Thursday, September 9, 2010

Simple as ABC? Not to me

What's in a name? That's what Will Shakespeare wanted to know, but what did he know about marketing? It's all about the name, the logo and the "brand," meaning the indelible mark the marketing wizards mean to leave in our brains.

Somewhere or other, the wizards and I got out of sync. The new titans of Madison Avenue eschew the jingle, which burrows so deeply into my cranium that I can sing snippets about products that I would be hard pressed to find nowadays. Remember "Sing it over and over and over again, Frosty Morn!"? No, they choose slicker, jazzier visuals and music and sometimes even copy that flow over and around me, making no impression.

But by far their most nefarious schemes involve changing the names of well-known businesses and, worse, not-so-well-known concerns. I've given up trying to know the names of our local banks in the aftermath of a tsunami of mergers and acquisitions. And now more and more companies are just known by letters. The reduction of venerable firms to letters of the alphabet has been going on a long time, but the pace seems to be increasing.

Not too long ago, I noticed that NPR has changed its name to NPR, that is, those letters no longer stand for National Public Radio or anything else. What was the point of this exercise? Sure, everybody knows it as NPR, but there was something underlying those letters. The CEO (that still stands for chief executive officer, right?) says "NPR is more modern, streamlined."

I can't argue with that, but for streamlined, go to your local Y. Having long ago jettisoned the old-fashioned "Young Men's Christian Association" moniker, the YMCA has shed even more weight on its logo and is now just the Y. Will NPR become just N somewhere down the road?

The real problem for me comes when presented with an alphabet company that doesn't have an anchor of words in my brain. I recently saw a television commercial for a company called BDO that had something to do with business. Curiosity took me to Google, through which I found that BDO is an accounting firm that began in New York in 1910 as Seidman and Seidman. Having gone international in the 1960s, the company became Binder Seidman International Group, known, naturally, as BSIG. More mergers brought in Messrs. Dijker and Otte, at which time the firm was christened BDO (the founding Seidmans having been pushed down the memory hole).

I can understand the progression of names, I just can't hold on to "BDO." I wondered why I had the idea that it was connected to advertising when I realized it brought to mind DDB, the iconic New York ad agency formally known as Doyle Dane Bernbach. This was an agency of real marketing wizards. In the "Mad Men" days of the 1960s, DDB came up with the Volkswagen commercials that made the original Bug an unexpected success in the days of big, flashy cars. To relive a classic, check out Genius. I can only hope that, though universally called DDB, it still has both the spark and the real name. Becoming just another group of letters would be a real lemon of an idea.

*To read the copy on the VW "Lemon" ad pictured here, go to

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