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Dumb company names in a sound-bite world


(MoneyWatch) Every morning I turn on the tube to see what's going on in the business world. I don't know why; it's usually depressing. Yesterday was different. The earnings roundup included news about Fifth Third Bancorp. Every time I hear that name, the marketing part of my brain goes into seizures.

Let's face it. We live in a world of 24/7 news, information and communication. Everyone's so overloaded that nobody can remember a thing from one tweet to the next. After a while, your brain just goes numb from the constant bombardment. It's like we're all suffering from attention deficit disorder.

What does that mean to the average corporate executive? It means that now, more than ever, you need to keep everything simple. Easy. Uncomplicated. And since your company is worth zero if nobody can find it on the Internet, it means your average, ordinary consumer has to be able to at least spell the name.

Long, confusing, tongue twisting, impossible to pronounce names have always driven me crazy. Now, I've got a reason to squawk about the dumb executives who give their companies even dumber names that nobody can remember, pronounce or spell. Like Fifth Third Bancorp. (Just try to say that 10 times fast. I dare you.)

One company really does it right. Apple. It even got rid of "Computer" after the name. Now it's just Apple. A fruit. Simple. Perfect. So are its product names. Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad. What could be easier? Even its current and former executives have simple, one-syllable names. Steve Jobs. Tim Cook. Even their last names are ordinary words. Impossible to forget or misspell. Brilliant.

Look. I know everyone reading this knows we live in a sound bite world. Yet somehow chief executives of some very big companies didn't get the memo. Maybe it got lost in a junk mail folder somewhere with thousands of other emails even they don't have time to read anymore. Who knows?

Here are my top 10 or so egregious examples of dumb company names, or at least the ones that irritate me the most.

Plantronics. Plantronics would be a great name for the maker of Miracle-Gro or Roundup. But headsets? Can plants even wear headsets? Of course not, they're too heavy. Did you know that Bayer makes plant food? I didn't even know plants got headaches. Maybe they need to turn down the volume on their headsets.

JPMorgan Chase. Like Fifth Third Bancorp, lots of offenders are banks that have merged so many times their executives can't even remember what their names are. Is it JPMorgan Chase or J.P. Morgan Chase? Why even add Chase to the name. If you're going to do that, why not make it J.P. Morgan Chase Manhattan Chemical Bank One Bear Stearns Washington Mutual? Look at Goldman Sachs. Same name for 127 years. Now that's smart.

Research In Motion. Do I even have to say it? What a dumb name. So dumb that the company's own ads don't even mention it. Change the name to BlackBerry and be done with it. Better yet, do what FedEx and Ho-Jo did - adopt the popular vernacular: CrackBerry. Too much? Probably.

Bristol-Myers Squibb. GlaxoSmithKline and all the other drug companies, listen up. Corporate brands can have sub-brands. You don't have to lump them all in the company name. Ever hear of Johnson & Johnson? Tons of brands. How about Pfizer? Same thing. Why are Bristol and Myers hyphenated and not Squibb? Nobody can remember. I bet your own employees aren't even sure.

Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I don't get it. Do you?

Radio Shack. Talk about reinforcing an aged image of a company that sells electronic components for archaic devices hardly anyone uses anymore -- like radios -- no wonder nobody knows what Radio Shack's stores are really there for. Its executives have no idea, either. Yes, I know it tried to re-brand itself as "The Shack" last year. It's stock has plummeted about 90 percent since then. Not very bright.

Daimler AG. I don't care how much history there is in the Daimler name. It's a Mercedes. That's all anyone knows or cares about. Lose the Daimler -- and the Benz too, while you're at it. Even Matsushita finally changed its name to Panasonic. Same thing.

JoS. A. Bank. An abbreviated first name plus a middle initial and, yes, the S in JoS is capitalized. What's that all about? Yes, I know it's a good company that's been around for over a hundred years. I just don't get the weird abbreviation.

AMR. We're forever saying "AMR, the parent company of American Airlines" because nobody knows what AMR is. So why not just call the company American Airlines and be done with it? If they're smart, that's what they'll do when they come out of bankruptcy. Unless of course they merge with US Air. What'll they do then? Call it the United States of American Airlines? I don't think so.

Exxon Mobil. Big merger, we get it. Now get over it and pick a name. Chevron got it right when it bought Texaco. Now you see it, now you don't. Gone. Smart. Sirius XM needs to do the same thing.

Those are my top 10. Any names I missed?

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