Asha Speckman

American International Group (AIG), the insurer that almost perished in 2008 and whose failure would have led to a massive financial breakdown worldwide, is making a comeback with the relaunching of its brand.

The company has embarked on a phased roll-out this year and is operating under a new logo as it seeks distance from its troubled past.

The economic crisis four years ago, which claimed Lehman Brothers, degenerated into a reputational nightmare for the financial services industry. During this period AIG invented the Chartis Insurance brand, which it traded under until seeking change this year.

“In South Africa, we have started at employee level and are moving the rebranding through to our brokers and clients and then into the broader consumer market as a whole,” Mike Durek, the chief executive of AIG South Africa, said earlier this week.

“But it will take time and we will be using a variety of mediums to reach our target audiences,“ he added.

Fortunately for the company, the damage to the brand by the firm’s financial mess at the time has not left lasting impressions on consumers.

Durek told Business Report: “There has been increasingly positive sentiment towards AIG and so it was felt that now is the right time to rebrand.”

A consumer test was launched last year, in which the AIG brand was added to the company’s televised Matrix Direct campaign that ran as “AIG Direct” in the US.

“It resulted in a plus 23 percent lift in sales. Adding the AIG name to e-mail campaigns increased the open rate by 20 percent,” Durek said.

The new logo incorporates a simpler font in the sky blue and white colour palette, while the new slogan, “Bring on tomorrow”, suggests that the group is confident in its future.

However, AIG is reluctant to reveal the cost of the phased rebranding.

“We see the logo as reflecting a rebuilt and forward-looking AIG – contemporary, dynamic, transparent and revitalised. We are continuing to build on that accomplishment by continuing to innovate,” Durek said.

Robert Benmosche, the AIG president and chief executive, said the relaunch marked a significant achievement for the company, which owes its rebirth to the US government bailout of $182 billion (R2 trillion), which it has since repaid.

The firm has been operating internationally for almost a century and trading in South Africa, where it offers a broad range of insurance products, for half of that time.

Durek said Chartis Insurance had been a successful brand during the past three years and during the transition had retained market share but lost one significant client in the commercial business.

“However, over the past year we are gaining ground and are seeing an upswing in market share,” he said.

The South African operations are spread over eight cities and will expand to 15 offices over the next 18 to 24 months, according to Durek.

The company is also considering expanding into Nigeria, Tanzania and Ghana among several countries and will target sectors that include mining, construction and renewable energy.

Durek said the rebranding and realignment with the parent company provided the ability to insure more risks and gave access to 42 product lines.

Doug de Villiers, the chief executive of Interbrand Sampson, said there was a shift in brand reputation away from “saying, doing and being” towards communicating the brand story and values.

He said the rebranding constituted more than merely changing a logo.

“There’s got to be a decent explanation for why they are changing identity.”

Relevance to market was another key aspect of branding, according to De Villiers.

“People are liking brands that do things as opposed to brands that say things,” he said, citing the OUTsurance traffic pointsman initiative, which had gained more popularity than the firm’s traditional advertising campaigns.