Accenture Song is not a great rebrand, but it could be so much worse
Rebrands are usually a bad move, but despite the ridicule for Accenture Interactive becoming Accenture Song, there is just as much upside.
Goodbye, Accenture Interactive. Hello, Accenture Song.
In a move that has been widely expected, the digital communications arm of Accenture renamed and restructured itself on Tuesday. The new brand name is meant to convey an “enduring and universal form of human craft, connection, inspiration, technical prowess and experience” and will unleash – yes, unleash – “the imagination and ideas of its people to deliver tangible results”.
That’s obviously a massive load of old consulting bollocks. But, make no mistake, this is very big marketing news. Partly because of the £13bn in revenues that the group is likely to generate this year. Partly because there are more than 30 famous global agency brands caught up in the consolidation. And partly because the new name has sparked much debate around the marketing village over the last 48 hours. No-one is quite sure what to make of it.
So, given the musical direction of the newly minted super-agency, let’s conduct a Eurovision-style assessment and assign scores for the various aspects of the Song decision.
1. It’s a rebrand – score: -10
We have to start here. Any company that decides, voluntarily, to rebrand itself is asking for trouble. Accenture Song therefore starts its existence with a big fat -10.
When I teach brand management, I spend a very long time on repositioning and revitalisation, but move much more quickly when I get to rebranding. Simply put, it’s a recipe for disaster. You lose a ton of salience and employee loyalty, while opening yourself up to criticisms of superficiality and indulgent identity wank. Never forget that the most successful rebranding case studies, like Diageo, for example, are the ones that did no harm to the long-term performance of the business. That’s how low the bar for rebranding is.
Accenture, of course, is a rebranded company already, having begun life as Andersen Consulting. But it made the move for the only legitimate reason you ever embark on a rebrand – because you legally have to. Twenty years ago, Arthur Andersen wanted its surname back and Accenture was the result of a rather splendid three-month process. It was a lucky move. There is a long and painful list of companies – starting with PwC Consulting, which briefly and infamously became Monday for a few magical hours – that rebranded themselves and then lived to regret it.
2. The name – score: +2
I am not quite as critical as some of my peers when it comes to the actual name ‘Song’. It’s a bit wanky and up itself, but not half as bad as many of the alternatives. The acid test for Song is how it sounds when employees are asked on a Friday, down the pub, where they work.
One of the big problems with PwC (yes, them again) rebranding its consulting arm as Strategy& was the unfortunate moment when employees had to tell someone where they worked, and then watch as that person waited in silence for the rest of a sentence that never came. Telling people you work for Song is probably not going to earn you much respect, and will cause all kinds of odd questions from Nan about the move into a music career. But this is a sub-brand, and the power and pre-existence of the Accenture name will more than compensate for any confusion or jollity.
In fact, the juxtaposition of the boring, Android-run accounting parent brand with the more jaunty, lyrical Song sub-brand is the main reason why the score for the name is actually positive here. Song on its own is a load of creative wanky-wank. Song as a creative balance to Accenture makes a lot of sense.
3. Brand consolidation – score: +5
We should not make the mistake of most marketers on Twitter, and obsess about the new name while missing the much bigger play that is taking place. Sure, Interactive became Song this week. But the real meat of the move is a massive change in brand architecture.
Accenture Interactive was simply a holding group that acquired 30-plus agencies over the last five years. Some of those agencies, like The Monkeys and Karmarama, are very big and feted operations. The move from being a house of brands to a single operating sub-brand of Accenture, with all the brands now consolidated into one single company, is massive.
On the negative side, this consolidation might encourage an exodus of talented, formerly loyal employees. It will also reduce the agility of the company because suddenly there is just one giant billion-dollar behemoth with little pre-existing reputation in the industry. “I’d rather pitch against Accenture Song than The Monkeys,” one agency wag observed yesterday on social media. But ignore these points because they are overwhelmed by the power of brand consolidation and the potential for joined up, integrated thinking from Song.
Every agency group is currently struggling with too many brands and too little synergy across its operations. Most are merely dabbling, tentatively, at mergers and small-brand killing. In contrast, Accenture just took out a huge knife and created a single beast from the bodies on the floor. The beast must now prove itself. But the strategic focus, improved profitability, superior culture and all the other advantages that come from brand consolidation are now theirs to enjoy. My waggish agency colleague may live to regret his desire to pitch against Accenture Song once they get their shit together.
