Alphabet soup can't cure issues

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J. Walter Thompson last week buried its founder and truncated its name to JWT, making it the latest agency to come to the dubious conclusion that a string of letters is better than a venerable name. Initial reaction: Let's talk about something that matters. If JWT and its agency peers are going to reinvent themselves, they must do more than change the packaging. They must change the product.

It's hard to see how "JWT" will prove a better brand than "J. Walter Thompson" or "Thompson." The agency prospered under the name of pioneering ad man James Walter Thompson, who wrote the book-the 440-page "Advertising in America"-in 1889. It now dumps a memorable name to become yet another shop known by a string of initials with no meaning: JWT, BBDO, DDB, TBWA, Euro RSCG.

What an uninspired, unimaginative and unoriginal way to brand and distinguish these products. Groupthink lives on Mad. Ave. But in the end, a bad name on a good agency is better than a good name on a bad agency.

Self-adoration only contributes to agencies' image as packagers of fluff in a world where marketers need intelligence. Exhibit A: BBDO's announcement in 2002 of a new agency logo "in development for more than a year," "overseen and endorsed by the creative committee" and "embraced enthusiastically" by the board of directors. It's a wonder BBDO had any time to think about the work.

To its credit, JWT didn't make a big deal of announcing its new name and logo. It revealed the new ID near the end of a press release devoted to an issue relevant to clients-how JWT was retooling for a "consumer-controlled world."

It's up to JWT to deliver big ideas to back up its press release. If it can do that, JWT really will stand for something of value to the market it serves. What would J. Walter do? Figure it out.

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