Station Break with Paul Farhi: Familiar Brand Names Renamed

Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news and topical issues in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: Some old brand names are getting new names. The SciFi Channel has renamed itself SyFy, following in the tradition of other bad TV name changes (Court TV became TruTv, Outdoor Life Network morphed into Vs., etc.) Meanwhile, Radio Shack is calling itself "The Shack." Great god of Exxon and Verizon, what's going on here?


Paul Farhi: Greetings all, and welcome to our mid-summer chat and weenie roast...So, comes word now that Radio Shack will be rebranding itself as "The Shack" in the next few weeks (thanks to pal Mark for highlighting this). I guess dropping "radio" from its name makes some sense; "radio" doesn't exactly say "cutting-edge technology" these days. On the other hand, neither does "shack" (it sounds like the name of a strip club, as my friend Jane, wife of the aforementioned Mark, points out). Being kind of not cutting edge myself, I have to wonder why companies bother to rebrand, and why they always seem to do it so badly. Kentucky Fried Chicken removed the heart attack from its name by rebranding itself as KFC some years ago. Ditto Philip Morris, which became the unidentifiable Altria Corp.

Cable TV networks have been doing this sort of thing for years, too. TLC used to be The Learning Channel, but morphed into TLC because, I guess, there wasn't much learning on the channel anymore. My personal favorite is the Nashville Network. Then it became the National Network, which is a terrible, generic, nothing sort of name. Then Viacom said the hell with it and changed it again to Spike TV. Okay, whatev, I guess.

Seen any good re-brandings lately? Ever? Let us know.

Let's go to the phones...


Old wine?: Wasn't there something in the Bible about not putting old wine in new wineskins? Or maybe it was the other way around? In any event, the same old brand in a shiny new package (Coke Zero, that's you) is a a tired marketing ploy.

Paul Farhi: These name changes dump all the old brand "equity." I guess trying to make people forget what you used to be is a good idea, if what you used to be was crummy to begin with. But in a lot of cases, it wasn't.


Greater Green Bay, Wisc.: If I ran the FCC, all networks would have to use their full names at least once a day -- I'd love to hear the Columbia Broadcasting System, and maybe it would embarrass MTV to put on some music, AMC to put on classic movies, TLC some educational stuff that isn't about large people or large families, and HLN to remember that headline is ONE WORD, consarnit!

Paul Farhi: Yep. HLN used to be Headline News. What's wrong with that? Even with Nancy Grace, they could still be Headline News. Also, Outdoor Life Network became Vs. Huh? Outdoor Life is possibly the most generic name ever, encompassing anything that happens outdoors. It's like the History Channel (which I think is now just History). The History Channel: Our programs are about anything that has happened up until now.


Rockville, Md.: All of these name changes are unneeded, dumb, and stupid, point blank. In many of these cases, there was literally no need -- no need at all, on any level -- to make a stupid name change. With Radio Shack, it's bizarre -- somehow, despite small stores, high prices, sub-human horrible service, out-of-it managers and clerks, horrible organization, poor stocks and inventory and a weird selection of products, the chain has somehow survived, and, according to one report, even turned profits. So there is literally no need to change the name. As for the SciFi Channel, despite being horribly managed, dumbly administered and stupidly operated since its inception and despite airing some of the most horrible shows and movies anywhere on cable, there's still a loyal audience who'd rather watch science fiction -- even stupid science fiction -- than your average stupid cop, doctor and lawyer show. And there was nothing wrong with SciFi, which signified Science FIction. So there's no need to change the name -- none. And the new name is idiotic. And a group of us know literally dozens of people who simply stopped watching Court TV since its name change and its format change, and at least two reports have cited huge drops in audiences for this channel since its name change. Same for any other popular product, show or brand of anything: If you have a popular, well-known name, DON'T CHANGE THE NAME. A wise old saying applies aptly here: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Paul Farhi: In SciFi/SyFy's defense (if any), the network said it couldn't trademark the words "science fiction." But given that SciFi started about 15 years ago, I can't imagine that this was a new problem. And SyFy (which sounds like a social disease) is your best option?


ReaganNation, AL: How about airports? They keep adding famous dead people's names to them and making everyone confused about which airport it is. Locally Reagan (National) and Thurgood Marshall (BWI) come to mind.

