How A Name Change Propelled an Adoption Agency to Brand Recognition

Hal Conick
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Spaulding for Children, an adoption services nonprofit, was often confused with popular sporting goods company Spalding. 

So what? The name was neither recognized for its services nor invoking feelings it wanted to associate with the brand. 

Now what? Conduct market research to make the most effective decisions in a rebrand. You should have feedback from internal stakeholders, external audiences and run comparative analysis.

​Oct. 2, 2017

When a brand name detracts from the brand image, it may be time for a change


While a rose, as Shakespeare wrote in “Romeo and Juliet,” would smell just as sweet when called by any other name, brands often run into a different conundrum: Their name, a proverbial rose, may smell fantastic but go almost entirely un-sniffed.   

Executives from Spaulding for Children, a Houston, Texas, adoption and foster care services nonprofit, were proud of the work they had done. In its 40-year history, the organization has placed more than 2,100 children into permanent adoptive homes. However, Spaulding’s brand name was lost in a fog of confusion. Chicago-based Spalding, with a homophonic name, rang more familiar to the ears of many potential Spaulding for Children clients. 

Spalding, a sporting goods company, has worldwide name recognition—the company’s logo emblazons each NBA game ball, allowing it to be seen by more than 20 million people during the NBA Finals alone. As much good work as Spaulding for Children has done in the Houston community, its recognition doesn’t match that of the basketball maker. 

Vikki Finley, who serves as Spaulding for Children’s president and CEO, hired Houston-based brand experience firm BrandExtract in 2016 to launch a marketing campaign. She hoped a well-placed campaign could clear the fog of brand name confusion. “For many of our staff here, our entire careers are focused around the Spaulding for Children brand,” Finley says. “The deeper we got into it, we realized that I spent the majority of my time explaining who we weren’t and certainly trying to explain the disconnect between us and sporting goods.”

Jonathan Fisher, chairman of BrandExtract and the lead on the Spaulding for Children account, says when a brand name is too similar to that of a well-known company, the goodwill of the lesser-known brand transfers to the popular organization. “It hurts you,” he says of the smaller brands. 

Spaulding for Children’s new marketing campaign quickly turned into something more complex than Finley and company imagined: a complete rebrand. Spaulding was considering changing its name. 


BrandExtract’s goal of rebranding a company with a four-decade history was no small task. For most companies, BrandExtract uses a three- to seven-month rebranding process, Fisher says. This process is four steps: a qualitative phase where the client’s employees and families are interviewed, a quantitative phase where a list of new brand names are chosen, a qualitative testing phase of alternative brand concepts and a finalization of the rebranding process.

“With any brand project, you want to get a holistic view from the top-down,” Fisher says. “You want to have an internal view, an external view and a comparative analysis. Think of it as a three-legged stool: If you leave off a leg—part of your research and homework—then you’re going to have a bit of a wobbly stool.”

BrandExtract wanted to ensure Spaulding had the right name, the right image and made the right promises to potential families. “When you go through the assessment stages, it’s very eye-opening,” Fisher says. “It’s very revealing for [the employees] in ways that they never expected.”

In the testing phase, a BrandExtract survey found that 88% of people surveyed were unfamiliar with the Spaulding for Children brand name​. Another 6% were neither familiar nor unfamiliar. In another question, 50% of people responded that Spaulding’s brand name evoked “supportive” and a mere 28% said the name evoked “personal touch.” Other names, created from whole cloth for the purpose of the survey, earned scores in the 80th percentile on both attributes. 


Finley says she was “not shocked at all” at this lack of awareness. Spaulding had very few marketing initiatives over the years, save for word of mouth, and it did not have a descriptive brand name. Spaulding didn’t let potential clients know the organization’s purpose—did it donate basketballs to children, perhaps? 

After the stool was constructed and the legwork balanced, a change was made: Spaulding for Children became Arms Wide Adoption Services.  


Arms Wide Adoption Services, one of the names created from whole cloth, already rang more familiar than Spaulding for Children, per BrandExtract’s survey—10% were “very familiar” with Arms Wide Adoption Services versus 6% who said the same for Spaulding for Children. The word “adoption” in the brand name should allow the organization’s purpose to be instantly recognizable. 

Additionally, the new brand name had better attributes than Spaulding for Children, per BrandExtract’s survey: 

  • 88% say the new brand name rings as “supportive” (50% for the old brand name).

  • 85% say the new brand name evokes “personal touch” (28% for the old brand name).

  • 86% say the new brand name is “credible” (30% for the old brand name). 

While Arms Wide Adoption Services is still trying to fit into its new identity—Finley says she still often answers the phone with “Spaulding” on the tip of her tongue—the early online results have been reassuring. Prior to the rebrand, Google Analytics for the organization’s website in April showed 338 unique sessions lasting about 90 seconds each. After the rebrand, the unique sessions on Arms Wide Adoption Services’ website in June nearly tripled to 985 at 150 seconds each. 

“For us, that is probably the most immediate indicator that we are attracting more attention to our name,” Finley says. “We definitely feel like our name positions us to grow because it makes it so much easier for people to find us on the internet and understand what we do.”


 We Are Arms Wide.


The main question remains: Will the rebrand help the organization place more children in adoptive homes? Finley says it’s too early to tell. The adoption system is highly regulated and moves slowly. It takes time, she says, and they’ll need a bit longer than a few months to truly know the impact of the rebrand.

Although the adoption and fostering results may not be visible yet, Finley has confidence the name will bring the attention needed rather than transferring that attention to a sporting goods company. Arms Wide Adoption Services is still composed of the same people who had so much success as Spaulding for Children. Now, they have a new marketing plan and are wielding a more powerful brand name. 

Fisher says the ultimate goal is beyond repositioning in the market place, beyond renaming the brand and beyond recalibrating the marketing approach. The marketing minutia is all he can truly control as the rebrand manager, but he says his ultimate goal is to see more children placed in a new family, forever.

“That’s certainly the true measure of success,” Fisher says. “It’s not about winning awards or having a better website, it’s can I get more kids in permanent families and get more kids adopted. That’s the ultimate goal for us.”

By any other name, that is one sweet goal for Arms Wide Adoption Services.​

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Author Bio:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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