re-branding with humpty dumpty

When you’re not sure what else to do, change your name. The Royal Post did it in the name of re-branding. Now the BSU CRI (Warning: SFW stock images) has changed their name to Optivation. An attempt at a clever portmanteau of optimizing and innovation. Of course, optivation could be a portmanteau for optical derivation. Or optimum deviation. Or …

When an institute re-brands themselves into something as comical as Optiviathon, it just begs to be goofed with. Ask Joyce. It becomes a teaching moment. Optovation. Innovatimizing. Optimizers-R-Us. I Haz Innovation. LOLOptimizers.

From the Pioneer on Friday:

According to Optivation’s executive director Anthony Schaffhauser, the center renamed itself for three reasons.

First, the old name was too long.

“It was so long it became an acronym that had no meaning,” Schaffhauser said of the center’s old nickname, “the CRI.”

Second, Schaffhauser said, the center needed a name that would reflect the merger between BSU and NTC.

“We really wanted to make sure our brand name represents both entities working jointly in the area of customized training and continuing education,” Schaffhauser said. “Customers should get all their technical training needs with one call.”

Third, he added, the new brand name is supposed to give customers a clear idea of what they are getting.

“We didn’t really have a clear brand previously,” Schaffhauser said. “The center evolved into something other than its original vision, which was prototyping development operations. Today it focuses on workforce and professional development consulting.”

Andrew is right about the center-formerly-known-as-the-CRI. The name didn’t identify what the center actually did. The CRI didn’t offer research or innovation. It was a supposed to attract research and innovation. But that didn’t happen. So renaming is appropriate.

But the brand new name? It may be shorter but it’s certainly not clearer. Just as with CRI, first-time hearers or readers have to puzzle it out. It’s a marketing trick. The new name provides an opportunity to tell the story of why and how they changed the name – as Schaffhauser does in the Pioneer. Shame that the story is so trivial, the connection so forced. Optivalitization as a word represents the merger of BSU and NTC? Sure, ok. Neatly hidden.

Optivate. In that form, the word appears to be a verb – a made up verb, but identifiable as a verb. I optivate. She optivates. We are optivating. They have optivated. Or perhaps it’s a little darker, as Be careful around him. He’s an optivating sort of guy. Or Kafkaesque, with Father went in for optivization, but never came out. T’was brilling and the slithy toves did optivate upon the wabe.

Add a derivational suffix -(a)tion to make the verb a noun – because a brand needs to be a noun, not a verb, because verbs have a temper – and you get optivation. You hang -ation on verbs to tame them into nouns: probate – ation, stagnate – ation. It’s called nominalization, and it’s a mark of bureaucratic prose. Those clever consultants.

Now optivate, being contrived, is presumed to be an empty signifier, merely suggestive until someone who is authorized to speak – and in the know – explains what it they would like it to mean, what it will mean officially, as Schaffhauser does. It means Innovation. Optimization. Merger. Confluence. New. Breathless. Whoosh.

But the word as a brand name is not empty. It comes loaded with meaning that the namers can’t escape. It screams bureaucratic. It screams, This is a made up name. It means, We brought in a consultant and they thought this would be a good idea. It means, We’re desperate. We’re loosing share, and we don’t know what to do. It screams contrivance, not innovation. Not even Optimegavation Labs can control these meanings: Language is bigger than they are. Language is bigger than all of us.

The CRI aka Optivaviathon does have something to offer, and they could let a brand name emerge from the service. In fact, better brand options show up in Schaffhauser’s interview above, when he starts talking about what the not-the-CRI offers. Workforce and Professional Development Consulting. Or BSU/NTC Custom Training. Ordinary names. But that’s what the center-formerly-known-as-CRI offers – consulting, training, and meeting and training space – and changing the name doesn’t change what they offer so much as conceals it.

A brand name like Optivation even leads to double-speak, like this:

“We’re helping our customers optimize by furthering their careers through innovation.” …

See what Andrew did there? He worked the brand name into a sentence!


Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”[15]

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