OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

There was a novelty song in the 60s called The Name Game, centred

on a rhyming scheme that had Americans chanting merrily to each other

such nonsense as: "Nick, Nick, Bo Bick, Banana Fanna Fo Fick, Fee Fi Mo

Mick, Nick!"

Those wacky words were conjured up recently when a giant agency played a

name game of its own - or, more precisely, stopped playing name games

and took the sensible step of once again calling a spade a spade.

The agency is the direct marketing division of Young & Rubicam, which

for the past year or so has gone by the moniker Impiric. Effective 1

June, it has been rechristened Wunderman after Lester Wunderman, the

direct marketing pioneer who founded a shop that later became part of


What is an Impiric? Good question. The name was one of those coined

words meant to suggest an enterprise is futuristic and forward-thinking,

so beloved by corporate- and brand-identity consultants. Never mind the

clients that rebranded themselves with names such as Allegis, Novartis

and Accenture, just look at this list of coined names along Madison

Avenue: Bcom3, Cordiant, Digitas, Empower MediaMarketing, Grafica,

Incepta, Omnicom and Zipatoni.

In this instance, Impiric was intended to play off the word "empiric",

one who is guided by empiricism, the belief that experience,

particularly of the senses, is the true source of knowledge. Makes sense

for an agency specialising in direct marketing, no? Especially as that

agency was trying to transform itself under a new chief executive, Jay

Bingle, into a shop devoted to customer relationship marketing. The

experience a customer has with a product helps determine whether he or

she remains loyal to that product or defects to the competition.

So out went the name Wunderman Cato Johnson, which reflected the

evolution of the agency that Lester Wunderman opened in 1958, and in

came Impiric. Soon after, though, out went the internet boom and in came

the dotcom collapse, ushering in a period of reconsideration when

ethereal names began to fall out of favour.

It also became evident the Impiric name was working against the agency

in another way, by sowing confusion. Moving beyond a fusty past is fine,

but the new name was so much of a disconnect that potential clients

wound up with little or no idea they were being pitched by an agency

with more than four decades of experience.

And no doubt some believed the switch implied that Lester Wunderman had

gone the way of Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, joining them in

that big agency in the sky. Actually, he is alive and well at age 80 and

serves as chairman emeritus of the agency.

For all those reasons, Impiric started sounding like "Pyrrhic", a

perception that built with the departures of Bingle and Chris Cooney,

the executive vice-president of global marketing and communications who

quarterbacked the identity makeover. So the sigh of relief could be

heard all the way to the London headquarters of WPP, parent of Y&R, when

the decision was made to send Impiric packing and rebrand it as


Michael Dolan, chairman and chief executive of Y&R, was savvy enough to

offer an appropriately humble quotation to the media seeking a rationale

for the renaming. "Sometimes the smartest way to move forward," he said,

"is to take a step back."

Way to go, Michael ... Michael, Michael, Bo Bichael, Banana Fanna Fo

Fichael ...