out.”
By choosing a different name, companies hope to convey their transformation and focus. But often that desire for a renewed image is a last ditch effort to breathe life in an irreversibly damaged brand. 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed major corporate name and brand changes over the past few years. These are seven companies that were forced to change their name.
There are several reasons a major corporation decides to take the leap and change its moniker. In many cases, it is to make the name more attractive across a wider market. This happened when the company known a BackRub changed its name to Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG), or when “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” changed its name to Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO). Sometimes, the change is an attempt to modernize, and is often as simple as just shortening the name or removing words, as was the case with Apple Computers changing its name to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Federal Express changing its brand name to FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX).
While there can be many valid reasons for companies to change or tweak their names — be it startups that grow up, established companies that match their names to their customers’ expectations, mergers and so on — we have focused on those companies that had to change their names to stop declines or even stay in business.
For some of these companies, a single incident precipitated the name change. In 1996, a ValuJet DC-9 crashed in Florida, killing 110 people. The Federal Aviation Administration investigated, and after grounding the airline for three months, determined that the carrier had deliberately allowed unsafe planes to fly. ValuJet eventually acquired smaller airline AirTran, and to distance itself from the brand it took the acquisition’s name.
In other cases of forced corporate name change, it was not a single incident, but a period of inconsistent management, bad press or both that led to the decision. In 2010, the struggling lender formerly known as GMAC became Ally Financial. GMAC had been hit badly by the subprime mortgage crisis. Despite receiving a $17.2 billion bailout from the Treasury, it continues to struggle, failing a federal stress test last year.
A corporate name change is meaningless unless consumers believe there is actually a new product behind the new name. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., InterBrand London CEO Graham Hales explained that in this age of transparency, a simple name change is not going to turn your company around. “If you’re going to change your name, you’ve got to have a strategy which is changed in line with it, and too often companies change their name and the focus point becomes why they changed their name, and not about what is different about the company,” said Hales.
It remains to be seen whether Ally Financial, or the infamous military mercenary contractor formerly known as Blackwater, which has now changed its name twice, has followed that advice.
These are the seven companies forced to change their names.