Paul Farhi: Yes, and no disrespect for the people whose names are now on the airports, but real locals still refer to them by their old names. Have you heard anyone say, "I'm flying out of Marshall next week?"


Potomac, Md.: Several officials in the defense and aerospace industries say that any company that changes its name to simply initials gets a huge backlash because people did business with the company originally, in part, because of the classic name and the supposed quality and tradition that that name implied. But when you change that established name to a cold, inhumane bunch of letters -- which says absolutely nothing to people -- some people take their business elsewhere, and this is true. SAIC, HP, CSC, CA and others need to take notice. There was nothing wrong -- and everything RIGHT -- about Science Applications International Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, Computer Sciences Corporation and Computer Associates. There is no need or reason to change names at such established, multi-million-dollar defense industry corporations. It's an insult to the companies' histories. And they end up losing respect -- and business.

Paul Farhi: Very true and well said. I'd add that it has the whiff of desperation. If things are going well, if management is secure in the company's prospects, then why would they be changing their name? It sends a simple, if unintended message: Sell this stock.


The Shack: Yeah, but with so many stores, the signage costs alone would have been prohibitive for "Obscure Batteries and Pushy Nerds"

Paul Farhi: Hahaha. I guess "OBPN" was taken?...And I can go no further without referencing the Onion's great story about Radio Shack, which was headlined, "Even CEO Can't Figure Out How Radio Shack Still in Business." Find it online; pure genius.


Northwest: On a local scale, whenever a local restaurant, bar, store or company changes its name, it starts to lose business. Some companies change their mode of business -- but keep their original name, because people know and like that name, and what the name says, if it's a successful business. Thus, popular businesses such as, say, 1789, Marrakesh, the 9:30 Club, the Black Cat, Blues Alley, the Birchmere, Commander Salamander, Clyde's, J. Paul's, R. J. Bentley's, Santa Fe, Franklin's, Fletcher's, Cat's Eye Pub, Max's, Bertha's, the Horse You Came In On, Sabatini's, Ledo's, Three Brothers, Armand's, and about 1,500 other local bars, restaurants and clubs, would be wise to keep their names as long as people are still walking through the doors. Those who dared to change their name found a sudden drop in business. Name changes generally fail more than they succeed, as they cause unnecessary and irritating confusion, anger, disappointment and a loss of business.

Paul Farhi: Another excellent point. There is, of course, an entire sub-industry dedicated to "rebranding." I am sure people in that business think it's generally a good idea.


Baltimore, Md.: What about when the network name stays the same: Before Bravo was bought by NBC-Universal, it was a serious arts channel. You used to see ballet on there, for heaven's sake. Now it's nothing but the "Real Housewives of Wherever," which as far as I am concerned doesn't rate a Bravo. The only arts-oriented thing on there anymore is Inside the Actor's Studio, which now features the likes of interviews with Judd Apatow.

Paul Farhi: I'll cut Bravo a break. You're right about it's history. But "bravo" could, theoretically if not actually, be a reaction to a show on Bravo. Okay, it can't, but you know what I mean.


True Shack Tale: About 1995, I went to the Kent Island RADIO Shack for some connector or something:

Clerk: That's $3.34. Your address?

Me: 123 Main Street, Anytown

Clerk: Is that Stevensville or Chester?

Paul Farhi: Hahaha!


Across the pond...: A few years ago, the U.K. tried to privatize and rebrand their postal service as "Consignia." They've gone back to The Royal Mail now (although it's still run by the folks who brought you Consignia. Evidently, no one realized that it has been some time since "consign" carried the connotation of "entrust;" now it's taken to mean something more along the lines of "discard."

Paul Farhi: Excellent! From the same continent: The Italian national train service is called "Trenitalia." Maybe that was its original name and I don't know nothing, but "Trenitalia" sounds like a reference to personal body parts. Maybe they'd want to reconsider for us snickering foreign tourists.


Bethesda, Md.: The various telecom companies have done a decent job of rebranding, don't you think? Even those of us old enough to remember Bell Atlantic or Nynex or Southwestern Bell would need a flow chart to explain where current iterations such as Verizon and Qwest came from.

