Monday, June 24News That Matters

Rebranding 101: Why You Never Give Your Company the Same Name as an International Hacking Ring – Inc.com


Textivia was a small operation–about 15 people–based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It had been through change before, pivoting from its original business of text-message-based trivia to building websites and doing online marketing for other businesses. But by March of 2017, almost 10 years into the company’s life, its three business partners had decided it was time to restructure the company, inside and out.

Internally, they plotted a staff reorganization, all the way up to the top: CEO Chris Baumgarden, president David Christopher, and COO Neal Maier would each change their title to “partner.” But the biggest change would be outward-facing. Textivia would get a new name, a new website, and an entirely new feel. The company’s new mission would be broader, and it would reach for bigger clients, to help them with business strategy as well as online growth, sales, and marketing. They summed up the strategy as “Solve, Move, Evolve,” three words ending in v-e. The company would be called 3VE. They pronounced it “three vee eee.”

The partners halted all marketing on Textivia in mid-2018, and planned to leave their old brand behind as the calendar flipped to 2019. They ordered new business cards, built the new site, acquired the domain name 3ve.com, and commissioned a new sign for their office.

Everything was now in place for the official birth of 3VE. Except for one problem–one that would threaten not only the reorganization, but potentially the company’s entire existence.

On December 18, Maier was at his desk late when he heard a scream coming from Christopher’s office. He ran. On Christopher’s computer screen was an open email from Google, whose services the company used. The subject line read, in part: “Goodbye 3VE and 2018.”

They scrolled through the email and did a quick Google search: 3VE was all over the news. And it had nothing to do with them. Instead, they found that 3VE was the code-name U.S. authorities and tech companies had given to a global online-ad hacking scheme and botnet that had infected some 1.7 million computers. Google, White Hat, and more than a dozen other companies in ad-tech and security had worked together to bring down 3VE (this one pronounced “eve”). On November 27, the state attorney of New York announced charges against the hackers, three of whom had already been detained. Google had published a white paper titled, “The Hunt for 3VE.”

Maier and Christopher knew immediately that their new name–the name they’d grown to love, the name that was to be their company’s fresh start–was forever tainted. This wasn’t just an FBI code-name. It was now attached to an extremely malicious and sophisticated hacking scheme precisely in their line of work: online advertising. 

Maier looked at Christopher and said: “Well, we’re done.” 

The next morning, the whole office was in a state of “cancel everything.” The business cards, the door sign, a trademark filing, new bank accounts, and the carefully crafted email to be sent to the company’s roughly 40 customers in a few days announcing the rebranding.

“The name had been our absolute best shot,” says Maier, estimating that the agency, still a small, scrappy team, spent $150,000 in man-hours and money to rebrand. “Now we had to wipe it out.”

At the same time, he had to start thinking of ways that the company might be able to turn the situation into something positive. He figured some people would find a bit of enjoyment in the irony of the online-marketing-and-branding agency rebranding itself–and then having its name ripped out from under it days before its launch.

The now-nameless company stripped the website it had been building, replacing brand assets with a circle that just read “[Our Name Here],” and the story of the unfortunate coincidence. They decided to temporarily go by “The Agency Without a Name.” Then they posted a playful plea on crowdsourcing site Squadhelp to come up with a new name. Within weeks, more than 400 suggestions had been uploaded.

“I’ve tried not to look at them,” Maier says. “I don’t want to fall in love with one too early.” Submissions are open until January 19. Maier is hopeful one might help The Agency Without A Name move into its next era. He’s still stung, but he’s starting to see the humor in so many things going wrong at once.

“It’s comical, I know,” he says. “Hopefully, our clients, and everyone, will soon start to see the absurdity.”

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