In three years there will be a movie released, starring Jonah Hill. It’s about an ambitious and successful PR executive for an exciting new electronic payment system called “Ares” that’s set to revolutionize the way that people buy things with their phones. The name choice for the brand is made by a small and forceful CEO with an obsession with Greek mythology and LARPING, played by Danny DeVito. Ares isn’t doing that great as a payment company. They backed the wrong horse technologically, have failed to excite the public and have experienced a few directional SNAFUs with ill conceived publicity stunts re-enacting scenes from 300 in a shopping mall in Denver, but they are finally on the cusp of going bigtime. Danny DeVito utters the line… “nothing can stop us now”. Wrong. While Ares has been focusing on winning hearts and minds in the US, another Ares has had a similar idea in the Middle East – “Al Reprehensible Extremist Sect”. This Ares is taking over great swathes of Syria and Iraq through anti-Western sentiment and a significant amount of bloodshed. Faced with a PR disaster (who wants to be reminded of torture and execution when paying for groceries?), Danny De Vito insists that Jonah Hill heads to the Middle East to commence talks with the leader of Ares, accompanied by a plucky British payments analyst (probably played by Simon Pegg). Through various high jinks and inexplicable random acts, the sect leader embraces Western payments and ends up taking a position as CMO at one of the top 5 US FIs, Jonah Hill wins the day and the British payments analyst elopes with a camel.
Reality is very often stranger than fiction. In terms of things that Isis really didn’t see coming, having your brand kidnapped by a terrorist network with a better social media presence is probably not one of them. I really don’t know where they go from here. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a PR disaster in recent times that could be worse. Given the level of concern that Isis currently has (a survey is going round their users to assess the extent of the damage) and the already shaky ground that they have been on for a few years (how much money have AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon burnt on this already?), I expect there to be a do-over, with a new name and a fresh start at relaunching. In the meantime, a couple of thoughts on launching a payment company…
- Acronyms are dangerous. If you’re thinking of giving your company a short name of three or four letters, then a cursory search on Wikipedia might be a good idea to make sure you’re aren’t sharing it with a gastrointestinal parasite or white supremacist group. The Electronic Transactions Association shares their acronym with a Basque separatist group, but they seem to get away with that because no one in the US knows or cares about a small enclave between France and Spain and besides, Jason Oxman is very nice.
- Don’t pick a name that sounds symbolic, particularly of historic struggles. If we have learnt anything in recent years, it’s that terrorists love symbolism and pick names like Al Qaida and Taliban for that reason. Instead, choose a name that is benign and pedestrian, like Kabbage or Oink. Clearly no self respecting terrorist network would want to be called Oink. Or BlingNation.
- Think globally, act globally. Could Isis have anticipated this? Actually, yes. This has been simmering in the background of global news for a couple of years, but they’ve been so wrapped up with getting people on their network that collective myopia has placed them where they are today.
Schadenfreude? A little. But I think there is still time for Isis to recover and they still might have a place at the table when NFC finally happens in around 2018. And just look at PayPal* - they managed to survive with their name and brand intact despite recent crises in the Catholic church... *PayPal / Papal. Geddit?