Also, though I have never flown on ValuJet or AirTran, you have to give them some rebranding credit for putting the Everglades crash behind them pretty quickly.

Paul Farhi: Yes, AirTran was a pretty swift move. You'd have to be paying pretty close attention to remember that it was the same company that had that horrible crash...And speaking of utilities, my favorite local company name is Potomac Electric Power Co. If they ever get rid of the great Pepco name, I will sit in the dark forever.


The Shack: Maybe they can change it to "The Shaq."

Paul Farhi: I was thinking he'd be the most obvious guy to sign up as an endorser.


Sell this stock!: Not to mention the obvious: letterhead, cards, logos, signage, domains, everything. I was in the cable business during the consolidation, and we spent millions on updating the name -- which of course came at the expense of spending anything to improve the service.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, it isn't cheap to do this, is it? Particularly a company with lots and lots of retail outlets. I read that Radio Shack might actually keep the store names as is, and just change the name in ads and such. A cheaper way to go.


"Trenitalia" sounds like a reference to personal body parts: Maybe robot personal body parts.

Paul Farhi: It does sort of sound like a robot horror/porn movie...


LA, CA: I don't get the hatred towards name changes. If the rebranding got you so upset that you'll never shop there, I'm guessing you weren't a very loyal customer. If Radio Shack could combine the name rebranding with a customer service rebranding they'd be hugely successful. I don't shop at Radio Shack very often, but when I do, I know they'll have what I need.

Paul Farhi: Let's give props to Radio Shack's longevity. I believe the original name came from its founding after World War II (when radio shacks were probably more popular). They've figured out some kind of weird niche and have been going for years and years...


Arlington, Va.: Actually the History Channel is mainly about UFOs, Nostradamus and other metaphysical stuff. Drives me nuts. But "Sex in the Ancient World" is pretty racy.

Paul Farhi: Well, see, "history" is such a vast concept that anything fits. I guess as long as they don't do anything live, they'll be true to the name. But if they started doing live shows I guess they'd have to rebrand as the Now Channel.


Alexandria, Va.: Now that Pizza Hut is rebranding itself as "The Hut", I'm going to stop buying their product.... Actually I'm not, I like pizza. Either you like a product or you don't... a name shouldn't change that.

Paul Farhi: Okay, you're driving down the highway and you're hungry. Quick, where you gonna stop--at something called "The Hut" or at "Pizza Hut"? Maybe they're planning to start selling something more than pizza at Pizza Hut and they don't want to get tied down. But "Pizza Hut" pretty much tells me all I need to know.


Old Blue in Exile: I still remember PT&T. Thank goodness PG&E is still PG&E, though.

Paul Farhi: "Bell Atlantic" was a pretty good name, too. As was "Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone." But I guess those are too narrow, too regional to serve as good national names.


Wikipedia sez:: In the early days of radio, equipment was experimental and home-built. The first radio transmitters used a noisy spark to generate radio waves and were often housed in a garage or shed. When radio was first adopted by the U.S. Navy, a small, wooden structure placed on deck to house the ship's radio equipment became known as the "radio shack". The term was soon adopted by military and hobbyist alike to describe any form of radio room.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, so "Radio Shack" is a great name if you're living in 1927. I bet nine out of nine Radio Shack customers couldn't tell you what the name refers to.


Glen Burnie, Md.: History Channel also has "Life After People." I guess they justify that because it's future past perfect.

Paul Farhi: Hmmm. The future. Problematic for a channel devoted to history.


Pizza Hut: "The Hut" makes me think of Jabba the Hut. That's not something that perks my appetite.

Paul Farhi: How about Pizza Jabba! Get outta my way--I'm trademarking that name...


When will Taco Bell: start calling itself just "The Bell?"

Paul Farhi: The Tac? I guess "TB" is probably out...


Forget names: I don't like label or sign changes. People were upset when Cherry Coke got rid of the cherries on the glass bottle (around time of glass to plastic bottle change). Molson Ice just did a label change, too.

Like beer cans, "Beast" went through 3 can iterations while I was in high school, Giant has changed its sign, Brawny and Mr. Clean get changed, etc.

