Jewish World Review August 25, 2006/ 1 Elul, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

WaMu Poo Poo Ca Ca | Once upon a time, many years ago before children were idolized and catered to, when adult men dressed in long pants and adult women wore skirts and dresses, banking institutions used to be regarded as staid, serious businesses. Bank tellers wore suits and ties, furniture was heavy leather chairs and large carved desks, walls were polished rich woods and dense marble, and the whole place had a sense of permanence, security, and dependability. All of that translates to "old values" and if there's one thing we in the 21st Century avoid like the plague, it's old values. So your father's (or maybe grandfather's) bank is gone. Welcome to the user-friendly, cool, laid-back bank of today.

Washington Mutual Inc., the nation's largest savings and loan, will be changing its brand name to WaMu. WaMu (pronounced WAH-moo) is the nickname, we're told, that has been used by Washington Mutual employees, finance analysts and some customers for over a decade. According to Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York specialist in branding strategy for banks (did you know that there are branding strategy specialists for banks?), "It's more engaging to say WaMu than Washington Mutual. It sets them up to come across as the more caring, casual, customer-friendly bank." Yahoo it's WaMu!

Obviously this brand strategy marketing genius has convinced the bank that "Washington Mutual" sounds old and stogy while "WaMu" sounds new, cool, and friendly. To me, WaMu sounds like an old Indian name for cow dung. You know, like "Hey, Phil, watch out, you almost stepped right into the WaMu!" Or "Oh, great, now I got WaMu all over the bottom of my new sandals."

So don't be surprised when you see the old Washington Mutual signs coming down and WaMu signs going up on the bank buildings. And expect to hear stupid marketing phrases like, "WaMu, da ba fo yo mo." (Washington Mutual, the bank for your money.) This could be the beginning of a whole new way of talking - a sort of banking Ebonics. You walk up to a teller and she says, "Ho R OO? Ho Ca I He OO?" (How are you? How can I help you?) And you say, "I Wa To Ma A De." (I want to make a deposit.) Isn't that fun? Isn't that more caring, casual, and customer-friendly? Or does it just sound like the way Buckwheat used to talk in the Little Rascals films?

I'm sure Washington Mutual executives were jealous of the way Bank of America was able to easily shorten its name to B of A. But somehow B of A seems to work, while WaMu sounds really dumb. It would be like Disneyland shortening its name to DiLa or Mercedes Benz calling itself MeBe. (Actually, MeBe sort of works as a description of a type of person who usually owns a Mercedes. As in, "Who be the important one? MeBE!")

Shorthand name changes are nothing new, of course. Government agencies love using acronyms such as FEMA and NAFTA. Cities like using MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and SOHO (South of Houston). Media-savvy organizations know how important it is to come up with cute acronyms that the public will instantly recognize like MADD (Mothers Against Drink Driving) and NOW (National Organization for Women).

Name shortening for businesses have been going on for awhile and it usually is done for good reasons. The International House of Pancakes changed its name years ago to IHOP so people wouldn't think that the restaurant chain was only serving pancakes. The 3M Co. used to be Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. but that was a mouthful for most people and not an easy name to remember.

There's the thing - sometimes the short name gimmick works, sometimes it doesn't. The name IHOP is cute, bouncy and all of that, but it represents a family restaurant. The name works because it's a lighthearted name used for a lighthearted business. You say "IHOP" and you can almost see little children happily hopping through the door cheerfully jumping into the child's seat in the booth and ordering their sticky little kids' meal.

WaMu on the other hand is a stupid sounding name used for a quite serious, important business. A place where you keep your lifesavings, make vital investments and sign long-term loans is a pretty serious place. After hospitals and mortuaries it doesn't get much more serious than that. Where would you rather go to have your quadruple heart bypass surgery - Cedars Sinai Medical Center or CeSi? Bethesda Naval Hospital or BeNa? Want to make your final arrangements at Forest Lawn Memorial Park or FoLaMe?

Washington Mutual sounds like a banking institution, WaMu is an Eskimo hut used to store whale blubber. For my money, I'd rather be institutionalized.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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