Jan 13, 2019

The corporate world's rush to "de-brand"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week brought news from WeWork, the co-working unicorn, that it has decided to downgrade its main business to a mere subsidiary. WeWork has a famously complex corporate structure, but lift your eyes above the newly demoted WeWork to the very apex and behold — The We. (I am not making this up.)

The big picture: WeWork is not the only company to demote its flagship brand and name the holding company something silly, or worse.

  • Google is now just one part of a company called Alphabet.
  • Snapchat is just one of the brands operated by Snap.
  • Aol and Yahoo both found themselves part of something called Oath, before Oath was renamed Verizon Media Group.
  • And who can forget the Tribune Company, named after the 170-year-old Chicago Tribune newspaper, renaming itself Tronc.

Historically, companies were proud to name themselves after brands they had managed to elevate to a place of global name recognition. If you had a weird non-brand name like Gulf & Western or MacAndrews & Forbes, that was a sign that you were mostly in the business of buying and selling companies — that ultimately you weren't committed to your brands.

  • The new un-brands aren't conglomerateurs; neither are they corporate raiders. They're just distancing their investor-facing corporate selves from their consumer-facing identities.
  • There are many reasons for doing such a thing, but it does tend to look as though the CEO is a bit ashamed of the main product. Google, Snapchat, Yahoo and Tribune all have connotations of being either problematic or outdated.

The bottom line: This kind of move is generally presented as a way of telegraphing ambitions much greater than owning a single consumer-facing brand, no matter how successful that product might be. But it often comes across as a signifier of ambivalence and shame. In some ways, it's the modern-day equivalent of the rentier distancing himself from his coal mines.

Go deeper: How to name your startup

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Axios Visuals

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 1,134,418 — Total deaths: 60,115 — Total recoveries: 233,689Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 278,458 — Total deaths: 7,159 — Total recoveries: 9,897Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The federal government will cover the costs of COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.
  4. 2020 latest: "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said of the 2020 election, as more states hold primaries by mail. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that every county in the state opted to expand mail-in voting for the state's June 2 primary.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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The renaissance of the American family

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It used to be scarce and hard-earned, but suddenly family time is abundant in the era of shelter-in-place.

Why it matters: For the first time since the early 19th century, many parents and kids — and even grandchildren — are all under the same roof round-the-clock. And if past periods of emergency are any guide, this enforced togetherness could deepen our relationships for years to come.

Go deeperArrow2 hours ago - Health

Biden says he's starting VP search this month

Joe Biden. Photo: Scott Olson / Staff

Joe Biden said he's spoken to Sen. Bernie Sanders and former President Barack Obama about selecting a running mate — and that he wants to build "a bench of younger, really qualified people" who can lead the nation over the course of the next four presidential cycles.

Driving the news: Biden spoke about the state of the 2020 race during a virtual fundraiser on Friday night that was opened to pooled coverage.