New brand name won’t solve Facebook’s problems

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TWO decades ago, tobacco giant Philip Morris announced plans to change its name to Altria Group. It comes from the Latin word altus, which means “high,” and according to company executives, it was meant to suggest high performance.

When people say ‘Philip Morris’ people don’t know what company you are talking about, ”Steven Parrish, senior vice president of corporate affairs for the company at the time, told The New York Times.

“We are obviously more than a tobacco company, but there are a lot of people who don’t get it. These include the nearly three million American women who died prematurely between 1980 and 2000 from smoking-related illnesses. No one was fooled by the news of his proposed name change.

“They are shunning tobacco,” said David Kessler, dean of Yale University medical school and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Matthew Myers, then president of the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: “Instead of changing his business practices, Philip Morris chose a public relations campaign to distract from what he is doing.

Philip Morris, which manufactured and marketed cigarette brands such as Marlboro, Parliament, and Virginia Slims, was also perhaps the world’s largest packaged goods company, but to consumers Philip Morris meant tobacco. And tobacco increasingly meant death.

Does all of this sound familiar to you?

On Tuesday evening, The Verge reported that Facebook is planning to rename the company with a new name, to signal its ambition to be known for more than just social media, likely positioning the blue Facebook app as one of many products under one. parent company alongside Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, etc.

Rumors say the change will come by the end of the month, and potentially as early as October 25, when Facebook releases its third quarter results.

For a business bristling with references to its cigarette-like services, picking up a page from the Big Tobacco playbook is staggering.

Facebook saw a wave of bad news about the negative effects of its social media platforms – and what the company knew about it and what it did and did not do in response – dating back to the middle of last month, when The Wall Street Journal began publishing what it dubbed The Facebook Files, documents leaked from a whistleblower.

You could say that Facebook lives under a cloud of negative news and tarnishes the brand since November 2016 and the results of the US presidential election.

A few years ago, when regulators started making noise about Facebook’s dismantling, the company initially took a defiant stance, adding the Facebook brand to all of its products, as if to suggest they don’t. could not be separated. He used “custom typography and capitals to create a visual distinction between the business and the app.”

Freely translated, this means that it appeared in all caps and slapped the name Facebook under all of its apps in their corresponding colors. The only thing missing was a voiceover that would sing “By Facebook!” Every time you open Instagram.

Then-Marketing Director Antonio Lucio said adding the parent brand to all of the company’s products was “a way to better communicate our ownership structure to the people and businesses that use our services to. connect, share, create a community and develop their audience ”.

Back then, people thought Facebook would decrease the value of Instagram and WhatsApp, given that most of their user bases didn’t know Facebook owned them.

Now he’s taken the opposite approach, focusing on Facebook and putting an entirely new name to the fore on all of his properties. What changed? A rebranding is a lot, but it can’t fix the body image issues of one in three teenage girls on Instagram or prevent teens from blaming the platform for heightened anxiety and depression. .

It also won’t erase whistleblower Frances Haugen’s appearance in 60 Minutes and before a congressional committee, testifying that Facebook always chooses what’s best for its bottom line over public health and safety. What Facebook needs, at a minimum, is real, difficult and fundamental change. But that’s difficult compared to a transparent and superficial PR movement.

Prashant Malaviya, professor of marketing at the McDonough School of Business in Georgetown, says that while Facebook’s move is an attempt to move away from all the negative perceptions, images and vitriol the company has attracted over the past few years. months is shortsighted. and misguided.

“Unless this rebranding exercise comes with a real internal change in culture, values ​​and vision, it will not be a successful PR exercise,” says Malaviya.

“And it will be even more difficult to overcome brand negativity if the Facebook brand still exists in any form. If people are still using an app called Facebook, then the brand hasn’t gone away and all the negativity it created will continue to swirl around.

The challenge of being a global platform with billions of users is that you’ve reached a point of cultural saturation that no amount of rebranding can redirect. It would be as if Philip Morris were also trying to rename Marlboro to Altria.

“A strong brand image can only be developed on a solid platform and foundation,” says Malaviya. “And if the foundation of the business now known as Facebook is what we see – a weak and mistaken culture, a reported lack of morality and ethics – if that is the foundation, however you name it, it will eventually collapse. “

In other words, Philip Morris at least had food items that didn’t kill customers. Facebook’s products – from Instagram to WhatsApp to groups – have been shown to spread disinformation or create some form of societal harm.

Name changes are not uncommon in Big Tech, as Google’s Alphabet and Snapchat’s Snap Inc can attest. Yet most people still refer to these companies as… you guessed it… Google and Snapchat. Facebook can work, but it can’t hide. New name, same problems.

This article first appeared on FastCompany.


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