4. Not quite consolidation – score: -2
But there is an exception. Despite the blanket integration of every Accenture agency into the new Song organisation, one brand has survived the cull. New York-based Droga5 will not be subsumed within the new company and will instead continue to operate as a separate entity. The move has very little to do with strategy and everything to do with the abject hypocrisy of leadership.
David Droga is the CEO of Accenture Song. And while he was comfortable scything down the other brands in the group, he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it to his own baby. This is a bad move. Partly because it will create increased ill-will across the other sacrificed sister agencies. But also because Accenture Song was so close to creating a single, focused sub-brand. Now, with the survival of Droga5, the company is still juggling multiple brands. You’re either singular or you’re plural in the world of brand architecture. Accenture Song was so close but is now so far away from total focus.
5. David Droga – score: +5
It’s a rare misstep from the country boy from New South Wales. David Droga has not just built one of the most successful agencies on the planet and managed his ascendency into the biggest job in communications with seamless elan, he has also cultivated a professional mystique that is worth its weight in gold.
The ad industry is a golden jacuzzi of warm piss that throws superlatives around like coke at an orgy. Everyone is a guru. Everyone is lovely. Everyone is gifted. Blah, blah, blah. But in Droga they have a genuine savant. And everyone knows it.
It’s partly based on his career success, but also his championing of creativity and the remarkable ability to always strike a suitably imperious and intellectual look in every photo that is ever taken of him. Two parts Sherlock Holmes, three parts Clint Eastwood and one part Gary Neville – to see a David Droga photo is to witness the ultimate exemplar in employee branding.
It might sound obvious but, when you rebrand a company, you have to conduct an identity audit first.
“I know exactly what is going to happen,” his face always says, “but I’m not going to fucking tell you a thing.” It’s a brilliant leadership position in an industry that is permanently afraid of change and continually obsessed with sparkling new things.
It’s also crucial for Accenture Song, because the ad industry is swayed more by who has done something than what that thing actually is.
A very large amount of the advice professed by David Ogilvy, for example, is now empty ejaculate, and I am pretty certain it was useless back in the day too. But none of that matters, because the key thing about a David Ogilvy quote is that it came (most of the time) from David Ogilvy. Droga has that same post-rationalising capability to confer success and, as the chief conductor of Song, his professional charisma adds much to the likelihood of it being accepted.
6. Identity ownership – score: -3
It might sound obvious but, when you rebrand a company, you have to conduct an identity audit first. You check that your new name does not mean something filthy in Swahili and you ensure that the key digital assets are also available. I say ‘might sound obvious’ because, more often than not, the rebranded company fucks this up.
The greatest ever example of this was when Ernst & Young rebranded itself in exactly the image of a Spanish softcore gay porn mag. Even the logo was a dead ringer and, for months after the rebrand, bemused EY clients tried to work out why one of the company’s consultants was apparently dressed only in Speedos and splayed over the hood of a fifties convertible. Automotive audit?
The good news for Song is that its name is a global noun that universally conveys a universal meaning. The bad news for Song is that its name is a global noun that conveys a universal meaning because it means key digital assets like Song.com and Song.co.uk are no longer available at any price. Interestingly, the domain names Accenturesong.com and Accenturesong.co.uk have both been registered, but not necessarily by Accenture, while many local variants remain up for sale. The bigger and more famous Song gets, the pricier these omissions become.
7. Salience is good – score: +3
We have to mention it, somewhere. In the Sharpian era we live in, any industry coverage has to be good coverage. Every client on the planet with a six-figure-plus marketing budget is now thinking and reading about Song. They are therefore desperate to ensure that the newly named agency is included in their next RFP. The agency is not just big, it’s famously big, and we know in marketing that can only be a good thing.
Total score: 0
So how does it all stack up? Using my extremely scientific approach, I conclude that Accenture Song scores a big fat zero on my Eurovision scale of rebranding. Maybe it’s a good move. Maybe its not. Time will tell. But in terms of marketing moves it has to be among the biggest of year.