Service of a Name

July 9th, 2012

Categories: Marketing, Name, Newspapers

name-badge

If I bought Bloomingdale’s or Macys, would I change the name to B’s or M’s or at all?

I have trouble remembering the name of NYC bridges when the city fathers and mothers name them after somebody instead of leaving them as I’ve known them–Triboro now Robert F. Kennedy; 59th Street now Ed Koch. The same with buildings: I still think “Pan Am” when others mention MetLife.

wall-street-journal-logo1So I stopped to write this post when I learned that Rupert Mudoch is considering changing the name of The Wall Street Journal to WSJ. Is he that enamoured of Tweets?

I know about shortening names. Much of my American family called me JM and then many on the French side did and in first grade, I chose Jeannie instead of Jeanne-Marie because I hated being called “Gee-Anne Mary.” The mouthful, pronounced correctly or not, was so much longer than anyone else’s name. But I wasn’t a brand with an internationally recognizable logo.

pollingIn The New York Times’ “Behind the Scenes, Behind the Lines” column, Christine Haughney wrote “Murdoch Isn’t the First to Consider Renaming The Wall Street Journal.” The history, according to Haughney: “In 1946, a Princeton, N.J., polling firm concluded that that name was a handicap to the newspaper’s growth, and no part of the name was spared. As recounted by Richard F. Tofel in ‘Restless Genius: Barney Kilgore, The Wall Street Journal, and the Invention of Modern Journalism,’ ‘Both ‘Wall Street’ (with its narrowly financial and Eastern connotations) and ‘Journal’ (evocative of magazines) were said to be problematic.'”

She continued: “This assessment came as Mr. Kilgore was in the midst of guiding The Journal to its stature as one of the nation’s leading newspapers. The names editors considered included World’s Work, The North American Journal and, um, Business Day, Mr. Tofel writes. (That last one has a familiar ring to it.) A former editorial page editor, William Grimes, suggested The National Journal. Kenneth Hogate, Mr. Kilgore’s boss at the time, wanted to call it Financial America.”

When Kilgore became editor and took control–Hogate, who liked the name change idea, had died– he dropped the subject which he didn’t think a good one, Tofel told Haughney.

What do you think of a name change for The Wall Street Journal? What do you think of name changes in general?

name-change

12 Responses to “Service of a Name”

  1. matt mecs Said:

    Name changes are sometimes ridiculous but catch on in time – Kentucky Fried Chicken going to KFC is an easy one, even if they got worried about “fried” being in the caption. JC Penney’s going to JCP doesn’t seem natural just yet (perhaps the homonym “penney’s” sounds cheap?) but I am sure will catch on in time.

    WSJ isn’t going to be the paper for populist readers no matter what, and I know purists hate Murdoch already, so probably not a big deal overall?

  2. Donna Boyle Schwartz Said:

    Messing around with a brand name is fraught with peril and I would suggest that it rarely works out well. I vigorously protested Fairchild’s decision to change the name of HFD to HFN and I still believe this was a huge mistake: it confused the readers and advertisers alike and the magazine has never really recovered.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Matt,

    The KFC logo with the Colonel’s face is recognizable so were I looking for the place I’d find it.

    When the JCP commercial pops up on TV I think, “What’s that?” Without a recognizable logo, such a change is problematic.

    I don’t hate the man although I may not agree with his politics. In fact, I love The Wall Street Journal and admit he hasn’t ruined it and may even have improved it. Changing the name to what he or his marketing staff think is an edgy move won’t get me to like it more or less, continue to buy it or cancel my subscription and I doubt it will get a single 18 to 25 year old to pick up the app or the paper. If the purpose was simply to generate buzz, kudos! Otherwise, blech.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Donna,

    Can’t argue with an experience such as yours.

    I’ve written about acronyms and wonder whether the magazine shouldn’t have revived the Home Furnishings part when it changed the “Daily” to “News.” People can’t imagine that others will join their industry. They think that anybody who is worth their while knows who they are. Ha!

  5. Stephen Peabody Said:

    Interesting. I once was was part of a committee charged with changing the name of the organization for which we all worked. Changing the name made sense. The mission of the company had changed. Amazingly in big business, how we went about making the change also did.

