New names for corporations: Naming at the highest corporate level

Total becomes TotalEnergies. Renaming with strategy.

One of the largest oil companies – namely Total – has changed its name. The generic term “oil” – which was still innovative and influential when the French company “Compagnie française des pétroles (CFP)” was founded in 1924 – is certainly no longer desired by the company and may not be appropriate in the future. Because with the new name TotalEnergies, the company wants to transform itself and communicate this to the outside world with the new name – along with the logo in rainbow colours.

The new multi-energy company

With the name change, the transformation into a multi-energy company has reached the highest brand level. The name and visual identity are intended to make the new course immediately recognisable. TotalEnergies Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanné explains: “In order to contribute to the sustainable development of the planet in the face of the climate challenge, we are today moving together towards new energies. Energy is reinventing itself and this energy journey is ours. Our goal is to be a key player in the energy transition. That is why Total is transforming itself and changing its name to TotalEnergies”.

A name should be followed by action

But communication is not the end of the story. For example, the company wants to achieve an output of 100 gigawatts of renewable energies by 2030. In addition, the company is showing initiative in the field of electromobility. TotalEnergies wants to install 2,200 more charging points in Amsterdam alone.
Is this greenwashing by naming or a sustainable shift? What is clear is that oil fuels are controversial. Politicians also seem to prefer alternatives. And also the courts – which recently sentenced the oil company Shell, among others, to lower CO2 emissions – make one direction clear: away from oil, towards alternative energies. The important thing for TotalEnergies now is that the change actually takes place and is recognisable.

The name is a statement

“It is precisely the ambition that the new name makes clear,” says brand expert and managing director of the naming agency NAMBOS Markus Lindlar. “After all, the focus is on energy – which is obtained and made available from different resources – not on oil, which currently has a negative connotation. The retention of the well-known and formative component Total is the right thing to do, because Total has a high level of awareness and thus a great brand value. Through the combination with the quickly understandable addition “Energies” and the new logo, the realignment quickly becomes clear and provides a simple communication basis for the change process of the group,” says the professional name finder.

“Keeping the name Total also makes sense for reasons of trademark law and economics,” as NAMBOS trademark lawyer Peter A. Ströll knows, “because the development, testing and enforcement of a completely new name – which might have made the change process even clearer – is costly and always associated with risks. Such a complete detachment from the old name only makes sense if this name – through whatever significant (!) negative or circumstances – is sustainably “burnt” or no longer strategically viable.”

Similar companies, similar strategies

BP took a similar path in this respect a long time ago, albeit in a way that is not so readily recognisable to the outside world. BP used to stand for “British Petroleum”. Due to the merger with the American company Amoco, the adjective “British” was removed from the company name more than 20 years ago. In addition, the company wanted to open up to other energies and position itself more “cleanly”, which is why BP has since stood for “beyond petroleum”. BP also opted for a new logo that is more reminiscent of a sun or sunflower.

The Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has completely changed its name and since 2018 no longer has “oil” in its name. The name change to Equinor is intended to support the company’s “strategy and development as a broad energy company”, as the group announced when it introduced the new group name. Replacing it with a completely new name is, of course, the most radical thing to do, but in doing so it naturally offers a completely new approach.

So the strategy of changing the name – in various guises (from the new derivation at BP, the addition of a new term at TotalEnergies and the use of a completely new name at Equinor) is not new, and TotalEnergie is sending a strong signal with the new name and logo. “Now the company must also follow this signal and act according to its communicative promise. Because that is also important: you have to keep what you promise. Otherwise you damage your brand,” says Markus Lindlar from NAMBOS.