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Vanguard Abandoning Ship, Developing ‘New Brand Image’

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Vanguard’s ship has sailed, literally. The HMS Vanguard, a 74-gun ship of the eighteenth century, which is the namesake of the fund giant and has served as its logo, is missing from the company’s printed documents, including its annual report, and from much of its website.

“In February, Vanguard partnered with a branding firm to help us modernize the firms’ brand imagery. As part of that work, we are in the process of retiring the HMS Vanguard ship image, which hadn’t changed since it was first introduced in 1981,” said a company spokeswoman. “Vanguard has been moving away from the image of the ship for several years now.”

Vanguard’s founder, John Bogle, named the company after the warship commanded by the British Navy’s Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson who defeated the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Bogle, who established the company in 1975, said he “wanted to send a message … that our Vanguard would be, as the dictionary says, ‘the leader in a new trend.’” 

The Vanguard spokeswoman said the ship logo is displayed most often online today — though this writer couldn’t find it on the website — but the detail of the ship’s drawing does not display well in digital format.

Why sink the ship?” asks Dan Wiener, editor of The Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors. One theory holds that the whole ‘boat-thing’ was a vestige of the old Jack Bogle days and that the current Vanguard leadership is looking to separate itself from the founder now that he has passed away. Another theory is that Vanguard is — in the days of the Black Lives Matter movement — trying to distance itself from the ship and one of its namesakes’ unsavory histories.”

There were 10 British naval ships named Vanguard, including the fifth one which was Admiral Nelson’s, according to the Royal Navy website. Another served as a slave ship.

The Vanguard spokeswoman stressed that Admiral Nelson’s HMS Vanguard “was not involved in the slave trade” and is a different vessel than the slave ship with the same name. After the Battle of the Nile, Nelson’s ship served as a prison ship and warehouse for gunpowder before it was broken up in 1821. 

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