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Storyboard | Meta question: Is the new name for Facebook Inc. hot or not?

Facebook is now Meta, to signal its ambition to be a metaverse company rather than a social media company. But what will a name change do for the brand?

October 29, 2021 / 09:34 AM IST
Facebook. | Representative image

Facebook. | Representative image

Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday (October 28) announced the rebranding of Facebook Inc. as Meta, to include both the company's "social experiences and future technology" focus.

"The metaverse will feel like a hybrid of today’s online social experiences, sometimes expanded into three dimensions or projected into the physical world," the company said in a release posted on its website.

Zuckerberg had previously talked about Facebook's shift from a social media company to a "metaverse" company on July 28, during an earnings call.

Reaction time

For weeks before the announcement at the Connect 2021 conference, though, there was speculation about the social media giant changing its name at a time when the so-called Facebook Papers have started to question Facebook-owned apps' impact on users, and the company's policies to prevent the spread of misinformation, hate, differential treatment for celebrities including politicians, etc.

Close

Read more: Internal Facebook documents show struggle with misinformation, hate speech and celebrations of violence in India: Report

Soon after news broke that Facebook Inc is looking to rebrand, people began sharing their suggestions for a new name for the company. Most names were too creative to publish here. Facebook’s new identity is meant to reflect the company’s increasing focus on building a ‘metaverse’ and other next-gen tech.

The Verge reported, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter, that the rebrand is “meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail.”

The metaverse is a digital world where people can move between different devices and communicate in a virtual environment. Facebook Inc’s (now Meta's) CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to make ‘metaverse’ the next buzzword in the world of technology and communication. The company has already put billions of dollars in virtual reality and augmented reality, developing hardware such as its Oculus VR headsets, working on AR glasses and wristband technologies.

According to the report, the rebranding exercise would “position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more.” This, as we now see, has come to pass. Zuckerberg, in a founder's letter, wrote: "From now on, we will be metaverse-first, not Facebook-first. That means that over time you won’t need a Facebook account to use our other services."

New brand. New direction?

Why Meta?

Zuckerberg explained in his October 28, 2021, letter that his inspiration came from the Greek Classics, where the word meta means "beyond". "For me, it symbolizes that there is always more to build, and there is always a next chapter to the story. Ours is a story that started in a dorm room and grew beyond anything we imagined..." he wrote.

Brand experts that Storyboard spoke to weren’t surprised at the company's decision to rebrand.

Mehul Gupta, co-founder and CEO of digital marketing agency SoCheers, said, Facebook moving from being just a social media network is a good brand divergence. In that case, the company needs “a new identity to convince users that they have a lot more to offer”, he added.

Independent creative shop Thinkstr’s national creative director Ravi Raghavendra said: “With so much focus on Metaverse, it will probably steer the mother brand in a new direction. It only augurs well for the brand. Facebook is too big to fail.”

Across the world, the social media giant has been facing intense criticism and scrutiny from regulators, lawmakers and the public for its practices and impact on people, communities and countries. The company’s brand refresh could help fix some of the cracks in its brand, say communication specialists who have worked on technology brands.

When to apply for a name change

Facebook Inc. isn’t the first tech major to rebrand a company because it is entering new business territories and expanding or changing its image.

In 2015, Google set up a new holding company called Alphabet, to move away from just being known as a ‘search engine’ and as its ambitions had grown. Today, the company is focused on making everything from driverless cars to premium smartphones.

A year later, Snapchat rebranded to Snap, to position itself as ‘camera company’ by launching its first pair of Spectacles camera glasses. Justin.tv was a popular name in the streaming space; to disassociate from the blogger identity to a larger brand the company got the name Twitch in 2019.

Read more: Snapchat crosses 100 million users mark in India

Right time for an update

In Facebook’s case, refreshing the brand is important as it has to include new business identities into the parent company and has several other gaps to fill. For instance, in its biggest market, India, Facebook is aggressively advertising its photo-sharing app Instagram and messenger app WhatsApp.

With its latest 'We Are In The Making' campaign for Instagram, the company is attempting to partly shed its “apostle of perfection” image to be seen as a more inclusive brand. For WhatsApp in India, the current ads are focused on its 'View Once' feature, where photos and videos from the chat disappear once they have been opened and viewed. Not surprisingly, the company is after the millennials and Gen Z through such consumer marketing initiatives.

If that’s the company’s real target audience, then Ramsai Panchpakesan, senior VP and national lead, integrated media buying at Zenith, said it’s the right time to rebrand.

“Every ten years, the generation of users for a product changes. It is only wise for a brand to update themselves so that alongside user retention they can also on-board new ones,” Panchpakesan said.

Impact on stablemates  

Meta (Facebook) also faces major pressure from competition. “The name change will come with changes like offering segregation, tech updates, among other things, that can bring back the edge the platform once had amongst younger people,” Panchapakesan said. It could also help to build trust in new investors who are on a wait-and-watch mode, he believes.

Rohit Raj, co-founder and creative chief of the WPP-owned agency The Glitch, said the rebrand will help apps like WhatsApp and Instagram that fold into Facebook. The negative publicity that Facebook has been getting, “tends to impact the other brands adversely,” he said. A brand name has a deep influence in consumers’ lives, especially if it becomes a verb like Google or Facebook, Raj added.

For many millions of users across the world Facebook is synonymous with social media. While the company might choose to rebrand itself, it might be a while before ‘Facebook’ logs out from consumers’ minds and Meta logs in.
Priyanka Nair is Assistant Editor of Storyboard. Storyboard is Network18's flagship platform focussed on the advertising & marketing community and a leading source of news and analyses on the business of brands
Tasmayee Laha Roy is Assistant Editor of Storyboard. Storyboard is Network18's flagship platform focussed on the advertising & marketing community and a leading source of news and analyses on the business of brands.
first published: Oct 22, 2021 07:19 am

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