BHP Billiton Rebranding Drops 'Billiton' in Return to Roots

MELBOURNE, Australia--Assailed by activist investors and with a deadly mining disaster still casting a shadow, mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP.AU) launched a rebranding that takes it back to its roots in Australia.

Ahead of an eventual change in its official name, the company will use a new logo starting Monday, saying simply "BHP" in block letters, dropping Billiton from its name. Its branding will also remove the three stylized blobs that have featured for years and replace the motto "Resourcing the Future" with "Think Big."

"It's a form of reset for us," said Geoff Healy, the Melbourne-based company's chief external affairs officer.

A 10 million Australian dollar (US$7.4 million) campaign rolls out in Australia starting this week, beginning with two 30-second commercials and a three-minute video for employees and social media that feature employees and highlight the company's history and the importance of the commodities it extracts.

The name change harks back to the original Broken Hill Propriety Co. formed almost 132 years ago around a silver, lead and tin mine in South Australia. The company was for decades known simply by its acronym, although only changed its name formally to BHP Ltd. a year before the 2001 merger with Billiton PLC when it combined names and adopted a dual London- and Sydney-listed structure.

In recent years, the company has consolidated its portfolio of assets and sought to simplify its structure around iron ore, oil and gas, copper, and coal. In 2015, it spun off nickel, aluminum and other assets--much of which came from the Billiton side of the company--into South32 Ltd. (S32.AU) The company said that exit wasn't the driver for the change, although it was part of the evolution of the company.

In recent weeks, BHP has faced calls from shareholders agitating for further restructuring to release billions of dollars in pent-up shareholder value. U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management Corp. (ELLA.XX) has met with other shareholders in London and Australia in the past few weeks to whip up support for its proposal for the company to spin off its U.S. petroleum division and collapse its dual-listed structure. In early May, Australian fund manager Tribeca Investment Partners issued its own call for BHP to exit its U.S. onshore oil-and-gas assets and for a renewal in the board and senior management.

Australia's treasurer, Scott Morrison, came out swinging for BHP after Elliott released its proposals publicly, warning that it was "unthinkable" that the Big Australian would be allowed to head offshore and that any attempt to move the primary listing to the U.K. would be blocked. BHP has rejected Elliott's plans as too costly.

BHP denied the advertising campaign was in any way a reaction to Elliott or a response to concerns about its image after a 2015 disaster that killed 19 and wiped out villages at its Samarco venture in Brazil with Vale SA. Work on the ad campaign had been under way for about 18 months, Mr. Healy said.

"Think Big" is the first significant campaign for the miner since "the Big Australian" ads over 30 years ago, which featured the voice of actor Bill Hunter, who starred in movies including "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "Muriel's Wedding."

Those ads, launched by the company as a reminder of its Australian heritage even as it was expanding around the world, still resonate with older Australians, Mr. Healy said.

The new campaign will focus on that heritage and what BHP does. The next stage will concentrate on issues such as the company's investments, jobs and relations with indigenous communities, and then BHP would look to roll out advertising internationally, Mr. Healy said.

For now, the company will carry both its new and existing logo. There are no immediate plans to pull down signs from buildings or change the jackets and other clothing of its workers, and an official change back to BHP Ltd. would happen only when it made sense, he added.

Mr. Healy thinks the change will send a good message to shareholders. "If we weren't doing this, I think our shareholders should be saying to us, 'Why aren't you doing this?'"

Write to Robb M. Stewart at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 14, 2017 10:15 ET (14:15 GMT)