A company’s brand has always been of critical importance to establishing its identity and determining its influence and audience, and mining companies are no exception. Yet in an era of constant and immediate social media coverage, and where miners are under intense scrutiny to ensure their operations are socially and environmentally responsible, the quality of a miner’s brand can make or break its operations.
The ideal example of this renewed importance is perhaps Bravus, the recently-rebranded Australian arm of mining giant Adani. The company is involved in the construction of the Carmichael coal mine, a vast project in the Australian state of Queensland that has received significant opposition from environmental groups, who have objected to the establishment of a new large-scale coal mine in the state.
There has also been uncertainty regarding the size of the facility, with Bravus claiming that it has scaled down the mine from a massive 60 million tonne per annum (Mtpa) operation to a 10Mtpa project. However, new documents have revealed that the miner may still be working towards its original production targets.
With a business worth around $13bn, and backed by India’s second-richest man, Bravus’ rebranding project is not merely a superficial change to the miner’s colours. Instead, it is an attempt to shore up the public image of a controversial company whose influence is measured in billions of dollars. Yet with activists and critics more informed about the miner’s activities than ever, it remains to be seen if the new brand can help sway public opinion.
The good, the bad, and the rebranded
“The ‘Bravus’ rebranding is an interesting case,” says Savio D’Souza, valuation director at branding consultant Brand Finance. “There rightly is confusion about the brand name; as a third party without an understanding of how the name was arrived at, it appears to have been done without proper consultation with its key stakeholders and the general informed public.”
The confusion that D’Souza points to is well-documented, with a Guardian report highlighting that the word “bravus” does not translate to “brave” in Latin, as Adani thought, but has a closer meaning to “crooked”, “deformed”, or “mercenary”. Experts reported that the most generous interpretation of the new name could mean something akin to “bold”, but even that is a lexical stretch. While these meanings are not necessarily damning in their own right, they certainly conjure images that run counter to the ideas of stability and courage that Bravus aims to embody, and points to a broader sense of confusion in the re-branding process, that D’Souza says could have undermined the entire exercise.
This muddled approach stands in contrast to what D’Souza described as a successful mining brand, BHP, which Brand Finance ranked as the most valuable brand in the mining sector. With a brand value of $5.8bn, and a second-placed ranking in the company’s brand score index behind only Rio Tinto, BHP has cultivated a consistent and coherent brand identity that has formed a platform from where other publicity events can be launched.
“One of the latest is a move in the sponsorship space, which is a crucial brand-building exercise,” says D’Souza. “In 2020, BHP entered into a 3-year partnership with the AFL to assist in the development of women’s football, coaching and umpiring, which was one the biggest deals in Australian women’s sport. One of the aims of this partnership is to promote gender equality in the Australian community.
“This is a good example of coherent messaging and communication and walking the talk.”
One of the key motivations behind a corporate rebrand is “cleansing reputation”, as D’Souza puts it, an idea that is particularly significant in the mining industry. To use Bravus as an example again, the company’s Carmichael coal mine has come under fire for its potentially massive environmental impacts.
A report from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility found that the mine’s annual emissions of 79 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent would be greater than the total emissions of some whole countries, such as Sri Lanka and Austria. In addition, it would generate 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, more than 0.5% of the world’s remaining carbon budget if it is to hit the 2050 Paris climate targets.
Of course, the mine is not without its benefits, including an investment of more than $21bn into local mining infrastructure and the creation of 10,000 jobs at the facility. However, these economic arguments have done little to address the environmental and social concerns about the project’s harmful impacts.
D’Souza notes that the emphasis to rebrand can come from both internal and external sources, and public opinion against the Carmichael mine is one of the most powerful external pressures in modern mining. A 2017 poll conducted by the Stop Adani Alliance found that 55.6% of the 2,200 people polled opposed the construction of the mine, and protests against the project were held in 40 locations across the country in October of that year.
In the case of Carmichael, it seems that monetary potential has not offset a destructive reputation, prompting a rebrand from Adani.
“Mining is a sector that has an inherently high reputational risk given the potential adverse impacts on the environment, local communities, and economy,” says D’Souza, drawing attention to the uniquely intense public pressure faced by the mining industry. “Brand Finance’s research indicates that mining is one of the least reputable sectors globally.
“Despite that, large multinational mining companies, unsurprisingly, have better reputations compared to regional or local players, given the need to maintain their license to operate in different areas of the world but partially also thanks to their brands and the impact they have on public opinion.”
Challenges big and small
As is the case with many large-scale industrial projects, corporate rebranding efforts involve a number of challenges. D’Souza notes that many such projects include the need to balance cost, time, and quality, a decision familiar to many in the mining industry, but not one that is necessarily made any easier.
“Generally, the execution of a rebrand is a big exercise involving three key parts: cost, time, and quality,” D’Souza said. “It’s a trade-off. You may be forced to cut corners with suppliers and compromise on quality specifications and this may undermine the premium image of your new brand.
“You may need to allow for a longer transition to utilise existing budgets; in this case, what will your customers experience during this extended brand change? You may choose to rebrand quickly and to a high-quality level: the impact for customers will be great but inevitably costs will be high.”
D’Souza goes on to highlight a number of considerations that could aid in delivering a successful corporate rebrand, including the importance of long-term planning; ensuring a name is both memorable and available for ownership; and balance the cost, time, and quality concerns of the transition.
Yet Bravus has its own challenges to overcome, most of them tied up with the fact that, as the Australian arm of a much larger company with its own chequered reputation, there is a limit on how effective a rebrand of that singular arm can be.
“It has been argued that the rebrand was done to protect the parent company brand, Adani, from being tarnished with the Australian subsidiaries’ operations,” explains D’Souza, highlighting how the intertwined brands of Adani and Bravus could ultimately disadvantage the latter group.
“The Adani brand suffers from a poor reputation domestically and internationally. It is quite likely that the rebranded ‘Bravus’ will struggle to shake off the negative sentiment and reputation around the company, given it is still a subsidiary of Adani Group.”
Bravus’ challenges, therefore, are a mixture of unique obstacles and broader issues that affect all miners of this size engaging in a rebranding project. With public opinion already quite heavily aligned against the miner and its parent company, it remains to be seen if the new name and image will even be able to de-escalate the controversy surrounding its flagship project.