A Cautionary Tale For Law firms: When Branding Goes Wrong … Really Really Wrong!

April 23, 2014

Have you heard the one about the rebrand that resulted in comparisons between the big four accounting firm and the adult themed men’s magazine.  Surely you have.  No?

Well let me tell you a little about it and then we can discuss what you can do to avoid such … issues.

When Ernst & Young hired their Branding Agency, London based BrandPie, I’m sure that they asked for a new modern feel to their brand.  In fact, when they launched the new brand last year, Mark Weinberger, Global Chairman and CEO explained,

… we will be called EY. Shortening our name will provide consistency and ease of use for EY practices and clients around the world. We have also redesigned our logo, reflecting our new brand name clearly in the design.

 He went on to state that,

Our new brand name and logo demonstrate clearly and boldly who we are and reflect the goal we have recently set ourselves to be the number one brand in our profession.

Unfortunately, the main news that surrounded the ‘EY Brand launch’ was that the venerable accounting firm had rebranded itself to the same name as the gay Spanish magazine that likes to feature young men in their underwear, EY!.  Probably not the professional brand image they were going for.

When Branding goes wrong

This followed on the heels of another professional services faux pas when PwC famously paid London ad agency Wolff Olins $110 million in 2002 for the idea of renaming PwC’s consulting arm “Monday”.  The name was dropped by the following Monday.To be honest, it could happen to the best of us if we’re not diligent.  During one rebrand a few years ago, the graphic design team and I were so close to the process (and the design) that we failed to notice what the lawyers immediately did when we presented the ‘sneak peek’ to them at a partner retreat.  A great big crucifix imbedded in the middle of the logo.  Being up on a huge screen at the front of the room didn’t help things but I still wondered why the heck we hadn’t seen this ourselves.So what can you do to avoid falling into the brand fail trap?

1.  Audit your new brand
This can be as simple as putting your name change into Google’s search field and pressing enter.  It might also be worth checking who has the rights to the name (in all jurisdictions in which you will do business) and who owns the digital ­personality. 

2.  Check for cultural differences
Check for potential cultural issues such as whether the name means something rude in a foreign ­language or if the logo, or colour, has a negative cultural implication outside of your market.

3.  Use focus groups
If you have the budget available, invest in some focus groups at key points in the process. Don’t just look at the visual brand (logo, colours, etc.) but also the messaging associated with it.  Does your tagline have a hidden double entendre, or simply not ring true?

4.  Share with some of your trusted clients to get their feedback
Your clients have a unique perspective on your brand – after all they hired you based on their perception of you and it.  Take a step back before you finalize to ensure you won’t be alienating those that already pay the bills.

5.  Don’t rush into anything
Give yourself enough time to make mistakes … and then fix them.

Rest assured, it doesn’t just happen with professional services firms either.  As I parked outside of the local library last week, the branding on the car in front of me caught my eye.  Do you see the branding issue that I do?


The moral of the story is this – don’t do your branding in a vacuum.  Audit your brand and at a minimum have a group of trusted someone’s look at the work before it’s set in stone.  You really don’t want to have to switch back to your old brand on “Monday”.
Lynn Fitzpatrick Foley
Fitzpatrick Foley

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