Top M&A Codenames

In the high-stakes world of M&A, discretion is the one of the most important elements, as all parties involved are under an ethical and contractual obligation to keep details private until the time is right to announce the deal. During this period, acquisitions are often given cryptic codenames to avoid drawing unnecessary attention.

Here is a selection of some codenames given to significant M&A deals and the meaning being them.

You’ve Got Mail

The codename for Verizon Communication’s £2.8 billion takeover of AOL “Project Hanks” cleverly referenced the hit 1988 film “You’ve Got Mail” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in which the characters’ online romance escalates to the sound of AOL’s unique email notifications. It was not a coincidence that 1998 was one of AOL’s most successful years, with its stock price rising almost 600%. Using contemporary cultural references can be a smart way to disguise a deal.

Project Helix

When Kraft Food Inc. set its sights on British chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury, the M&A team looked to ancient Greece as its muse for the project name. Kraft became ‘Krypton’ (from the Greek for ‘secret’) and Cadbury was ‘Chromium’ (the ancient Greek for ‘colour’). The deal, nicknamed Project Helix, takes its name from the scientific term for a convoluted spiral shape.

Project Oboe

Musical instruments can also be the inspiration for M&A codenames, with Project Oboe the nom de plume for Aviva’s £5.6 billion takeover of Friends Life.  The two companies were called Accordion and Flute respectively, giving credence to research that shows 20% of all codenames take their names from the initials of the companies involved.


Astronomical names have also proven popular. When Emerson Electric Co. acquired Chloride, the British power firm, the £1.5 billion deal-makers chose the name ‘Galaxy’, with the participants being referred to as ‘Earth’ and ‘Mercury’.


What could be a better disguise than the name of a superhero? When Reynolds American Inc. acquired Lorillard Inc. in a $25 billion deal, the participants were named after our favourite crime fighters and their foes. The four parties involved included: Reynolds with the name Robin, Lorillard was Lantern, British American Tobacco was Batman and Imperial Tobacco was Ironman.

The UK’s top ten M&A deal codenames are:

10) Atlantic
9) Amber
8) Neptune
7) Saturn
6) Phoenix
5) Mercury
4) Emerald
3) Eagle
2) Alpha
1) Blue

These days, to avoid the possibility of human error when naming projects, M&A deal codenames are increasingly generated by random computer programmes, so we may be witnessing the end of an unexpectedly creative streak in deal nomenclature.

If you would like professional and discrete advice about a merger or acquisitions you’re considering, whatever it may be called, talk to Benchmark International. With representation throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, Benchmark International can connect you with the right opportunity. To find out more, visit

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