Make Good Names, Not War: Academi Company Name Review


The private security company formerly known as Blackwater is now the company formerly known as Xe Services . They recently announced their newest new name, Academi. The company changed its name to Xe in February 2009 after a 2007 mission accidentally killed 17 civilians – and they were expelled from Iraq. (Check out our review of their previous name change here.)

You’ve gotta think that changing a name more than once in the security biz would be a bad thing. I mean, do we really need to be made insecure about a company that has “provided training to over 10,000 foreign military and counter-terrorism specialists, law enforcement agents and 50,000 U.S. government personnel?” Nope, didn’t think so. Changing names like underwear doesn’t really convey trustworthiness.

The incongruous name “Academi” smells like a honking red herring to me.  According to the website, it “comes from the Greek ‘akademia,’ an institution founded by Plato and rooted in higher wisdom and skill, producing both thinkers and warriors alike. ACADEMI is that institution today.” They started off first as “Blackwater,” then switched to “Xe Services,” named after an obscure element (albeit a “noble” one), and now they want to be seen as a pseudo-educational institution? Sounds like a stretch to me.

The decision to use a name of Greek origins is understandable. After all, in an industry that needs to remain opaque, it behooves behemoth, high-profile companies to hide behind generic, relatively empty-vessel names. The blander, the better, you might argue, especially if you’ve been in a PR pickle or two.

On their website, they elaborate upon their new training emphasis, devoting an entire section to it. But despite their shiny cyber-packaging, tagline “Elite training. Trusted protection,” and executive team, my feeling is that most people will still refer to it by its infamous moniker, “Blackwater.”

And while “Academi” does a fair job of distancing itself from “Blackwater” or “Xe,” it’s too much of a radical departure to be convincing. Remember when Philip Morris re-branded itself as Altria? The name was simply too lofty, so no one took it or the re-branding seriously. A name change can signal a true shift in strategy – a renewed push to do things right — but it has to be credible.

When you’re best known for accidentally killing civilians in a highly-contentious war, sometimes the damage done is just too egregious. Some bad news sticks better than others, and in BlackwaterXeAcademi’s case, the company’s reputation may be irreparably tarnished. Perhaps with time – and actual time spent building meaning into a name – they’ll be able to make “Academi” seem more than a lame bandage trying to heal a crippled corporate image.

Overall Grade: C+

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