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Leadership: What’s The Matter With WaMu?

I have been struck by the branding effort by Washington Mutual to reduce its name to WaMu. Washington Mutual is the monster financial institution and retail bank. When I was traveling in California recently, my two kids, both teens, had a field day shouting WAAAAMUUUU! as if they were caged animals every time a commercial for it came on. They then would laugh. It does sound like an exotic creature one might find at a zoo. And I don’t think that’s the bank’s intention.

I have been struck by the branding effort by Washington Mutual to reduce its name to WaMu. Washington Mutual is the monster financial institution and retail bank. When I was traveling in California recently, my two kids, both teens, had a field day shouting WAAAAMUUUU! as if they were caged animals every time a commercial for it came on. They then would laugh. It does sound like an exotic creature one might find at a zoo. And I don’t think that’s the bank’s intention.

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The problem with the word is that it blends two sounds that sound ugly and unpleasant when combined in such a way. It doesn’t sound like English. Washington Mutual actually holds my home mortgage so I’ve been aware of the WaMu thing for some time. It’s been their domain name for years. But now it looks as if it is embarking on an effort to replace what is an elegant sounding pair of words with something much less so.

I suspect this is a result of current thinking in marketing that shorter is better than longer. The words Washington Mutual are a combined six syllables whereas WaMu is only two. Perhaps they were thinking of others who have done it successfully: International Business Machines became IBM, Macintosh became Mac and even Dairy Queen is headed toward the abbreviated DQ. It is also the result of our wish for ease when thumbing those text messages. I mean it would be difficult to type out Washington Mutual each and every time. Maybe WaMu is a result of insiders’ shorthand.

Still, wherever it originates, I don’t like it. It just doesn’t sound right. Why would I want to go to a bank named WaMu when I could go to one named Washington Mutual? Why would anyone go to WaMu when they could go to Fleet or People’s or Chase or Citi? Every single one of those sounds a lot better and more like a place I would like to do business.

What do you think?

Ruth Sherman • Ruth Sherman Associates, LLC • Greenwich, CT • www.ruthsherman.com

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About the author

Ruth Sherman, M.A., is a strategic communications consultant focusing on preparing business leaders, politicians, celebrities, and small business entrepreneurs to leverage critical public communications including keynote speeches, webcasts, investor presentations, road shows, awards presentations, political campaigns and media contact. Her clients hail from the A-list of international business including General Electric, JP Morgan (NY, London, Frankfurt), Timex Group, Deloitte and Dubai World.

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