You know a company is in trouble when it decides to change its name. Something has gone wrong when the money spent assiduously building up a brand over many years is junked. For example, the brand of the pack of murderous mercenaries known as Blackwater was so tarnished by the slaughter of Iraqi civilians, arms smuggling and what one judge called “demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations” that it changed its name not once by twice. Tobacco company Philip Morris changed its name to Altria to get away from all that cancer and systemic, decades-long denialism stuff. US airline ValuJet, which flew unsafe planes and killed scores of people in a DC-9 crash, took a new name from a subsidiary to escape the brand damage. Locally, Transfield changed its name to Broadspectrum to escape links with the prison camps it helps the Department of Immigration to operate on Nauru and Manus Island.
Sensing a pattern?
Now, according to the Financial Review, BHP Billiton wants to change its name. The British-Australian mining company wants to pretend to be more Australian by ditching the “Billiton” part of the name it acquired in a merger in 2001 and changing its logo (for which some lucky marketing execs doubtless were paid handsomely). Why the change? According to a BHP executive, “trust has been lost in companies like ours and if we are going to reverse that we have got to get out and change the way in which the community looks at us and thinks about us. You travel around the world and everyone is talking about the lack of trust in corporations.”
If only BHP Billiton had come to Crikey first. We could have saved them a great deal of money by giving them, gratis, some high-quality advice about reversing the lack of community trust in them. To improve community perceptions of BHP Billiton, we would have told them:
- Do not legally avoid billions in tax via a “marketing hub” in Singapore — and do not claim that somehow that’s good for Australia;
- Do not operate a marketing office in Switzerland, and especially not in a global capital of tax avoidance like Zug;
- Do not pour millions into a campaign to oust a government that dared to impose a mining superprofits tax on you;
- Do not run a political campaign to oust a state political leader who dared to propose a mining royalty increase;
- Do not construct a faulty tailings dam that gives way and kills 17 people;
- Do not trash over $10 billion in shareholder value through rotten management decisions like a shale oil investment;
- Do not demand yet more industrial relations reform and attack unions at a time when wages growth and industrial disputation are at historic lows ;
- Do not invite scores of officials from developing countries to the Olympics and lavish expensive hospitality packages on them; and
- Do not fund a “clean coal” advocacy group that hires lobbyists who forge letters.
We reckon that would go a long way to preventing the erosion of trust in BHP Billiton. A lot further than a name change and some new company letterhead.