LONDON (Reuters) - Will a beer colossus by any other name taste as sweet?
For the executives preparing a merger worth over $100 billion, a not inconsiderable question is what to call a company that will brew almost one in three of the world’s pints.
The current names of the firms, Anheuser-Busch InBev ABI.BR and SABMiller SAB.L, are the acronym-heavy result of years of dealmaking. While neither trips off the tongue, each resonates with its thousands of employees and, to a lesser extent, millions of consumers.
A new name isn’t just a marketing exercise - it’s about both recognizing the history and setting the future direction of the freshly-combined companies, industry experts said.
“A sure fire way to create friction among a newly unified employee population is to tip your hat to one of their businesses and heritage but not the other,” said Mark Skoultchi, Partner at U.S. naming consultancy Catchword.
In this case, paying homage to any of the predecessors - Anheuser-Busch, AmBev, Interbrew, South African Breweries and Miller Brewing - is bound to be a mouthful.
Drinks industry sources suggested names to Reuters including SAB InBev, ABSAB, Globev, SABI and Omnibrew, while analysts labeled the combination MegaBrew throughout the nearly month-long courtship.
Catchword has opened up a forum on Popnamer.com for suggestions. Contributions so far range from the wacky - MegaKega, Beerhemouth - to the finance in-jokes - Hopportunity, M&(IP)A.
Sadly, corporations are generally less in thrall to puns and more subject to rather more prosaic considerations, especially in the consumer sector where brand recognition is key.
Those include the direction the firm aims to grow in, how to distinguish itself from rivals, whether it is compelling from a marketing perspective, and the ability to trademark.
That’s not to say a complete revamp can’t be done.
“Now might be the time to go to something totally different, which is not related,” said naming consultant Benedicte Windle of It’s Raining Names. “There are a lot of issues that are overcome by having a completely new name that nobody associates with any power struggle.”
The consumer sector has a track record of complete rebranding, with varying success.
The 1997 merger of Guinness with Grand Metropolitan resulted in a company now called Diageo DGE.L, thought up by branding firm Wolff Olins to communicate the idea of “everyday pleasure everywhere”.
And when Kraft split off its snack foods business in 2011, it held a company contest the following year to find a new name. The winner was Mondelez MDLZ.O - “pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ”, it clarified in its announcement - from a combination of “monde” (“world” in French) and “deliz” (delicious).
But you can’t please everyone. “Catchy name - NOT,” said one commenter on USA Today at the time.
The snappy new acronym EY chosen by management consultant Ernst & Young also happened to be the title of a Spanish gay interest magazine, with colorful photos online to match.
“It will be apparent to individuals looking for EY, the professional services organization, that the images are not related to us,” a spokeswoman told Gay Star News in 2013.
While it will doubtless seek to avoid such coincidences, AB InBev’s reputation as a cost-cutting machine means an expensive revamp may be unlikely.
“They’re not going to have an army of consultants doing this for them,” said a banker, noting also that if the combined company exits the U.S. MillerCoors joint venture, as expected, it could drop the Miller name.
ABInbev said it was too early to speculate on possible names.
At the end of the day, it might all come down to how creative each side is ready to get.
“Given recent history - Interbrew, InBev, AB-InBev – I think it would be fair to assume they won’t spend long on this,” said a source close to one of the companies, referring to AB InBev’s earlier iterations from previous deals.
“But then again, SABMiller was simply the project name the banks gave to the combination of Miller Brewing Company and South African Breweries. So I don’t think there is much creativity on either side.”
Editing by Philippa Fletcher