How the mighty have fallen: Name review of Oath and Altaba
A lot of shuffling has taken place with Yahoo recently. In February of this year, the terms were finalized in a deal by which Yahoo would be bought over by Verizon. A lot of Yahoo’s value comes from the fact that it owns a 15% stake in the Chinese e-commerce/tech giant and world’s largest retailer, Alibaba.
After Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo, the search function is living on as Yahoo, and the rest of it — essentially the Alibaba holdings — has been renamed Altaba.
That caused a few namers and laypeople to scratch their heads.
And then more recently, Verizon revealed that Yahoo and a few more of Verizon’s subsidiaries like AOL and the Huffington Post would all operate under the umbrella name Oath.
And that announcement verily turned those selfsame heads.
Let’s start with Altaba. It is said to be a portmanteau of Alternative and Alibaba, to show investors that if they buy in to Altaba, they are essentially buying in to Alibaba.
It’s a shame, really, that a company as iconic as Yahoo would be chopped up and become something as empty as Altaba. Then again, it is very hard to clear a name internationally, so that surely contributed to the choice. Further, if Altaba houses none of Yahoo’s old functions, and has no more ambition than being a vehicle for investing in Alibaba as they claim, so be it. I understand that choice. (Grade: B)
The real outcry came after Oath was announced. And, I would argue, for good reason. For one, Oath is tough to say and it sounds boring — almost legalistic. And, there’s the other meaning of the word… #%*&!
Compounding all of this is that Oath simply feels off-brand. It contains none of the levity or presence of Yahoo or even AOL, none of the punchiness of Verizon. Which raises the age-old question, why? What are they driving at?
One answer is that they want to suggest trust. Of being able to uphold their end of the company-customer bargain. After all, all of the major brands associated with it – AOL, Yahoo, and Verizon, have suffered trust issues, whether it be from hacks, questionable business practices, or simply notoriously bad customer service.
My suggestion is always, if you have a PR problem, tread carefully in trying to speak directly to that with your branding choices. Consumers have a nose for BS, pandering, and doublespeak… like, say, the Pepsi commercial that tried to play off the Black Lives Matter movement. Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” thing was okay as an internal corporate motto (albeit widely and publicly disseminated) with an organic origin story (by that I mean, not created by a marketing team), but would not have worked as their actual tagline crafted by marketers.
I think a good example of a name that suggests trust is Oscar, the health insurance company. Health insurance companies are notoriously parsimonious in payouts and maddeningly bureaucratic (not to mention the fact that if you ever have to deal with them, you’re not in a good place to begin with). But instead of calling their company something that overtly said “Friendly” or “Your Ally,” they chose the simple first name Oscar. Subtle, and trustworthy.
Lastly… what’s up with the prominent colon in Oath’s logo? If anyone has a guess, please, let me know. The eyes in a sideways smile? An homage to the AOL logo’s final period and the Yahoo exclamation mark? As is, it unnecessarily (the line break is sufficient) punctuates the phrase “Oath: a Verizon company.” Worse, it suggests that you fill in the blank as to what the company is swearing to do. Or worst, suggests they are promising nothing.
Oath misses the mark.
For one, Oath is tough to say and it sounds boring — almost legalistic. And, there’s the other meaning of the word… #%*&!