Last year, when AIG lost $99 billion, its property-casualty division, AIU, turned a modest $2 billion profit. This year, AIG is repackaging AIU and a few other entities into an independent operation that it will most likely sell in order to repay the staggering amount of money it owes the American government and its taxpayers. The new spin-off, introduced last month as Chartis, appears to have been engineered as a straightforward, unremarkable brand that has absolutely nothing to do with AIG.
Legally speaking, this is what happened,
“AIU Holdings… announced the accomplishment of three major milestones toward becoming an independently operated company — the formation… of AIU Holdings… the appointment of Kristian P. Moor as its President and Chief Executive Officer… and the creation of a new brand, Chartis.”
The very recently risk-averse AIG is playing it safe with this one. Chartis, the name, is as inconspicuous as they come. It feels like one of those words that has been bouncing around the naming industry for some time now. It is descriptive without being specific. It is easy to pronounce and even easier to spell. As far as names go it is completely unobjectionable. So much so, that there are at least two other large, service-oriented companies that use the Chartis name and that’s probably ok. Sometimes a brand just wants to blend in. One could imagine the project brief went something like the scene from Oceans 11 where Matt Damon is coached on how to not stand out:
Don’t use seven words when four will do. Don’t shift your weight, look always at your mark but don’t stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don’t make him laugh. He’s got to like you then forget you the moment you’ve left his side.
In other words, Chartis will be successful if it goes unnoticed—if it feels familiar, inevitable, like something that has been there all along. One point of view is from those who believe that Lippincott is responsible for ushering AIU through the witness protection program. When asked about their process, they simply said they could not comment on this project (apparently Chartis isn’t the only one who doesn’t want to be seen with AIG these days). Like so much of Lippincott’s recent work, the new Chartis identity is conservative, consistent and well-crafted. Delta, specifically, comes to mind.
The Chartis identity strikes an interesting balance between old and new. There are several things that make this otherwise traditional identity modern. The wordmark is set in a sleek sans serif (it appears to be based on Kievit, the typeface found throughout the system). The stodgy compass rose has been revitalized through its tilted orientation (a few degrees shy of magnetic north) and exponent-style lockup. Arguably, a name like Chartis makes nautical references unnecessary but I understand why they gravitated towards the c-like pictogram. The particularness of the angle suggests a strong point of view. The use of blue is calming and credible, but dangerously close to AIG. It’s conceivable they retained the blue for continuity but it seems like an unnecessary risk. The photo style is simple but verges on the bland.
The materials I have seen are sharp and consistent. The prominent angle is thoughtfully integrated into the system. Dashed lines and type hug the steep 67-degree grade. The T in Chartis has been clipped (à la United) to match. We’ve seen it all before, but in this case it has been done well. The net result is a contemporary brand with a perceived sense of history and familiarity. As one reviewer put it, the new Chartis brand "allows AIG to hide in plain sight."