There are two things wrong with Facebook’s flagged plan for a name change that better reflects its role in the high-tech “metaverse”.
First, the metaverse? Seriously?
Second, who do they think they’re kidding?
It’s still Facebook, for heaven’s sake, that monstrous monopolistic company that wants to undermine your privacy at every step, spread lies and, in Big Tobacco style, hook young people for life with its digital products.
“Consumers aren’t stupid,” said Jan-Benedict Steenkamp, a branding marketing professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
By this it means that the nearly 3 billion Facebook users around the world are well aware of the seemingly endless controversies: the privacy issuesthe disinformationturning a blind eye to hate speech, racism Other political dishonesty.
“The only way for Facebook to move beyond its controversies is to radically clean up its act,” Steenkamp told me. “And anyway, even if Facebook were to change its business name, its main product would still be called Facebook.”
The Verge, a technology website, reported Wednesday that Facebook may announce a corporate name change as soon as next week, citing “a source with firsthand knowledge of the matter.”
The move “is intended to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the evils that come with it,” Verge said. Facebook declined to comment on the story.
While Facebook’s intentions remain unclear, the best guess among marketers is that the company will follow Google’s lead and create an ambiguously named parent company to oversee its various operations.
These include the social media platform of the same name, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality system.
There is speculation that Facebook will call parent company Horizon to somehow capture a sense of, you know, broad technological horizons, an unlimited future, whatever.
This is where the sparkling idea of the metaverse comes into play. The phrase was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel “Snow block”. Think of it as “cyberspace” – another phrase with science fiction roots – on steroids.
If the parent company were called Horizon, the various divisions of the company, in turn, could be renamed “Horizon Facebook” or “Horizon Instagram” or their variants. Or they might stay the same.
And of course, scandal-prone Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg would no longer be Facebook CEO when he’s testing before disgruntled lawmakers, as it often seems to be.
It would be the CEO of Horizon, which would theoretically isolate Facebook’s core brand from any missteps it has been called upon to account for. Or he would no longer be the poor idiot who has to answer for Facebook. The head of the division would be on the hot spot.
This is a possibility. Another is that the company may want to completely rename itself in hopes of putting past problems behind it and restarting its corporate image.
“It’s critical for Facebook to engage the next generation in its technology,” said Barbara E. Kahn, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The big problem for young people is that Facebook is your grandmother’s platform, your parents’ platform,” she told me. “They need to get away from that.”
A new corporate identity, Kahn noted, would have the dual benefit of turning the page on past scandals and repositioning the company in the digital market as a fresher, fresher product.
“They have to get people to think about the brand in a different way,” he said.
We have seen it many times before. Perhaps the most prominent example of a company trying to reinvent itself by changing its corporate clothes was when tobacco giant Philip Morris renamed itself the Altria Group in 2003.
The company said the move better reflects its business portfolio. But nobody was joking. The Philip Morris brand had become toxic after endless tobacco controversies.
The Altria brand, meanwhile, was pristine. So the company was called that and kept selling cigarettes.
We have seen it over and over again. Andersen Consulting (with ties to Enron-renowned auditor Arthur Andersen) changed its name to Accenture. ValuJet Airlines, which was blocked in 1996 after an accident that killed all 110 people on board, changed its name to AirTran Airways.
“Changing a brand name completely is not a common occurrence,” said Richard J. Lutz, professor of marketing at the University of Florida.
“It’s expensive,” he said. “When companies do this, it’s usually due to a desire – or an urgent need – to distance themselves from unwanted associations.”
He cited recent name changes for problematic and racially tinged brands like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s.
Facebook, if the name change reports are correct, would simply follow this great tradition of announcing to the world that it’s okay because um, there’s a new name on the door.
“It would allow them to cool off,” said Matthew Quint, director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia University.
“It would allow them to show that they see a future of different technologies, all teeming together,” he said.
yes Swarming technologies. Done.
But there is probably a more practical reason at work here.
“Yes, they have to distance themselves a little from the Facebook brand,” said Timothy Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“But what this would really do is tell investors and employees that things are different,” he said. “Corporate branding really matters more at that level.”
Perhaps it would also help recruit new talent. Up-and-coming programmers who may not want to work for Facebook may be more inclined to the idea of working for Horizon.
But, at its root, it’s still Facebook.
And Facebook is still a corporate behemoth that has proven time and time again that it cares more about profit than safeguarding its billions of users.
It can be called Horizon if you want. Heck, it can be called World Peace or Puppies and Kittens.
Until the company makes significant changes, they still cannot be trusted.