Paul Farhi: My fave here is the remaking of Aunt Jemima. For a long time, P&G (or whoever makes AJ) held on to the "mammy" image. It finally got into the 20th Century with an updated look. And don't even get me started on the defunct but not-so-long-ago restaurant chain called Sambo's...


Radio Shack: I remember a Simpson's episode where Bart discovers he has an evil twin living in the attic (fish heads, fish heads, do do do do do do). The evil twin escapes and Homer says to start looking for him in a place where all wretched misfits go. Lisa says: "I'll go to Radio Shack"

Paul Farhi: God, I hope Radio Shack isn't a Post advertiser....


One thing that bugs me about the name changes: is that many of these companies are doing it so they sell other products. I don't think that usually works out for them too well. They should stick what they do best, and keep doing it well. I will stop going to Five Guys if they ever branch out into the burrito business.

Paul Farhi: Yes, the thing that made the chain (great burgers and fries in this case) is forever linked to its name. But at least "Five Guys" is generic. Could be anything.


Rebranding "The Washington Post": How about "Newz". Hip, eh?

Paul Farhi: We get all kinda stuff: WashPo. WaPo. TWP. Seems to be an artifact of the internet age, mostly. I don't recall much short-handing before people had to type the words into a browser...


City of labored acronyms: I asked my son if I should dye my hair red, and his response was, "People who do that are trying to avoid making the changes they should make." Is that true for companies changing their names? Or did some high-powered PR firm convince them they needed to make the change so they look like they belong in the 21st Century where everything must be communicated in shorter and shorter increments?

Paul Farhi: In 21st C., brvity rcks.


Digress, I Must: Someone mentioned Coke Zero earlier. It is not a new name for Diet Coke, it is a separate formula that tastes must more like regular Coke, but without calories. I don't like the taste of Coke but I love the taste of Diet Coke. I recently was served a Coke Zero when I ordered Diet Coke and sent it back. I hope Coke Zero isn't going to replace Diet Coke. And while I'm at it: when I order a Diet Coke, I am not implying that I am ordering Diet Coke and lemon. Leave the lemon out of my Diet Coke -- and ice water -- unless I actually request it!

Paul Farhi: Since Diet Coke has a massive market share and Coke Zero has, um, zero, I don't think there's any danger of Diet Coke disappearing. As for the taste of Diet Coke, Mike Meyers correctly turned it into a metaphor for something lesser ("the Diet Coke of evil") in "Austin Powers."


Re: Arlington, Va.: A better name for the History Channel would be the End of the World channel. Most of its metaphysical programming deals with disasters of biblical proportions. We're talking Old Testament, real wrath-of-God type stuff, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, 40 years of darkness, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice...No dogs and cats living together, unfortunately, that's on the National Geographic Channel.

Paul Farhi: Hahaha! Now that you mention it, "Animal Planet" does sound a little ominous, in a "Planet of the Apes" sort of way.


Arlington, Va.: Wait, Radio Shack is the big new sponsor of Lance Armstrong's new pro cycling team, which everyone is calling Team Radio Shack. So does this mean it will now be called "Team Shack"?

Paul Farhi: Excellent point....There is, by the way, a big bike-team sponsor called Rabobank. It's a successful European bank, apparently. I'm not surprised that it hasn't made it over here, though, since the company's name is pronounced "Rob-o-bank."


Brawny: Just within the last few years, Brawny changed its lumberjack -- less like a '70s adult film star, more like a sensitive, modern (but still muscular) guy. Hilarious.

Paul Farhi: The new Brawny guy (and maybe the old one, too) look like a gay icon, as my colleague Hank Stuever pointed out some years ago...


Simpsons Again: They also did an episode where the name of the phone company kept changing while Marge was in their office.

Paul Farhi: Haha! I think we may have to put a moratorium on Simpson's references. They're hilarious, of course. But endless.


Silver Spring, Md.: The other day I was behind, not a FedEx truck, but a "FedEx Express" truck. So they shortened a word, then brought it back again...while keeping the first one.

Paul Farhi: Ah, the old Federal Express Express truck. Yeah, FedEx is a great example of a company becoming so successful and ubiquitous that everyone refers to it that way--FedEx--without a second thought to the basic meaninglessness of the name. Now that's a successful rebranding...


