- Facebook changes its name to Meta
- Changing names is a common tactic in the corporate world
- In 2007, Apple Inc. dropped Computer from its name to reflect its moves into home devices and phones
On Thursday, Facebook Inc. said it would change its name to Meta, in an effort to rebrand along with reflecting its expansion into the metaverse, a concept rooted in science-fiction novels that refers to an extensive online world.
Facebook, which has already built its original namesake product with platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp, views the concept as a major component of its future.
The company plans to invest a whopping $ 50 million into building the virtual space in the coming years.
The US-based tech giant has been the subject of scrutiny which includes including its pursuit of younger users and how it responds to the misuse of products, in the recent times.
The attention follows The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files series, based in large part on the documents which were gathered by former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen, who testified in Congress earlier this month.
Patti Williams, professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in the Marketing Department said, “You tend to see brands change their names when there’s a merger, when there is some significant new strategic direction, or when the current name isn’t working”.
Dr Williams also said, “Facebook has a brand name that isn’t working,” and added, “Both at the product level and at the umbrella-brand, parent-brand level, there’s a lot of negative feeling about that at the moment.
“And they clearly want to launch this new strategic direction to say they’re more than just Facebook.”
A change in name can be a signal to the market, competitors as well as the advertisers of the broader shift in a company’s focus and portfolio, even when company’s namesake product keeps the same title.
Accordingly, Facebook’s rebranding may be most analogous to Google’s move to create parent company called Alphabet Inc. which was formed in 2015, said Jay Jurisich, the Chief Executive and Co-Creative Director of naming agency Zinzin.
Google became a subsidiary of the new parent, which also encompasses its “moonshot” initiatives.
Jurisich said, “They realized that strategically, it made business sense to separate all the businesses they had gotten into…from their core brand that everybody knew, which was Google”.
The tactic of changing names is not unusual in the business world. Dunkin’ dropped the Donuts from its name in 2018 to signal an increased focus on coffee and other areas.
World’s most valued company, Apple Inc. dropped the “Computer” from its name in 2007 to reflect its moves into home devices and phones.
Phil Davis who serves as the President of the naming agency Tungsten Branding said, “This transition from an initial product or service offering to a broader identity is fairly typical for large companies as they scale—and sometimes that does necessitate a name change.
“They’re saying: We’re not ‘that’ anymore. We’re more ‘this.’ “
Having said this, a new name, alone, cannot get the job done. Davis cited Radio Shack’s attempt to rebrand itself with The Shack back in 2009 when the company that dealt in electronics tried to stem a long decline that would eventually end in bankruptcy six years later.
He said, “Radio Shack needed to become a different kind of business, not just change their name.
“If you’re doing [a name change] just to change the conversation, that very rarely works. If you say we’re shifting the direction, there has to be an actual shift in direction.”
Philip Morris’s rebranding in 2003 as Altria was equally panned by critics and branding consultants. Then, the company said that the change in its name would better reflect the diversity of its portfolio, beyond the company’s association with tobacco and its cigarette brand, Marlboro.
To help spread the word, the company announced an eight-week ad campaign that spanned the web, TV, print and even direct mail.
Critics said the move was designed to downplay the company’s association with tobacco.
Other renamings meant to signal a shift in strategy also haven’t gone smoothly.
In 2018, Tribune Publishing Co. went back to its original, 150-year-old name, just two years after switching to the widely disparaged Tronc which stood for Tribune Online Content.
Tronc became a punchline in the media industry and beyond.
Comedian John Oliver said the name sounded like “a stack of print newspapers being thrown into a dumpster.”