The value of names
WHEN THE financial crisis occurred nearly a decade ago, it was interesting to note how anonymous the sector had become. With the founding fathers long-gone, there was less personal equity at stake for the decision makers on Wall Street. There was no Lehman running the eponymous investment bank when it collapsed in 2008. Would the bank’s founder, Emanuel, or any of his descendants, have made the same decisions that ultimately led to the disappearance of one of America’s most famous institutions with their own name on the line? A good name takes decades to cultivate, yet only moments to destroy.
Names tell a story. They speak of history and heritage. Of culture and personality. They can define who you are and where you come from.
When Donald Trump wanted to pursue a war-of-words with Jon Stewart, he reminded his Twitter followers of the comedian’s origins. “I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz — I mean Jon Stewart,” he quipped. The double-whammy. Not only “revealing” Stewart as a Jew but also intimating that the talk-show host wanted his background concealed. A fine bit of antisemitic dog-whistling.
It was therefore refreshing that one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, Grey London, announced last week that it was temporarily changing its name. For 100 days, Grey will become Valenstein & Fatt. The Jewish origins that were once hidden behind the colour of their office wallpaper will now be prominently placed above the door of their Hatton Garden home. A very public statement, says the company, against intolerance and prejudice.
That Lawrence Valenstein and Arthur C. Fatt launched an agency under the name “Grey” is a reflection of the personal anonymity the pair hoped for in 1917. The white, male, Protestant dominated industry that would go on to inspire Mad Men was still in its infancy. Yet it was clear that ad land was not a natural environment for Jews. Antisemitism was rife. Their names could have cost them business.
The name change, although temporary, is significant. It has been timed to launch the firm’s five-point diversity plan, central to which is the notion that creativity emanates from people being themselves and not trying to be like someone else. This attitude could change the way businesses view diversity altogether, showcasing people rather than data as a realisation of policy. For diversity to be achieved it needs to be seen. Pie charts and bar graphs aren’t role models. You won’t believe you can be an Arthur C. Fatt if you’ve never seen an Arthur C. Fatt.
Valenstein & Fatt is a proud statement that, were it not for a Jewish Founding fathers: Lawrence Valenstein (top) and Arthur C Fatt duo, and many more like them, hundreds of businesses would not have been established. Millions of job would not exist. It should also send out a message to those from minority backgrounds. Be who you are. Put your name on the door and build a brand around it. Diversity will not truly flourish until it is the norm.
Barry Frankfurt is Managing Director of Creative & Commercial, which really should have been called ‘Knobil’s’.
Back to basics: new branding at Grey London, for 100 days.