Yuma, N.M.: Campbell Brown says that CNN is the only cable news network doing "real journalism" which seems in line with their whole marketing.

Do you think Lou Dobbs "winks and nods" to the nutty "Barack Obama isn't really president" movement is hurting that image even moreso then Mexican bashing a few years ago?

Paul Farhi: This has been fascinating to watch. Fascinating because CNN is now trying to square complete hogwash with another of Lou Dobbs' fantasies. Watching CNN president Jon Klein twist and spin and squirm to justify the utter trashing of his network's journalistic credibility at the TV critics meeting a few weeks ago was just jaw dropping. You just wanted to use the famous line spoken to Sen. Joe McCarthy: "At long last, sir, have you no decency?"

And you know who I feel sorry for? The poor reporters who have to file "reports" on Lou's show. You just know Lou is telling them to make it more "Dobbs-ian," facts be damned.


FedEx: "Paul Farhi" is just too long to Twitter. Would you consider "PFar"?

Paul Farhi: What's wrong with Farhip, which is my sign-on and email handle? Tho "PFar" is a much better rapper's name.


FedEx: And FedEx is used as a verb now, too, as in "I'm in a hurry, so please FedEx me that package!"

Paul Farhi: And that may have been why Federal Express Corp. rebranded itself. The new name had already entered the popular lexicon...


London, U.K. (temporarily): Over here, Pizza Hut is 'Pasta Hut'. No, I don't know why someone thinks the latter sounds healthier than the former. Regarding the SyFy channel, though: how much science fiction did/does it really air? It's sort of a mishmash of genres, with very little true -science- fiction. But 'The Wrestling Channel That Also Shows a Few Really Good Television Dramas And Lots of Cheesy B-Movies That Probably Are Closer to C-Movies' is sort of a mouthful. (I should add here I'm a fan of the dramas, and at least some of the cheesy movies, so I'm not saying this enirely as an insult.)

Paul Farhi: I love Great Britain for being just like us, but not exactly like us. "Pasta Hut" sounds kind of fat, for some reason...


Washington, D.C.: More on FedEx: Federal Express bought Kinkos, which became FedEx Kinkos, which is now FedEx Office.

Paul Farhi: That name--FedEx Kinkos--never worked for me. I feel the same way about those KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut hybrid stores. Pick a name and stick with it!


Stevensville, Md.: Your colleague Lisa de Moraes had a great comment on how CNN is twisting itself due to Dobbs. She said soon they will air a special called The Earth Is Flat: We Report, You Decide.

Paul Farhi: Yes, a great line! But really, people at CNN must be very, very unhappy about Dobbs. They've tried to be taken seriously for going on 30 years. I'm sure this isn't helping.


And that may have been why Federal Express Corp. rebranded itself. The new name had already entered the popular lexicon... : See, they did it right. WE gave them their nickname, and it stuck. These other companies are all, "I wish I had a cool nickname, I'm going to make one up for myself so I can be cool, too."

Paul Farhi: Right. It works better when it's "natural." Much harder to force-feed these things.


123 Main St., A Different Town: I always wonder if companies that decide to brand themselves with their initials (HP, etc.) do so because that's how they refer to themselves internally, and after a while they just assume that's how everybody refers to them. In reality, the shorthand is totally mystifying to outsiders. Similarly: TV shows preciously named after the buildings in NYC where networks are housed. Nobody west of the Hudson can fathom the connection.

Paul Farhi: Yes, remember the CBS newsmagazine show called "West 57th?" Which meant what to the 99.9 percent of viewers who didn't live in Manhattan?


Arlington, Va.: Banks do it too! Remember when Bank of America was Nation's Bank?

Paul Farhi: Was it? Why would anyone want to change "Bank of America," which is a great, great name?


FedEx Rebranding: Yes and no. They also eliminated the name of Kinko's at the same time, which was a huge blunder among those of us entrepreneurial road warriors.

Paul Farhi: Kinko's was such a quirky name. And it said only one thing. Maybe they should have dropped the whole FedEx association and just stuck with Kinko's.


Anonymous: Do you have any reaction to the recent article, "Reality TV continues its downward spiral of morality"?:

Reality TV continues its downward spiral of morality (Star-Bulletin, July 6)

Paul Farhi: My reaction: This is news?


