Saturday, February 14, 2009

What's in a name?

Rebranding sometimes can wash away or at least obscure the stains of the past. Most people don't realize that AirTran Airways is largely a rebranded version of ValuJet, the low-cost airline whose systemic safety issues eventually resulted in the deaths of 110 people following the in-flight fire and subsequent crash of Flight 592. Worldcom shed the baggage of accounting scandal by assuming the name of its subsidiary, MCI.

Now, we have the latest example of the attempt to rebrand to escape the past -- Blackwater Worldwide, the private security firm that was been kicked out on its ass by Iraq after employees murdered 17 civilians in Baghdad, recently announced that the tarnished and reviled Blackwater brand is no more. Now, the company's private security division...screw it, let's be honest here...the mercenary division will now be known as "Xe", pronounced "Zee". Wow, that's a catchy name. Were they going for ominous? Frankly, I would expect to see it as the name of a character in a cheesy sci-fi movie ("All hail, Lord Xe, conqueror of Grebulax 5!") or a cheap Asian hooker in a Hong Kong action flick starring an aging Jean-Claude van Damme. Of course, they manage to top that by going from cheesy to just plain generic as their overseas operation formerly known as "Blackwater Lodge & Training Center" is now "U.S. Training Center Inc." I can't wait to see their stationary -- off-white with a dark grey bar from a generic can of beans label circa 1983. Why not just skip right to a bizarre little logo that's utterly unpronounceable, like the "Artist Formerly Known as Prince Who is Now Known as Prince Again"?

Odd naming choices aside, it would be sad if this rebranding effort succeeded in obscuring the clearly blackened slate of an organization that often acts as though it is above the law and that its employees do not need to be held accountable for their actions.

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