Normally speaking, if you’ve got any kind of imagination, you give your company or product a catchy name. The idea is that the name will stick in the memory and rise to the top of the decision-making process when it comes to buying time. Nike. Puma. Apple. 20th Century Fox. You get the idea.
So, what should you make of companies who deliberately (well, you assume it must be deliberate – no one could start a company with so little imagination) choose the most banal name possible out of all possible names? Here are a couple that have been in the news recently: Global Science Research and Internet Research Agency. I wonder what they do?
Global Science Research, hmm. Something to do with researching things vaguely scientific on a global level; in other words, it could be anything at all. A laboratory perhaps? A university appendage? Who knows? It turns out that Global Science Research is the company that skimmed off all that Facebook data about millions of people and then sold it on to Cambridge Analytica to help Trump get elected. Global, surely. Research, possibly. Science? Really?
And Internet Research Agency? It’s actually the name of the Russian trolling factory based in St. Petersburg responsible for setting up fake IDs and trying to interfere in the American presidential election, amongst other nefarious activities. So, not really a research outfit, then.
These names are so forgettable and meaningless that I wrote them down before starting this post and then instantly forgot them again. I think that’s the idea. You’re not meant to remember them. They don’t want any limelight or top of mind. I wonder why that is? You’d suspect that the people who run them are aware of the dubious nature of their business and consequently shun publicity. Their sheer banality is an admission of guilt.
I am currently reading Secrecy World by Jake Bernstein which examines what the Panama Papers leaks have to tell us about off-shore banking and company incorporation. In a similar vein, the thousands of offshore companies tend to have the most forgettable and meaningless names. The process is seemingly to put a load of mundane terms into a hat, pull out a few and combine them into some tedious name which no one could possibly remember. If you think that someone might, you can always abbreviate it to a jumble of letters that will be about as memorable as a number plate:
Universal Equity Partners.
Global Investments Inc
Capital Fund Management
I’m just making these up, but you can bet they exist somewhere, probably many times over.
So, we might invent a useful rule of thumb:
The more banal the name, the more nefarious a company's business activity.
That might be worth remembering.