Comcast Rebrands its cable, telephone, and Internet services as “XFinity”

What genius in corporate came up with this bright idea?

from -Turns out that Comcast, the media conglomerate with over 47.1 million cable, Internet, and telephone customers, won’t just have to fret about integrating a struggling brand (NBC) into its fold.

Now, the company has to deal with all the jokes about the new name for its core products. Though the parent company will retain the Comcast name, next week its cable, telephone, and Internet services will be rebranded “XFinity” in eleven markets, and nationwide thereafter.

XFinity? Huh? It’s no surprise that the blogosphere had a field day with the name. Gizmodo called it the “worst, pseudo-pornographic, retrofuturistic marketing dollars can buy.”

Another well-trafficked blog, The Consumerist, also said Xfinity sounded like a porn company. “Sorry, it just does,” the site wrote. In a very unscientific poll, I asked a few people for their first thoughts when I mention the word XFinity. The responses: “Porn.” “Porn.” “Stupid.” “An energy drink or a porn site.” “Stupid name.” “Not positive.” “Extreme sports.” “A satellite something.” “A car.” “Drugs and porn.”

At least one brand guru is also shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s a complete and total waste of time and resources,” says Rob Frankel, who has consulted for companies like Disney, Burger King, and Sony. “Nobody has a clue as to why they did this, or what the name means. If you are going to rebrand, it should communicate a strategy. Now, you’ll just say the old Comcast guys f—-d up my cable.'”

The name is a nod to a Comcast technology initiative called Project Infinity, which CEO Brian Roberts unveiled at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show. Under Project Infinity, the company’s video-on-demand views have more than doubled, to 14 billion cumulative views, over the last two years. Internet speeds have tripled.

Comcast’s online movie and television show choices jumped from 3,700 in the first quarter of 2008 to 19,100 at the end of 2009. The company is changing, so Comcast feels the name should change with it. “At its core, XFinity is infinite potential,” says David Watson, executive vice president of operations at Comcast Cable. “The pace of innovation put us in this moment, it’s the right time to consider something like this.”

So why not just name it, say, Infinity? Lame, yes. But at least that would eliminate the “X” giving folks the giggles. “This is a long-term investment,” says Watson. “We’re going to come out with a strong advertising campaign in a week, and it will be something we’re going to build on. Our job is to make sure that people get what this stands for: more choice, more control than anybody else in the marketplace. So we’re going to build on this. And people who aren’t there right away, we’re going to try to win them over.” See pictures of the history of air communications and in-flight entertainment.

Good luck. Corporate name changes have a mixed history. Some adjustments seem logical, because the company wants to dissociate itself from a negative trait. For example, Philip Morris switched to Altria in 2003 (of course, at this point most people know that Altria is associated with cigarettes). Accenture was fortunate. In 2001, the company changed its name from Andersen Consulting to Accenture right before the word “Andersen,” as in Arthur Andersen, briefly became synonymous with cooking the books. Now, when you think Accenture, you think Tiger Woods scandal. Not so lucky.

Comcast doesn’t seem to need a rebranding. Fueled by higher Internet and phone revenue, and a one-time tax gain, company earnings more than doubled, to $955 million, in the fourth quarter. “Here’s one thing we do know,” says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“Comcast is going to spend a huge amount of money to get that brand to mean what it wants it to mean.” Here’s another thing we know. Shareholders should be asking themselves, “why?”

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