What's in a name? Consultancies and abbreviation rebrands

15 October 2018 Consulting.us 3 min. read

From Ernst & Young to EY, from PricewaterhouseCooper to PwC: in the past number of years the big accounting and consulting firms have made their brands shorter and sweeter.

In today’s digital culture, people want their info fast and their brand names snappy. Writers and readers have less patience for long brand names, especially the multi-surname format of most accounting and consulting firms. As such, there has been a strong trend in the past twenty years to shorten company names to more digestible single word brands or acronyms.

KPMG was the first of the Big Four to streamline its brand, cutting down its name from KPMG Peat Marwick to simply ‘KPMG’ (which stands for Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler) in 1999. Deloitte was next up to make its name leaner, chopping off the '& Touche' portion of its brand in 2003.

In a global market, another benefit of abbreviated names and acronyms is that they are easier to digest by international audiences. Rather than having to deal with a string of French and Dutch surnames, international clients can interact with a streamlined brand – and less tongue-twisting.What's in a name? Consultancies and abbreviation rebrandsPwC was next to rebrand, shortening its lengthy PricewaterhouseCoopers name to PwC in 2010. As in the case of many brand acronym-izations – like National Public Radio switching to NPR or Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC – the consultancy was already widely known by its acronym, so the transformation was a natural one. Like its consulting rivals, PwC figured it wouldn’t lose any brand equity through its abbreviation, while also creating a less staid-sounding brand that’s easier to interact with – whether in news articles or ads or other promotional materials.

PwC’s global leader of brand and communications at the time, Moira Elms, commented, “A concise consistent brand position makes it easier for people to appreciate who we are, what we do, and how we operate across markets.”

EY was the final Big Four shortening, and holds the distinction of being the shortest Big Four brand name, beating out PwC by a character. Ernst & Young was transformed into EY in 2013, giving the firm a uniform brand name around the world – meaning no confusion over whether it’s EY or E&Y or, incorrectly, Earnest & Young – while creating a brand name that’s simple to speak and write across the firm’s global footprint. What’s more, the firm couldn’t well be left behind by its abbreviated competitors.

Meanwhile, numerous non-Big Four firms have hopped on the wagon at the abbreviation station. BDO, the fifth largest global accounting and consulting network, completed a global rebranding of its member firms in 2010, dropping local member firm suffixes to create a unified and integrated brand. For example, in the UK, BDO Stoy Hayward became simply BDO; likewise, Canada’s BDO Dunwoody was shortened to BDO.

Seeing the brand streamlining efforts of other firms in the space, one of Canada’s largest accounting and consulting firms, MNP, abbreviated its name from Meyers Norris Penny in 2011.

Abbreviating brands can, however, carry some downsides and risks. For example, EY was the butt of a number of jokes when it came to light that softcore porn magazine EY! Electric Youth dominated the image search results when you typed in ‘EY’ in 2013. The consultancy has obviously since SEO’d the magazine and related search results into oblivion.

And though it matters less for cash-flush consultancies, extensive global rebrands/name changes cost a lot of money, from agency fees to signage to legal costs. So you have to be sure to get it right. In the end, though, abbreviations and acronyms are a relatively low-risk way to modernize a brand and make it fit better into global and digital marketing communications efforts.

What’s riskier is when consultancies rebrand with a entirely new name, as Deloitte and PwC’s consulting divisions did in 2002. But that’s a story for another day.