It’s not often that a brand name generates so much interest. Belgians woke up March 1 to discover that the retail branch of the troubled bank Dexia is now called Belfius. The reactions were instant and entirely predictable as people began looking for the hidden meaning. Jokes ranged from it being a contraction of “Belgians Finance Us” to “active Belfius being good for transit”. Brand and product naming is not easy. In terms of impact, this name is clearly a disaster. But the real tragedy is that the new bank missed a massive opportunity to turn its business around.
Getting back in touch with customers
A little background: the banking group Dexia (itself a weird name) is a textbook case of mismanagement and over-reaching itself, leading to a very expensive bail-out which generated quite a lot of public resentment. The retail branch in Belgium, however, was both successful and innovative – something the banking sector rarely manages. Its communications (managed by the Boondoggle agency in Leuven) had launched an impressive campaign to get back in touch with its customers. In a way, everything was already in place to create a new dynamic and place the bank strategically close to its customers.
Instead, someone chose the name Belfius.
Official acronyms and pig Latin
What’s wrong with the name? A lot. At a surface level, Belfius falls into two very uncomfortable categories found frequently in Belgium: the official acronym and pig Latin. Belfius could easily be the name of a government agency, for example – hardly the most attractive solution for an innovative, customer-centric bank. It also sits alongside clunky fake-Latin names such as Proximus, Axion, Fortis and Artesia (the latter three all banks).
The appeal of these names is extremely limited. And unfortunately, Belfius (apparently developed with the help of an agency called Remarkable) combines the lack of appeal of fake-Latin with the grimness of a government agency. How more wrong could the name be?
I’m sure there are reasons behind this such as the need to cut with the past and the need to find a name that works in a trilingual country. But it’s an expensive choice. One advertising executive said that the total cost of re-branding Dexia as Belfius could be between €20-40 million when you factor in all the signage, stationery, websites and advertising. I’d say it will be at the top end of the scale as they will have to employ considerable resources trying to impose a name that people have already rejected.
The real tragedy of the new brand name is that it could have been so different. The new name could have leveraged the work being done by the bank over the past year. as it is, they are starting from less than zero.