Ewww & Why?: The Ernst & Young Rebranding

Poor Ernst & Young. They shortened their name to EY, released a new look, and provided some really weak rationale for the change. Then the branding and design world ripped into their new logo.  Now the Internet is replete with news stories such as “Ernst & Young accidentally rebrands itself as porn” and “Ernst & Young Rebranding Draws Comparisons To ‘Sexy Boys’ Publication EY! Megateen”. Such attention will only serve to make future efforts extremely conservative.

Professional services branding whether it be law firms, consultancies, or accountancies is already incredibly risk adverse. This rebranding will help ensure the partnerships at organizations like these wring the creative fire out of any ideas advanced from their marketing teams and agencies.

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Let’s deal first with the latest issue. The comparison to the racy Spanish magazine is a bit unfair but it does reveal that attention to detail in global rebranding is critical. If, ahead of the launch, EY’s website administrators changed the file names of logo images on its website to include “EY,” that would have helped its prominence in Google search results. As of Monday afternoon, the main image on the EY website was simply named “logo.gif.”

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So now when you search “EY” you get “EY! Electric Youth” magazine images that make American Apparel advertising look like Disney. This will die down rather quickly as the accountancy begins to assume ownership over “EY” in its communications. Though I believe it will be one of those branding missteps that will be referenced for some time within the marketing industry.

What everyone is missing is why did Ernst & Young make any change?

Hopefully it was prompted by a substantive shift in their strategy. Otherwise it is an ultra expensive logo project (think of the signage costs!). The new CEO, Mark Weinberger says it will help them achieve their goal of being the number one brand in the profession. Yet there is no mention of how that will be achieved or measured. Quite frankly, even if he gave a revenue or growth target it would not justify this change.

Perhaps in the coming months we will see demonstrative changes in their business. This could include investment in developing markets, expansion of consulting, aggressive acquisitions, or the introduction of whole new service lines. Any of those would have added credibility to the image change. Instead their leaders’ quotes in press releases are vague, “We will use our expertise to team with other companies that share our purpose and commitment to building a better working world, contributing to the growth and success of our business, our clients’ businesses, our people and the communities in which we work.”

In other words there is really no new positioning outside of a tagline, “Building a better working world”. This too would have been bolder and more aspirational if they did not include “working” in it. But perhaps they intend to play up the notion that the new EY ‘makes things work’. It is hard to say because of the missing strategic rationale.

In terms of logos subjectivity always abounds. Some will like it, most will not. They should be credited for a bit continuity as the “yellow beam” has been used previously. But as many critics (armchair and otherwise) have pointed out the whole thing lacks imagination. Many have thought it looks like clipart or “a trucking company or the parent company of Budget car rental”.

The biggest shame is it misses out on a huge opportunity. If you are going to go through an effort like this and spend the money then go for a home run not a single. As well, professional service firms’ two main audiences are existing and prospective employees and clients. Will they be excited by this change? If not, why do it?

It is not my intent to beat up on this fine firm but there is so much precedent for mediocrity in this industry that efforts like this are frustrating. I am dating myself but I remember when there was the “Big Eight” accounting firms. For a chunk of the 90’s I worked at two of the then “Big Six”. Following that I consulted to many professional services firms including BDO, Deloitte, and PwC in the areas of branding and marketing. So I think I know what happened in this case.

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A new leader came in and wanted to express some sort of change. Ideas were commissioned and there were probably some pretty cool ones that got discarded through the process. This is because firms that are built on partnerships are ultimately managed by oodles of committees. With all due respect, a hot dog vendor has more strategic bandwidth than Mr. Weinberger. I assume consensus is the culprit in this case so the accountancy ended up with a watered down and ho-hum result.

There are many, many lessons from this rebranding for other professional service firms but here are the principle three:

Rebrand with Substance:

A logo should only change to reflect a substantive change in business strategy. A new logo does not make a new brand.

Stand Out:

EY’s new look and feel does not look or feel new. The introduction of color helps but would you want to wear this on a t-shirt or have it embroidered on your computer bag?

Look Outside:

This exercise must have looked at the same set of competitors that EY has looked at for decades. That immediately doomed them to an incremental improvement at best. If they truly wanted to be the best brand in their industry they should have raised their sights. They should have compared themselves to and aspired to be the best brand in the world. 

Lucky Strike Rebrands in Germany & ends up looking more Tabasco than tobacco.

Under Consideration’s site Brand New reports that a redesigned logo and packaging designed by G2 has appeared online. There is not much information available, in part because the German website is only accessible to computers in Germany and it’s not clear whether this change will apply to Lucky Strike in all countries or just Germany; all images are taken from Design Tagebuch.”