Mergers & Acquisitions Mobile services

The new mobile brands: EE survives, Motorola goes

Lenovo to phase out main Motorola brand, Nokia to drop ALU – but BT will keep EE’s strange hybrid name

One of the biggest dilemmas following a major acquisition is what to do about the branding. Some of the mobile industry’s founding fathers have already seen their brands disappear, and others will follow in 2016.

In the UK, telco BT says it will keep the EE brand once it completes its takeover of the country’s largest mobile carrier. That name was itself the result of an awkward and politicized rebranding exercise (it was originally Everything Everywhere) and has never achieved the impact of older UK names like O2 or its predecessor Orange. But – despite only semi-humorous calls for BT to revive its old Cellnet name – it will stick with EE for the main mobile services to avoid customer confusion. So EE will lose its charismatic CEO, Olaf Swantee, but keep its unloved name, post-merger.

Such is the way of M&A, and while EE survives, perhaps the most iconic of all mobile brands will be all but extinguished by its new parent. Lenovo will almost entirely end use of the Motorola name, even though the brand was considered one of the key assets it bought when it acquired Motorola Mobility from Google.

Motorola Mobility CEO Rick Osterloh said last week that high end phones such as the Moto X will now feature the blue Lenovo logo, while the Vibe brand will be the main one for budget devices.

In fact, it will keep the brand name ‘Moto’, and the ‘batwing’ logo, for some products, and insists these are now synonymous with the name ‘Motorola’ (which does, of course, live on in the surviving infrastructure company, Motorola Networks). However, the changes seem to point to a world where the power of a long-established western brand is no longer as important to a Chinese company as it was in the past – for instance, when China’s TCL snapped up Alcatel’s handset operations, partly in order to use the well-known name to gain desirability at home and recognition abroad.

Ironically enough, TCL is likely to preserve that illustrious French name for longer than its original owner. Nokia will start operating the combined Nokia/Alcatel-Lucent company this week and, while it will retain the Bell Labs name – an even more historic one in the telecoms industry than its own – it is expected to erase memories of ‘Alcatel’ and ‘Lucent’ over time.

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