New Citi Name, Arc Represent More Global View

Brand experts, reacting to news reports that giant Citigroup intends to shorten its name to just Citi and drop its corporate red umbrella logo, say the time is right for a change that to most consumers will appear as little more than a tweak.

The New York Times reported earlier this week that the financial services giant will make a presentation to its board of directors today or tomorrow that will recommend adopting both a single name for all of its business functions and a more modern-looking arc in place of the umbrella.

The new Citi brand could be rolled out as early as next month.

Citigroup officials are not commenting on the brand redesign, but published reports pegged the rebranding initiative as part of a larger plan to unify Citigroup's business units under a single brand after years of acquisitions led first by legendary former chairman Sandy Weill, and in more recent years by Weill's protégé and current chairman/CEO, Charles Prince.



In some markets--such as Boston, where Citi is a relative newcomer--retail banking centers already sport the shorter name and more modern-looking blue arc logo. The Citi name also graces a theater known as the Wang Center for the Performing Arts until the New York-based company secured naming rights.

The retirement of the red umbrella--a corporate symbol that endured for more than a century--is bittersweet to some marketing executives who still associate it with the Travelers' Property and Casualty and its home town of Hartford, Conn., once considered the "insurance capital of the world."

Under Weill, Citigroup bought and later sold Travelers to St. Paul's, but retained marketing rights to the umbrella symbol--although it had been associated with insurance for more than a century and Citigroup no longer had much of a presence in the industry.

Replacing the umbrella for good with the arc may be a good idea, especially as Citigroup looks to global markets for expansion. Steve Phillips, president of Phillips Design Group in Boston, believes the arc is simply a "bigger idea than the umbrella." He also noted that Citi sounds freer and less limited in size or scope than Citigroup.

"It has more of a global presence," Phillips said of the proposed new name, "and the blue arc is more of a gesture--it's more outward and much more encompassing than the umbrella. I think the arc says, 'Look, we can take over the world.' The umbrella represents safety and protection. It's much more appropriate to an insurance company."

Another branding expert noted that an identity initiative of this scope had to be months in the making and is perhaps more important to internal stakeholders such as employees than to the average bank or investment customer.

Don Giller, senior director at Brand Equity, who has worked on scores of identity projects for a broad array of clients, predicts that in a year or less, few people will recall that Citibank or Citigroup ever existed--except, maybe, in archives.

"My guess is that externally, the name change will not be a huge switch for clients, but internally it will be a much bigger deal. It's a demarcation of the new leadership."

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