Thursday
Jul082004

« Corporate Syllable Soup »

A lot has been on my mind lately about the mess we are in. There is a lot of corporation-bashing, and for good cause. A lot of corporations are up to no good, and their outward image is one of success, leadership in their field, integrity, etc. I don't believe it. I have cause to think that most of the brand name corporations have at least a few things they won't tell you about how they actually fit into the grand scheme. Michael Moore called Nike on it—he asked Phil Knight if he would consider setting up a factory in Flint if there were 500 willing workers, and Knight wouldn't, claiming Americans wouldn't want to make shoes, and basically supporting his existing factories in Indonesia, where 14 year old girls work for piss per hour. There are other instances of this. Moore's entire movie The Big One is about this sort of bullshit that companies play on their workers, or on Americans as a whole. Its pretty wretched stuff to see, but see it you must.

You can research that on the news outlets, but here is something not given too much airtime: corporate names and the idea that they actually speak volumes about the company.

There used to be a time when a company was named after the founder/proprieter/industry/product. That period of time, if I have my otherwise unresearched facts straight, was approximately all the way up till maybe the last 30 years or less. But today, you hardly ever see that sort of thing, except at the small business level. If Joe Smith started a business making mechanical widgets in the 20s when he was a young man, he might call it "J. Smith & Co. Widgets." If he continued on like this, and had a son or sons who made himself/themselves a valued part of the business, the company might become "J. Smith & Son(s), Widget Company." Suppose those sons got the business to the late 70s or so, then maybe the name would be whittled down to "Smith Widget." Give it a little more time, then the sons retire or are bought out by the advancing competitor, Jones, and the merger name would be Jones-Smith Widget Technology, and would be franchised. Eventually, a few more years later, that name would probably be inexplicably changed to something like "Hypertech" or "UltraHype" or some other equally absurd name that doesn't even lead you to any understanding of what is made or who makes it (and would be franchised out internationally). Of course, it doesn't matter, because it is something even the original proprieter is hanging his head in shame for, having sold out his name and integrity to a party that utterly changed what he was about.

syllable soup at the strip mall... arco, am/pm, the golden arch M, kfc, a&w.It is this sort of thing that I think speaks of the nature of corporate culture. If you went to Dan Robinson's Auto Repair, and you knew Dan, and your father had known him for 15-30 years before you, you could really trust the man, and he is personally signing his name to all the work that goes out of the shop. He himself, even if he is incorporated, is personally putting his ass on the line because his name is on the marquee, the letter head, the receipts, the invoices. If Dan Robinson screws up, it looks bad for Dan Robinson. Ergo, Dan Robinson tries his hardest not to screw up, or to make amends if he does. Such is the nature of true customer service. It breeds a bond between consumer and business. But now you can go to a place like Jiffy Lube or any of their clones, and you won't know anything but the first name of the guy doing the work, and he might only be a high school dropout. The corporate headquarters is out of town, or out of state, and if they put the wrong stuff in your car, you are hosed! You can appeal to them for reparations, but really are never going to talk to one person who's ass is on the line and will help you because of it.

Think back to the medieval or ancient days—it wasn't like this. Only recently did companies decide to hide behind jibberish names that do nothing to reflect what they do or who is responsible. Suppose Enron was "Kenneth Lay Energy Trading." Do you think Lay would go around fucking people like he did? Would he have sailed that ship into the rocks? Companies need not all be criminals to warrant my attention today; here are some names I think illustrate my point: Iomega, Altria, Intel, Verizon, Amaren, Cingular, Lexmark, KFC (they have taken out the Kentucky, the Fried, and the Chicken—now you just eat the KFC part of it, and the colonel is a cartoon character), Roxio, Luxeon, Intuit, The Wherehouse, Adobe, Nextel, SBC (not the initials for "Samuel Bellwether Cole"), Sempra, Target, Wacom, Verio ("Network Solutions" was too descriptive?), ET CETERA! Some are abbreviations or acronyms of older names, some are real words, but most don't say anything about the business, and some are just goofy syllable soup that is meant to sound modern or progressive or something. These are just the ones that come to mind as I sit here at my desk looking around me and doing free association. I wonder what I would find if I bothered to research.

So what are these companies doing? Some of these have some history, but gave it up so they could have a meaningless name to look "modern." Why is it unfashionable to hang your name on the marquee, or at least to have a sensible name so that people can associate you with your business or trade? There are some companies like the defunct Montgomery Wards kept the personal name thing going (though they bailed on the "Montgomery" shortly before they packed it in). At least Microsoft suggests software; or maybe they make small towels and cushions. Hewlett-Packard sounds like someone's names are worthy of use. "3M" is short for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing." Sears still has half its founder's names. AT&T is still in the running, except for the "telegraph" part of things. Not all is lost, but the trend is toward absurd names that don't really stand for anything, and at best, sort of make charicatures of their founders or their own past.

Hey, I am glad Wal-Mart is willing to tell me who their founder is. At least I know who to blame for ruining this country's retail world. I shall burn likenesses of Sam Walton & Sons in effigy.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.
Editor Permission Required
You must have editing permission for this entry in order to post comments.