Many companies keep the names that they used to brand themselves when they were founded. Firms such as Ford (NYSE: F) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) may have changed their corporate names slightly (Apple Inc. was once Apple Computer), but hardly enough for most people to notice. Some of the world’s largest companies have changed their names out of necessity, often due to mergers. Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ: SIRI) is the combination of two companies–Sirius Satellite Radio and XM Satellite Radio. Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX) was once AOL Time Warner and owned Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and online portal AOL (NYSE: AOL). Both of those companies are gone and so is the firm’s former name.
As part of 24/7 Wall St.’s ongoing look at brands, the value of brands, and the purchase and sale of brands, we looked at nine large companies that changed their names. Usually, particularly for corporations that have been in business for decades, the decision carries substantial risks. Tens of millions if not billions of dollars are put into creating brand identities and visibility, often over a long period – over a century, in the case of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) or J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP).
A look at large companies that have completely altered their names shows that in most cases, the change is a calculated break with the past. Philip Morris was under siege legally and financially due to tobacco litigation, which peaked in the late 1990s. Management diversified that company into food products and changed the name of the company in the hope that re-branding would take away some of the stigma of the firm’s past.
Another reason companies decide to break with old names is because they have products that become more well-known than their parent companies. These firm’s essentially increase their corporate value by putting the brand equity of their most important product or service in the place of their own. Xerox (NYSE: X) was known as the Haloid company until its Xerox product became more recognizable among its business customers.
An exact calculation of the success or failure the decision by a company to change its name is nearly impossible to make. British Petroleum changed its name to BP PLC (NYSE: BP) in 2001. The disaster in the Gulf has so badly damaged the oil company’s brand that it might consider changing it back. The brand was tarnished by an accident which the public believes was entirely the company’s fault. The BP brand will never recover from that, which raises the possibility that it may change its name again. No matter what BP does, there is a temptation for corporations which have been though period of trouble and bad publicity to change their names in the hope of re-branding themselves and through that process improving their images over time.
These are the nine brands that had to change their name.
*Formerly: The Haloid Company
*Year Changed: 1961
Founded in Rochester, NY, in 1906, Xerox was originally called The Haloid Company and produced photography paper. In 1947, the began to develop a photocopying machine based on a technique known as xerography, the basis for Xeroxing. In 1958, the company changed its name to Haloid Xerox Inc., reflecting its optimistic outlook on the future of xerography. Much to everyone’s surprise, including Haloid Xerox’s, the Xerox 914 copier machine became wildly popular: so much so that the “Xerox” brand became much more recognizable than “Haloid.” As a result, the company officially became Xerox Corporation in 1961.
*Formerly: Computer Associates, Inc.
*Year Changed: CA, Inc. (2006) and CA Technologies (2010)
The 1990s and early 2000s brought difficult times for Computer Associates. There were controversies involving inflated executive bonuses during the late 1990s. Perhaps more notably, an SEC investigation into company fraud in 2006 resulted in a 12-year prison sentence for former Chief Executive Sanjay Kumar. In an effort to escape notoriety, the company changed its name to CA Inc. in 2006. In 2010, it changed its name again to CA Technologies.
Nissan Motor Company, Ltd.
*Year Changed: 1981
Although successfully branded as Nissan throughout other parts of the world, Nissan products uniformly retained the Datsun brand in the United States up until the Fall of 1981. The reason for delaying the name change was most likely to avoid American hostility toward the “Nissan” brand, which was used by the company when it was a major military manufacturer in WWII. As risk of this resentment faded, however, the company’s desire for a singular global brand took over and the Datsun title was phased out.
*Formerly: Andersen Consulting
*Year Changed: 2000
In 1989, Andersen Consulting separated from its parent company, Arthur Andersen, although the two companies remained legally connected. The continued success of Andersen Consulting in the 90s, drove the consulting partners to seek full independence from Arthur Andersen and the companies broke all ties in 2000. The break gave rise to the new company name, Accenture. As Accenture, the company has continued to do well. Arthur Anderson, however, has not. Stemming from charges arising from the Enron investigation, Arthur Anderson’s was found guilty of obstruction of justice and has all but gone out of business.
Altria Group, Inc.
*Formerly: Philip Morris Companies Inc.
*Year Changed: 2003
The official reason given for Philip Morris Companies’ 2003 name change was to provide greater “clarity” reflecting the “evolution” of the company. The more likely reason is that the company wanted to escape the ugly connotations attached to the tobacco giant’s former name. Fortunately for Altria, the name change has succeeded in clearing their domestic image. Altria, while still primarily a tobacco company, no longer suffers the same animosity that was once directed at it under the Philip Morris Companies brand. However, the company does still own Philip Morris USA.
*Formerly: Blackwater Worldwide
*Year Changed: 2009
Similar to Philip Morris Companies, private military company Blackwater changed its name to escape its damaged reputation. The company came under fire for a number of alleged criminal abuses while working for the U.S. government in Iraq, including the killing of Iraqi citizens. According to the company, the change marked a conscious shift away from the private security business. Today, it runs one of the largest training facilities for military, security and law enforcement professionals.
*Formerly: Lucky and GoldStar Co., Ltd.
*Year Changed: 1995
LG Corp. was formed in 1947 in South Korea under the name Lak-Hui Chemical Industrial Corp. This company soon called themselves “Lucky,” focusing mainly in cosmetics and hygiene products. The company also moved into the home appliance industry under the name “GoldStar.” The electronics division of the company quickly enjoyed great success and expanded internationally. To better suit tastes of the global market, the company changed its name to the more western-friendly “LG Corp.” – which it now associates with its tag line “Life’s Good.”
*Formerly: Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.
*Year Changed: 2008
The company now known as Panasonic was once known under many different brand names across the world, including National, Technics, and of course, Panasonic. Known as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. from its founding in 1935, in 2008 the company changed its name to Panasonic Corporation to unify under a singular global brand – and its most popular.
*Formerly: Relational Software
*Year Changed: 1995
Formerly known as the easily forgettable Relational Software, the now famous computer company officially switched names to Oracle Systems in 1982. The change was prompted because the company’s most successful product, the Oracle Database, had become more popular in name than the actual company. The name underwent further polishing in 1995 when it was changed, for the last time, to Oracle Corporation.
Douglas A. McIntyre and Charles Stockdale
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