EASY TO GET BURNED BY HIGH-TECH'S LURE

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Companies are falling all over themselves these days to try to show they're hip to the high-tech world.

Xerox, for one, wants to get the word out that the company makes hardware other than copiers, such as computerized scanners and faxes. To make the transition to electronic products Xerox has designed a new red "X" and a black-and-red corporate logo, "the document company-Xerox."

Forgive my ignorance, but I always thought documents were hard-copy things like leases or buy-sell agreements or employment contracts. I don't really consider stuff on a computer screen a "document"; it's not a document unless I can hold it in my hands.

So by changing its entire name to "the document company" Xerox is actually telling me that it wants nothing to do with electronic imaging and scanning (a position in the marketplace, by the way, that I would personally applaud).

It would be like we described Crain Communications as the "ink and paper company, and proud of it."

Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. has a similar problem.

Sure, it manufactures insulation products and roofing materials, but it longs to be known as a "technology-driven company that is expanding into new areas," as its chairman told The New York Times. And it doesn't want to be known as the company that markets Corningware baking dishes, which it actually doesn't.

So how does Owens-Corning propose to tell the world that it is branching out into space-age products?

It's licensing the global rights to the Pink Panther character from the Blake Edwards film of the '60s. The company has been using the Pink Panther for some time now as a tie-in with its pink insulation products. Here again I'm probably missing something, but please explain to me how worldwide use of an aging cartoon character, whose color is linked to a product consumers often connect with asbestos, signals that Owens-Corning is now "technology-driven"? The company's chairman, Glen Hiner, says more Owens-Corning products will be associated with the Pink Panther because "customers respect our company, but feel no emotional connection to it," according to the Times. That's a different problem altogether.

Companies, like their top management, seem to have an insatiable desire to be loved. They assure us that they care, that they're concerned about our general well-being.

I guess that's why Owens-Corning is adopting the tagline, "We make the difference," but with all due respect I'd like to reserve the right to be the judge of that.

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