Pepperland: How cool was it meeting Macca??!!

Paul Farhi: Very cool. Thrill o' a lifetime. But strangely, I can't bring myself to refer to him as "Macca." I don't know what's wrong with me...


Chantilly, Va.: Why oh why did Virginia Power change its name to Dominion? We had Pepco and Vepco.

The old phone company names were great too. C and P had such a nice ring (pun intended) to it.

Paul Farhi: I loved the name Virginia Power; it made me think of some '40s movie queen ("starring Van Johnson and Virginia Power"...) But I think Vepco was branching out of Virginia; people in North Carolina or West Va. probably wouldn't respond to that name. On the other hand, not sure "Dominion" solves the problem, either.


Yes, remember the CBS newsmagazine show called "West 57th?" : Well, a little NBC sitcom titled "30 Rock" seems to be perking along OK.

Paul Farhi: Touche (pronounced "toosh," I think)...


Kinkos: You know what's really strange about these name changes? They have to report a loss of money on their balance sheets, due to loss of goodwill associated with the known name. I don't understand it.

FedEx Drops Kinko's Name; Plans Charge (The, June 2, 2008)

Paul Farhi: Yeah. Boring accounting digression: Brand names have great value to a company, and that value has to be reflected when its balance sheet. Kill the name and you kill some of the asset value, which has to be written down. Another reason to think twice about rebranding.


Why would anyone want to change "Bank of America," which is a great, great name? : It's more fun to say "BOA."

Paul Farhi: In S.F. (where Bank of America was founded and the Bank of America building was the tallest in the skyline), we never said "BOA." It was always "B of A."


Bank of America/Nations Bank?: Well, it's been Bank of America since the 40s. I was watching that great Hitchcock movie Shadow of a Doubt that was filmed in Santa Rosa, CA. Joseph Cotton walking down main street with a Bank of America in the background right next to J.C. Penney

Paul Farhi: Yes! I believe A.P. Gianinni, who founded B of A (and not in the '40s, but around the time of the 1906 earthquake in S.F.) was a major financier of Hitchcock's Hollywood films. That may have been Hitchcock's shout-out to A.P.


Old Blue in Exile, again: "Bank of America"? Used to be Bank of Italy when A.P. Giannini founded it. (BTW, did you know there's a Giannini Hall on the Cal-Berkeley campus?)

I even remember back when the American Trust Company (where my parents banked) merged with Wells Fargo Bank! Initially it was called Wells Fargo-American Trust, but eventually the AT part got dropped.

Paul Farhi: Ah. Is good.


re: real locals still refer to them by their old names: I'm born and raised in NY and in 45 years on this planet I've never heard anyone say they were flying out of Idlewild. So these airport names do stick sometimes.

Paul Farhi: And can anyone remember what LaGuardia was called before it was named for the mayor? So, I guess, someday we will say, "I'm flying out of Marshall next week." Or maybe "I'm flying out of Thurgood..."


Greater Green Bay, Wisc.: The worst part of corporate ID changes -- the name of the local sports stadium never stays the same from year to year.

Paul Farhi: There's great lag time on that, isn't there? I still occasionally slip and call it the MCI Center (its original name). And don't even try to sell naming rights to all the great olde tyme stadiums, like Fenway or Dodger or Wrigley or Yankee (including the new one).


Rebranding: What about people who try to change their names as adults? I have a friend who was "Dan" until he was 24, then decided that "Daniel" was more grown up. Sent around an e-mail to everyone asking that we make a switch. The e-mail was roundly ignored. You can't just change who you are mid-stream.

Also, this guy had 20/20 vision, but wore glasses so as to seem less threatening/more intelligent.

Paul Farhi: He should have changed his name to something more radical. Like Kinko.


Giant has changed its sign: Be prepared -- Giant will likely change it's name to Stop and Shop in the next year. Same parent company, same logos and advertising (saw this in Cape Cod last month), and some of the Giant clerks are already wearing Stop and Shop polos. It's coming.

