RIP Motorola: 1930—Present (…Sorta)


Companies get bought and sold, folded in and spun off all the time. It’s a matter of business, of profits and losses and an ever shifting constellation of competitors and jockeying for position—this is how our system works. NO NEED TO BE SENTIMENTAL ABOUT IT…RIGHT?

I just saw that Lenovo purchased Motorola Mobility. The Lenovo COO explained their plan: unify the brands under the Lenovo name, use the Moto brand (not the Motorola name) for high-end phones, and use their own Vibe brand for budget phones.  They determined that most of Motorola’s phones, which have been in serious decline, were a losing proposition; Moto was the only Motorola Mobile brand that they could use. All in all, a pretty sensible business decision.

But what I read was: Motorola is moribund. Its battery is in the single digits. They are spiraling the drain. They are being sent to walk the plank and drown in the briny deep.

Of course, this isn’t a real obituary and the name isn’t really dead—the name can still be found in Motorola Solutions, maker of things like walkie-talkies and body cameras. And Motorola Mobility, the company that has technically been bought by Lenovo, has only been around since 2011—far after Motorola made the first cell phone. These are further reasons I should probably eschew my maudlin impulses.

But brands, (especially the good ones—the ones that stick with us, that weave into the fabric of our personal and national history) are more than money-making ventures. They are cultural touchstones, they evoke very human emotions. Brands are like $$ + !!!.  And that !!! is the power of a name and a brand. I never had a Motorola Razor, but I remember the power that the name Motorola used to have in the phone industry. I remember how cool they looked in the commercials during my formative years when I wanted but did not have a cell phone.

Perhaps what cuts me to the quick is that Motorola always felt like a name that should be around forever. It’s a stoic, solid name. Grandma, Motorola, and Grandpa all felt so eternal. 

What truly great brand naming should do is hasten the company’s incorporation into the fabric of our society. Think about incorporation—bringing IN to the body, or corpus. It should catch hold of something in our hearts or brains and just sit there, wiggling, vibrating every so often to let you know it’s still there. It should be so fully fused with our selves that ripping it out should hurt, just a little. And it should never stale. Motorola’s cachet certainly comes from their innovation in the industry, and their longevity—but for a company from the 1930s, the name aged pretty darn well too.

May your reception in heaven be ever static-free.