A thorn by any other name

    Comcast has decided it doesn’t want us to think of it as Comcast anymore. In his weekly audio commentary, Chris Satullo has some doubts about how well this rebranding will work.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20100207.mp3]

    Millions per syllable.

    That’s how much Comcast will spend to coax us into calling it Xfinity.

    The new name got rolled out last week. Somehow I don’t think it will make us forget all the times we’ve waited hours for the service truck with the red and black logo to show up.

    Rebranding is a high-stakes endeavor. For every dollar a corporation pays a consultant to concoct a snappy new name, it has to spend about $20 to make the change stick, both internally and in customer’s minds.

    Sometimes rebranding works. Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, and sales soared.

    Sometimes, rebrandings get lucky. Accenture was formed when Andersen Consulting split off from Arthur Andersen Accounting. The accounting firm then crashed and burned for its role in enabling the Enron scandal.

    Clear of the wreckage, Accenture breathed a sigh of relief. Or it did, at least, until its iconic spokesman, Tiger Woods, had that little problem with a fire hydrant.

    Other rebrandings have become punch lines – and cautionary tales. The British Post Office’s attempt to turn itself into Consignia (seriously) is a famous failure.

    Altria is Phillip Morris’ attempt to make us forget that it is, well, Phillip Morris – a notorious liar about nicotine.

    I can never hear Altria without thinking of nutria, which is another name for a rat. Kind of appropriate.

    Back to Comcast and Xfinity. Comcast will still be the corporate moniker, but the company’s phone, Internet and cable services are being rebranded.

    Sorry, the change doesn’t strike me as… Comcastic.

    On Internet message boards, where Comcast bashing has become nearly as popular as linking to Perez Hilton, Xfinity received a predictably acidic reception.

    One sourpuss quickly noted that the name was an anagram for Tiny Fix. Serial commenters said the name sounded like a new porn channel.

    Others said that watching a huge corporation double down on the letter X, as though that were the epitome of cool, was a little like watching your middle-aged dad get a tattoo.

    Comcast has done Steve Jobs and Apple a favor. Xfinity gave the wagging tongues of the Web a new target to bash, slowing the hatefest against Apple’s much-hyped new electronic tablet, the I-Pad.

    Look on the bright side, Comcast. You don’t have millions of women saying that your new product’s name reminds them of a sanitary napkin.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.