Paul Farhi: Interesting. But I doubt it. The company that bought Giant--the unfortunately named Royal Ahold of the Netherlands--did so YEARS ago. It has kept Giant and Stop and Shop as separate brands for a long time. Not sure why they'd change now. (And a very old joke: If A and P merged with Stop n' Shop, the new name might be Stop n' P).


Washington, D.C.: Please let me know if I am being unreasonable.

I like the sports junkies, but every now and then Eric will throw in a little jab at our current President. I fully understand everyone will have their own personal political beliefs, but each time it makes me want to listen less and less because I can turn on WMAL or WTNT is I want to hear political jabs.

Am I being unreasonable? It is a pet peeve, but enough to make me want to turn the station.

Paul Farhi: Yes, you are being unreasonable. Sports talk alone doesn't really work for me (it gets dull talking about third-round draft choice), but "guy talk" (with sports) is far more interesting. I like hearing the hosts rant/rap about stuff other than games, even when I disagree with the rant/rap.


G.I. Tract: Paramount says it's not going to let critics see "G.I. Joe" in advance, because "We want audiences to define this film," as a publicist says. Is this the surest sign of a potential bomb or what? Isn't it pretty much equivalent to the euphemism that publicist will use the next time a big Paramount exec leaves the company "to spend more time with his family"?

Paul Farhi: I used to think it was a sign of a bomb. But the "Transformers" movies have validated this approach. The "Transformers" movies may be the worst things ever put on film, but audiences LOVE them. So there's no reason for the studio to remind people of that by letting critics trash the films. Positive reviews can help certain kinds of smaller movies, but the studios don't need 'em for their big dumb movies.


Royal Ahold: Snort!

Paul Farhi: I am just reporting. You decide.


Tell me how you really feel: I like hearing the hosts rant/rap about stuff other than games, even when I disagree with the rant/rap.

So what's your take on Kornheiser's return?

Paul Farhi: I really liked Tony's old radio show. But I suspect the new one is going to include a fair amount of Post bashing. I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but Tony can't get over himself...


Wells Fargo - Name Change: This is another one.

Norwest Bank purchased Wells Fargo but liked the name so they changed to it.

Paul Farhi: Good move. Wells Fargo is such a resonant historical name. Norwest Bank might as well be called Bank of Nowhere.


Somewhere: Famous local anecdote (that The Post foolishly buried at the time): When Virginia Electric changed its name to Virginia Power, a little old lady in Alexandria guessed it! ... got a whole lot of checks from strangers suddenly deposited in her bank account. So the change to Dominion was a way to avoid such confusion.

Also: Bank of America didn't change its name to NationsBank and then back. That was the result of an acquisition. NationsBank, I believe, bought BofA and took the more famous name.

Paul Farhi: Well, Vepco didn't change its name to help out that lady, but yes, that's a great anecdote. And thanks for the clarification on NationsBank-Bank of America.


Chicago, Ill.: Changing "Philip Morris" to "Altria" makes sense because by the time they did it, PM sold a bunch of stuff other than cigarettes, like chocolate and frozen pizza and beer. So no point in still being named after the one product everybody hates (and sues) you for. But the other names I don't get. You can call it "Radio Shack" or "The Shack" or "The Outhouse," it still doesn't make the products inside any more attractive. Ditto KFC and the others.

Paul Farhi: Yes, true. And as I tried to say, dumping PM was a strategy to escape a long, ugly history. They seem to have chosen a name that no one can actually remember or identify.


Retail Beat: Giant and Stop n Shop have the same logo but different names, which is unusual. There are other similarities, as well, but somehow I can't see those Aholds messing with such a longtime D.C.-area brand. Besides, Stop and Shop discount cards are incompatible with Giant's cash-register system, and vice versa. I've checked.

Paul Farhi: There's so much equity and good will in Giant. They will lose 20 points of market share overnight if they were to do this. Which I'm NOT saying they are.


Fairfax, Va.: How about Blackwater and its new, unpronouncable name, Xe? Although I suppose if a company ever needed to be rebranded, it would be Blackwater.

Paul Farhi: Let's do an SAT analogy: Blackwater is to Philip Morris as Altria is to Xe. And didn't Halliburton, or maybe its Iraq-contracting subsidiary KBR, do a rebranding, too?