    Our committee was small, collegial and in unanimous agreement that we needed to make the change. We were also lucky. Serendipitously, our ad agency had a senior officer who had been through name changing many times. We met with him, liked what he had to say and how he said it, and in one afternoon with his help, came up with a new name and logo. At 6:00 pm, we called the chairman, told him we had a new name to recommend and could we make an appointment to see him. Within minutes he was in our conference room with us. He listened, asked questions and by 7:00 pm, we had a new name. Changing names did cost something – a fresh coat of paint, new signage and stationary –, but it soon rapidly and positively changed our image.

    Sadly, this is an atypical story. Usually, renaming things requires long drawn out negotiation, and is often unnecessary and counterproductive.

    The saddest case of this of all – at least from scuttlebutt I heard at the time – was the merger of the two banking giants, JP Morgan and Chase Manhattan some years ago. Apparently, the chairman of Morgan was so concerned with preserving the “JP Morgan” name that he swapped control of the merged bank to the chairman of Chase for his agreement that the merged entity be called JP Morgan. Morgan, which had prided itself for “only doing first class business with first class customers,” ceased to be. The merged bank’s track record since then speaks for itself.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Stephen,

    I would love to know the name of the company where everyone saw eye to eye, nobody disagreed that the name should be changed and it was done seamlessly in record time!…I trust it wasn’t because you all wanted to resurrect and dust off a company like Enron or Madoff! [Joke.]

    At least, when two companies merge, there’s a reason for a name change. Putting together Morgan and Chase was a little like trying to partner Neiman Marcus and TJ Maxx. Both companies have fans, but something’s gotta give if they decide to sell goods under one roof–Neiman Maxx or TJ Marcus. I don’t think a name, alone, could salvage either such mismatched entities.

  7. DManzaluni Said:

    He must think that the name REALLY stinks after the scandals that he has to change such a recognisable and respected paper’s whole name! I remember laughing when they thought it necessary to change Investors Daily to Investors Business Daily and then IBD ‘cos they thought it still had too much name recognition. Same with Chase Manhattan which was such a recognised entity (though I often wondered what banking had to do with a water company).

    There is always a good reason when a board of directors decides to throw away cumulative tens of millions of dollars in good will, PR and advertising over a numerous-decade period just to change a name from something people recognise to something people don’t.

    If he wants anonymous, why doesn’t he change News Corporation to something even more anonymous? He could go with N Corp?

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    I think the old expression, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” might apply here.

    “The Wall Street Journal” today is a powerful brand name with, for better or worse, instant global recognition. Although it may have seemed unwieldy years ago, it has long since become part of popular culture worldwide, whether beloved or not.

    As a Bostonian, I feel certain that changing Jordan Marsh to Macy’s meant the loss of loyal customers and continues to feel uncomfortable.

    Mr. Murdoch cannot remake his public image, whether positive or negative, by changing the newspaper’s name. And above all in an era when newspapers are struggling to survive and brands are struggling to retain a hold on pop culture, it seems disastrous to contemplate any change.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    DManzaluni,

    I’m still giggling at your clever suggestion of N Corp!

    As he wanted to squash The NY Times, perhaps his move to WSJ is the bridge name to a new one which better identifies the paper with the broader reach it has for those who haven’t noticed the Greater New York daily and Review and Off Duty weekend sections.

    Might he have fallen for results of focus groups of elusive potential readers who never plan to look at the paper and who tell him that the words “Wall Street” offend them between shenanigans and excessive bonuses and salaries?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I’m with you–leave it alone. However, I think, as I wrote DManzaluni, that the words Wall Street are what his marketers are warning him about. So he should use his clout to help clean up the place so that the words–and the businesses on the street–are again worthy of pride. Doing so might in turn help burnish his personal image.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    It may or may not work. That’s how fads and flops are created, and there’s no telling what catches on or what doesn’t. Not being the most popular person around, Murdoch might do best lurking in the shadows. Probably not his style.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Maybe he felt he wasn’t sufficiently in the spotlight of late and used the name change discussion to turn it back on him.

    Without knowing why he even opened the topic of name change we can’t guess whether he’s riding the fad for brevity or heading for a flop. Coke changed back its recipe when the public roared–that’s another possibility here, though it sure costs a lot to change logos and stationery and listings and templates to accommodate a new name.

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