AIG Puts Lipstick on the Pig

Name change is supposed to improve the public image of its healthy subsidiaries

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    NEWSLETTERS

    This building used to read "American International Group, Inc." across the front. Now it says nothing, and people will probably forget all about the whole AIG scandal by the end of the week.

    If you want to know just how important a name is to promoting a brand, just ask our president. As he himself once famously joked at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner,

    Many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is that Barack is actually Swahili for 'that one'. And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn't think I'd ever run for President.

    And yet, to the immense frustration of millions of Cheetos-scarfing mouth-breathers around the nation, a man with the middle name "Hussein" was eventually elected president, and even got to say his full name -- twice -- when he was sworn into office.

    The lesson here is that you can overcome a name that carries negative connotations for a lot of people, but it isn't easy. Today we learned that AIG, the much reviled insurance giant-turned-symbol of all that is wrong with American capitalism, decided not to pursue the Obama model.

    Instead, they borrowed a page from the PR playbook of the esteemed Iraq War contractors Blackwater and just decided to change their name. (Blackwater changed its name to "Xe," a word that nobody knows how to pronounce, which was probably the point.)

    Apparently, the marketing geniuses at AIG think Americans are stupid enough that they'll forget all about the $170 billion bailout disaster that will probably drain the Treasury of more tens of billions before their ordeal is over. And, alas, the marketing geniuses at AIG are probably right. People have short attention spans these days, and there's just so much to be outraged about. Who can remember from one day to the next all the names of the many miscreants we're all supposed to hate?

    Now AIG shall be known as AIU Holdings Ltd. It's a perfectly respectable and nondescript name, eminently forgettable, and synonymous with nothing. And that's just the way they want it.

    The bank-naming specialist and branding expert Sara K. Smith writes for NBC and Wonkette.