Beltsville, Md.: Wells Fargo even has a theme song, in "The Music Man."

Paul Farhi: Now I'll have "The Wells Fargo wagon is a-comin'" playing through my head the rest of the day...


The Locals Use the Old Names, continued: No New Yorker ever says "Avenue of the Americas." It's always "6th Avenue," still after 50 or 60 years

Paul Farhi: Good one. This is an interesting phenomenon. It's a group identity thing; you use the old name to show you're a part of the group ("real" New Yorkers). In San Fran, only tourists called it "Frisco," which is a name I never minded.


Accessories Shack: While the Onion story was dead-on, it is actually interesting to see Radio Shack survive. I always thought it catered to people like my dad -- assorted gearheads and hobbyists, ham radio guys, do-it-yourselfers. Then I realized how often I ended up stopping in to get a cable for my latest home entertainment component, or a cable amplifier, or foam covers for my iPod earbuds. I may not be a major customer, but I'd be at a loss if it ever went under!

Paul Farhi: You can't imagine that it has anything you need--until you need something that it has and you wind up spending about $75 there. Props to the Shack for hanging in there.


Rebranding City, USA: How about the number of radio stations that are known by one or two names? "The Point?" "Ben?" "The Truth?" "Free FM?" "Praise?"

Of course, a radio station known "The Loop" was in business 30 years ago when they blew up a box of phonograph records in Chicago. The rest is history.

Paul Farhi: That was pretty smart, at least for a while. Easier to remember, for example, "The Arrow" than its dial position (94.7) or its call letters (WARW). But then everyone started doing it and it lost its distinctiveness.


Groceries: And "Giant" just did hugely well for them last quarter, I believe (check your Business Section). So they may not want to mess with what's working. Although when did that ever stop corporate marketing...

Paul Farhi: Aye. Though there are fresh, young MBAs everywhere who have to justify their existence, I guess. Some go-getter is probably saying right now, "You know, boss, Nike (or Apple or whatever) is such an old name. What say we freshen things up a bit?"


I can't get used to new names: I still call CVS by it's old name, People's.

Paul Farhi: People's Drugs. What a concept.


Old Blue in Exile, again!: "Giant and Stop n Shop have the same logo but different names"

Well, out west what easterners call Hellman's mayonnaise is Best Foods, and what easterners call McCormick spices is Schilling. Same logos, same products, different names.

Paul Farhi: Excellent, Old Blue! Since there have been no sightings of Airless Cubicle this week, you're our best branded chatter.


Baltimore, Md.: Key to the Shack's success: They were smart to never go the big box route. You will find them mostly in unpretentious strip malls with lower rents. One survives near my house in such a mall, even as other businesses crater.

Paul Farhi: There's one in the building adjacent to The Post, too. Been there for years. I bet the rent there isn't cheap. But they seem to sell a lot of remote-control cars, so maybe it isn't a problem...


New Haven, Conn.: I really enjoyed your calling out Sarah Palin over her double standard with David Letterman even though many other late night talk shows had done similar, if not more distasteful, jokes about her daughter Bristol.

It seems like Letterman is winning the ratings war with Conan O'Brien so far. What's your take on that and do you think Sarah Palin, though she'll never admit, deserves some of the credit?

Paul Farhi: I want to think that Palin gave Letterman his Hugh Grant moment--i.e., the big publicity spike that enabled him (like Jay Leno back in 1995) to surge past his competition permanently. But it's not that simple. Dave is winning in overall viewers but Conan is still well ahead in the 18-49 crowd that advertisers want. So, it's not a pure victory.


Re: The Shack: About twenty years ago, I had a cousin who was a manager at Radio Shack. When we would visit his family, they would say, "Oh, he's at The Shack." Who knew my family was so cutting-edge?

Paul Farhi: Radio Shack claims that people have long referred to its store that way, so the name change is a natural. Me, I don't ever recall calling it that...


Paul Farhi: Well, folks, thanks for the lively discussion, but time for me to get back to doing whatever it is I usually do. Thanks for stopping by, and let's do it again. I'm going to be out of commission next week, so no chat then, but we can revive this thing in two weeks. Maybe Airless Cubicle will be back by then. In the meantime, as always, regards to all! --Paul.


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