Facebook’s reported name change is a transparent PR move

Twenty years in the past, tobacco behemoth Philip Morris introduced its intention to change its name to the Altria Group. It comes from the Latin phrase altus, which means “excessive,” and in response to firm execs on the time was meant to recommend excessive efficiency. “When folks say ‘Philip Morris,’ folks don’t know which firm you’re speaking about,’” Steven C. Parrish, the corporate’s senior vice chairman for company affairs on the time, told The New York Times. “We’re greater than a tobacco firm, clearly, however there are a lot of people that don’t perceive that.” Rely amongst these folks the estimated 3 million American ladies who died prematurely between 1980 and 2000 from smoking-related illnesses.

Nobody was precisely fooled by the information of its proposed name change. “They’re working away from tobacco,” David A. Kessler, Yale College medical faculty dean and former commissioner of the Meals and Drug Administration, mentioned on the time. Matthew L. Myers, then-president of the Nationwide Heart for Tobacco-Free Youngsters, mentioned, “As a substitute of fixing its enterprise practices, Philip Morris has chosen a public relations marketing campaign to divert consideration away from what it does.” Philip Morris, which made and marketed such cigarette manufacturers as Marlboro, Parliament, and Virginia Slims, might have additionally been the biggest packaged items firm, however to customers, Philip Morris meant tobacco. And tobacco more and more meant loss of life.

Does any of this sound acquainted?


On Tuesday night time, The Verge reported that Fb is planning to rebrand the corporate with a new name, to sign its ambition to be recognized for greater than social media, seemingly positioning the blue Fb app as simply considered one of many merchandise below a dad or mum firm alongside Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and extra. Rumors are that the change will come by the top of the month, and probably as early as October 25, when Fb stories its third-quarter earnings. For a firm that bristles at references to its providers being akin to cigarettes, taking a web page from the Huge Tobacco playbook is a stunner.

Fb has skilled a wave of unhealthy information concerning the detrimental results of its social media platforms—and what the corporate has recognized about it and what it has and hasn’t executed in response—going again to mid-September when The Wall Avenue Journal began publishing what it dubbed The Facebook Files, leaked paperwork from a whistleblower. In fact, one may say that Fb has been dwelling below a cloud of detrimental, brand-tarnishing information since November 2016 and the outcomes of the U.S. presidential election.

A couple of years ago, when regulators began to make noise about breaking apart Fb, the corporate initially took a defiant stance, including Fb branding to all of its merchandise, as if to recommend that they might not be separated. It used “customized typography and capitalization to create visible distinction between the corporate and app.” Loosely translated, because of this it popped in all caps and slapped the Fb name below all of its apps of their corresponding colours. The one factor lacking was a voice-over that will sing “By Facebook!” each time you opened Instagram.

Then-CMO Antonio Lucio wrote in a firm weblog put up that appending the dad or mum model to all the corporate’s merchandise was “a technique to higher talk our possession construction to the folks and companies who use our providers to attach, share, construct group, and develop their audiences.” On the time, folks believed that Fb would diminish the worth of Instagram and WhatsApp, given that almost all of their consumer bases didn’t know that Fb owned them.

Now it has taken the other method, de-emphasizing Fb and placing a completely new name out entrance on all of its properties. So what modified?

A rebrand is a lot of issues, however it could’t repair the body-image points of 1 in three teen ladies on Instagram or obviate the blame teenagers apportion the platform for elevated anxiousness and melancholy. Nor will it erase whistleblower Frances Haugen’s look on 60 Minutes and earlier than a Congressional committee, testifying that Fb all the time chooses what’s greatest for its backside line over public well being and security. What Fb wants, at minimal, is actual, troublesome, foundational change. However that’s onerous in comparison with a transparent, superficial PR move.

Prashant Malaviya, a advertising and marketing professor at Georgetown’s McDonough College of Enterprise, says that if Fb’s choice is an try to step away from all of the detrimental notion, imagery, and vitriol that the corporate has been attracting over the previous couple of months, it’s shortsighted and misguided. “Until this rebranding train is accompanied by a true inner change in tradition, values, and imaginative and prescient, it’s not going to be a profitable PR train,” Malaviya says. “And will probably be much more troublesome to beat the model negativity if the model Fb nonetheless exists in any form or kind. If individuals are nonetheless utilizing an app known as Fb, then the model hasn’t gone away, and all of the negativity it has created will proceed to swirl.”


The problem in being a world platform with billions of customers is that you simply’ve reached a level of cultural saturation that no quantity of rebrand fluff can redirect. It’d be like if Philip Morris additionally tried to rebrand Marlboro as Altria. “A robust model picture can solely be developed on a robust platform and basis,” Malaviya says. “And if the inspiration of the enterprise at the moment known as Fb is what we see—weak, misguided tradition, a reported lack of morality and ethics—if that is the inspiration, it doesn’t matter what name you placed on it, it’ll nonetheless crumble ultimately.”

In different phrases, Philip Morris at the very least had some meals merchandise that weren’t killing clients. (At the very least not as straight: Subsequent investigative reporting would reveal that the corporate used salt, sugar, and fat to create merchandise as addictive as nicotine and tar.) Fb’s merchandise—from Instagram to WhatsApp to Teams—have all been proven to propagate disinformation or create some type of societal hurt.

Name modifications aren’t unusual in Huge Tech, as Google’s Alphabet and Snapchat’s Snap Inc. can attest. But most individuals nonetheless check with these corporations as . . . you guessed it . . . Google and Snapchat.

Fb can run, however it could’t disguise. New name, identical issues.