What’s old is new again as McAfee is once again operating as an independent company, and the latest twist in this 30-year branding story brings a strange mix of being affiliated with its controversial namesake as well as market recognition as a security leader.

On Tuesday, McAfee Corp. announced it’s now operating as an independent cybersecurity firm, with a valuation that ranks it among the most valuable brands in the field. The announcement follows up on a September 2016 deal between Intel Corp. and TPG to spin out Intel Security as a jointly-owned and independent company in which TPG would own 51 per cent and Intel would own 49 per cent.

The decision to go back to the McAfee name wasn’t made lightly, according to Steve Grogman, chief technology officer at the new organization.

“There was nothing that forced us to use the McAfee brand,” he says. “But when we analyzed it we found the McAfee brand has immense value in the cyber security space both as a consumer and a business cyber security brand.”

In going back to the McAfee brand, the company is basically undoing what Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced during a CES keynote in 2014. There, he said McAfee would be rebranded as Intel Security. Intel acquired McAfee in 2010 for $7.7 billion and closed the acquisition in February 2011. At the time of Krzanich’s announcement, many thought the move was designed to distance Intel from John McAfee, the original founder of the firm.

Just six months prior to the announcement, McAfee made a colourful Youtube video How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus. He was also named as a person of interest by Belize police after the murder of one of his neighbours in 2012. McAfee now resides in the U.S. and helms investment firm MGT Capital Investments Inc., which is building a portfolio of cybersecurity technologies.

John and MGT filed a lawsuit seeking to use the McAfee name as its new corporate title, but Intel objected because of its growing activities in the cyber security field.

The positives for Intel and TPG’s joint venture is in returning to a corporate brand name that holds a lot of equity in the cybersecurity field, says Axle Davids, CEO of Distility, a corporate branding service based in Toronto.

“It isn’t the return of the McAfee brand, as much as the Intel brand leaving the stage,” he says. “Before: Simon & Garfunkle. After: Paul Simon.”

Even after Krzanich’s announcement, Intel Security still used the McAfee brand on many of its products. That’s a good way to manage a big brand transition, says Cheryl Sylvester, coach and consultant at Beyond Success Leadership. It’d be normal to see Intel use the old brand on products already introduced, and then slowly push out their new brand as new products were released.

“Part of the brand process is to understand the current positioning in the customer base, matched with your ambitions for that brand,” she says. “It’s not just a logo you slap on things, it actually needs to be reflected throughout the entire experience with the brand and product.”

It’s likely that Intel’s rebranding activities were postponed once the company started considering a spinoff. But while returning to the tried and true brand of McAfee does carry with it the risk of being associated with a controversial figure in John McAfee, including a legal one given the lawsuits filed late last year.

“In a situation like this, a negative association with a personae that is still operating and wants to use their family name as a trademark, that can create all sorts of entanglement in the future and trademark conflict,” Davids says. “It’s very difficult to trademark a family name, which is why it’s so unpopular to adopt one.”

Intel stated in court filings it had no problem with John using his name for businesses not related to security. But it draws the line in the context of a new security company.

“I’d want to know from my marketplace what association they have with that brand before I launch it,” Sylvester says.

Grogman says McAfee has done just that.

“Based on our testing and analysis we are firmly committed and highly confident that the McAfee brand will serve us well and will be better than creating a new brand from scratch,” he says.

Intel and TPG aren’t alone in feeling the McAfee name is worth something in the security market. Late last year Toronto-based Equibit Development Corp. announced that John McAfee had accepted a position as its chief security officer. He later denied that, and the firm clarified he was in an advisory role.

McAfee brand timeline

1987

John McAfee establishes McAfee Associates.

1994

John McAfee resigns from the company and sells his stake.

Aug. 1996

McAfee acquires Calgary’s FSA Corp., which helps them expand security offerings beyond just anti-virus.

1997

McAfee enters a four-way merger agreement with Network General, PGP Corp. and Helix Software. Thus, the company changes its name to Network Associates.

1998

As Network Associates, McAfee acquires Trusted Information Systems for its firewall technology.

June 2004

McAfee goes back to its original name after it sells its Sniffer Technologies business to a venture capital firm interestingly called Network General.

April 2010

Millions of computers around the world with Windows XP Service Pack 3 got infected by a virus after it was updated by McAfee.

Aug. 2010

Intel acquires McAfee for a whopping $7.7 billion.

February 2011

Intel makes McAfee a wholly-owned subsidiary of the chip making giant.

November 2012

Police in Belize name John McAfee a “person of interest” in connection to the murder of an American expatriate. McAfee later flees Belize to Guatemala seeking political asylum. He is later deported back to the U.S.

September 2015

John McAfee decides to run for President of the United States. Creates his own party called the Cyber Party. He later decides to run for the Presidency with the Libertarian Party.

September 2016

Intel and TPG agree to form a joint venture and turn Intel Security into an independently run vendor.

April 2017

McAfee is officially an independent security vendor.

– With notes from Howard Solomon and Paolo Del Nibletto 

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