When Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine in February, the staff at a smallish travel business more than 1,500 miles away in England were busy with other things.
Their outfit specialises in what it calls unforgettable experiences for young people — teaching in Thailand, South African skydiving, Ibiza partying — and Ukraine had not been high on its radar.
But it soon was because, throughout its 14-year history, the business had only had one name: Invasion.
“We couldn’t operate with that name,” says Nick Steiert, the law school graduate who co-founded the Manchester-based company. There were too many “negative connotations” because people instantly thought of Ukraine.
So it was, that Invasion last week entered the infamous halls of the corporate rebrand, a step that generally triggers derision, suspicion and bewilderment in more or less equal measure.
As of Thursday, Invasion became Intravelr, a cross between its old name and Intrax, an older, larger US travel group that bought Invasion last year.
“It’s a shame,” says Steiert, who named the company after the big city “invasions” or getaways for law students that he used to organise while at university. “But equally this also represents a new opportunity.”
I am sure it does, and not just for Invasion, or Intravelr as we must now call it.
Its story also offers a chance to consider some of the dos and don’ts of rebranding, starting with motivation.
Intravelr, unlike other rebranders, had a good reason to change its name. It was a victim of events, as was the US company, Isis Pharmaceuticals. The biotech group was founded in 1989, long before the acronym for the Islamic State jihadist group became a household name and wisely became Ionis Pharmaceuticals in 2015.
That puts both it and Intravelr well ahead of the unnecessary and actively harmful rebrand, still best epitomised by the costly and much-mocked 2001 decision to rebadge Royal Mail as “Consignia”.
“The new name describes the full scope of what the Post Office does in the way that the words ‘post’ and ‘office’ cannot,” the group claimed, before conducting an abrupt U-turn the following year.
Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune newspaper, took only slightly longer to ditch the even more awful name it came up with in 2016: Tronc. It was gone by 2018.
Intravelr also gets points for devising its new name itself, rather than hiring expensive outside consultants. Happily, it has failed to follow Weight Watchers, which in 2018 ditched a perfectly comprehensible name for two letters — WW.
And Intravelr is a reasonably recognisable name for a travel company, so it should avoid some of the ridicule that greeted Refinitiv, the name dreamt up for the trading and data business spun out of Thomson Reuters.
“What’s a Refinitiv?” people asked, much as they once wondered what to make of Accenture, which used to be Andersen Consulting.
Alas, Intravelr has committed one serious blunder.
The truth is, there is absolutely nothing modern or hip about stripping perfectly serviceable vowels from names
It has succumbed to the egregious trend for disemvowelling. This is a company that deals with travellers, not travellrs. Why on earth did it have to dispense with a second “e” in its new name?
“Initially we wanted to be called Intravel,” said Seiert, but that name had already been taken.
That led to the idea of Intravelr, minus the second “e” because “we thought that it would just talk to a younger audience”, said Seiert. “It’s a little bit rebellious,” he added, and it sounds “a bit more modern, a bit more hip”.
I suppose it was this sort of thinking that persuaded the UK asset manager, Standard Life Aberdeen, to change its name last year to Abrdn, a name that was not merely unintelligible but required explanation about how to pronounce it. (It’s still “Aberdeen”, the company said.)
The truth is, there is absolutely nothing modern or hip about stripping perfectly serviceable vowels from names.
The tech magazine, Wired, published an obituary for the letter “E” as far back as 2013, having observed the march of Flickr, the photo sharing app; Grindr, the dating app; Tumblr, the blogging app and much more.
On the upside, all these businesses are still going nearly a decade later. I wish the same for Intravelr, missing vowel and all.