Nothing exonerates PwC for coming up with such a ludicrous name

Accounting powerhouse PricewaterhouseCoopers completed its acquisition of management consulting firm Booz & Co last week. The deal instantly added about $1.5bn (£897m) to PwC’s top line. It also threw up something of a branding issue.

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Because PwC now fully controls Booz & Co it must relinquish the name because of terms set out when the consulting firm split from its parent company, now called Booz Allen Hamilton. And so, in an act of corporate madness typical of accountants faced with branding conundrums, PwC announced last week it has rebranded the firm as ‘Strategy&’.

No, as the Wall Street Journal noted on Thursday, that is not a typo. According to PwC chairman Dennis Nally it’s a name that communicates the “…real desire for companies to not only have outside strategic advice but also help them deal with                                                                         execution”.

To be fair to PwC, the new name does speak to the global positioning the firm wants to communicate to clients – especially new ones – that it will not only come up with high-level strategy but also help execute it. That’s an advantage when you are pitching to firms that have been bitten before by big strategy firms espousing complex plans that are impossible to action.

Furthermore, PwC was between a branding rock and a corporate hard place with new name options. Denied the ability to use heritage and founders, there is an almost total paucity of corporate names left to claim. Global businesses seeking an international IP with worldwide web rights face a virtually impossible mission these days, hence the plethora of bizarre, invented names, from Accenture to Xfinity.

That said, nothing exonerates PwC for coming up with such a ludicrous name as Strategy&. Nothing. It may strike the right tone with new clients but imagine calling your new dog ‘Knockers’ because it amuses your mates in the pub. In that case, one cheap, sexist laugh comes at the expense of looking like a lunatic for the next decade as you walk the parks and gardens of your local area shouting “Knockers!” at the top of your voice. The lesson here: a small initial upside can result in a spectacularly long period of downsides when it comes to naming.

For starters, switch from Strategy&’s potential clients to its existing ones. Imagine the scene on Eurostar as two former MBA students, now senior executives, bump into each other and catch up personally and professionally on the train. “We’re going through a major review of our logistics systems,” says one. “Who are you using?” asks the second. “Strategy and….” replies the first. His friend waits for the sentence to conclude but the man simply stares back at him unblinking. “Are you OK?” the second enquires after a minute has passed in silence. Call me old-fashioned but it always helps if a brand name actually makes grammatical sense.

Consider the 3,000 unfortunate employees of Strategy& next. Until recently they enjoyed the relative luxury of working for a company with a well-known name that made sense on a conversational level. Those days came to an abrupt end last Thursday thanks to the marketing geniuses at PwC. Employees will now find even the most basic conversation in the pub to be a long drawn-out affair. If asked who they work for, the corporate name itself is now merely a prelude to a laborious explanation that will inevitably end with shrugs, laughter and general bemusement.

Best of all PwC has, as we like to call it in the branding world, form. Twelve years ago you will recall their equally potty idea to rename themselves Monday because it signalled “a fresh start, a positive attitude, part of everyone’s life”. It’s bad enough to name your new dog Knockers but if your previous one was called ‘Knickers’ you have to ask whether there is a more redolent, deep-seated problem at work.

Back in 2002 the Monday brand became rapidly academic after PwC’s consulting group was acquired by IBM only a few weeks after the rebrand, and the madness was soon forgotten. This time there is no acquirer waiting down the corridor, so Strategy& looks set for a long, stupid life.

Repeat after me in as loud a voice as possible – “Knockers!”

Readers' comments (12)

  • Man, did they miss a trick. "Boozy Coopers" would have been a great name. Combines traditional values with modern cutting edge cynicism, while reflecting what they obviously spend all their clients money on.

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  • PwC have history in this department! Idiots!!

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  • I knew this article was going to be here, ever since the news broke. Ritson, you've made my Wednesday.

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  • I had an unfortunate position of being on the inside during the branding conversations that led to the Strategy& cul de sac. You're right on almost all counts, including the difficulty of coming up with a "corporate name" when just about every imaginable one is taken, leaving only unimaginable choices such as Strategy&. You're also right that the credits (and debits) for the name accrue PwC. Most of the Booz side had other ideas and many opposed Strategy& for the obvious reasons. But he who pays the piper calls the tune, and Booz management was unwilling to draw swords for this particular fight.
    Don't look for the name to have a long life, however. PwC doesn't "do" subbrands, and the smart money says that this is not destined to become a brand. Look in due time for a mere descriptor: PwC Strategy. The cynical smart money thinks that PwC might have wanted a lame brand precisely so as not to create a viable alternative to the desired end-state.

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  • So Price Waterhouse Coopers becomes PwC.
    Everything Everywhere becomes EE.
    So Strategy& can become S&.
    Pronounced Sand.
    (Their express offering could be Quick S&)
    And who's going to want to build strategy there!

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  • I would have gone for Fuller Schitt

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  • I'm amazed that Mark Ritson,nobody in marketing, Marketing Week or otherwise has thought about this in a bit more depth....have you not heard of an 'interim brand' as 'Anonymous' at 10:06pm on 09/04/14 suggests?!

    Strategy& will ultimately be subsumed into PwC. Surely Strategy& was created to give assurance to Booz & Co staff that their name & brand wouldn't disappear altogether but would remain a bit separate rather than go for the "pulling off a sticking plaster approach" of losing Booz altogether right at the start of their 'partnership'?

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  • Completely agree with Mark Ritson re Strategy&. Not so sure about Accenture though. Sure, it was unusual, even 'bizarre' when it first appeared, and as mentioned that was driven by the difficulty of international trademark protection, unique urls etc. But now I think it has taken on appropriate meaning and is a valuable and protectable brand.

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  • It's a piece of nonsense, I agree, but I also wonder about the assertion that lies behind it.

    The "…real desire for companies to not only have outside strategic advice but also help them deal with execution" reveals the arrogant assumption that these rational, system-driven consultants make to assume that they can also operate in the creative world of developing and executing ideas.

    My tip - if you want to work with a consultancy on branding delivery, take a look at how they do it for themselves.

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  • Strategy Ampersand and why not Priceywaterhouse & Cooper. Invoice is in the post.

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