Opinion

Google nabbed my agency’s name and originality died

Google’s forming of holding company XXVI came as news to Hamish Cargill, director of brand language agency XXVI. In this guest post, he challenges the tech giant’s lack of originality while simultaneously cashing in on the cachet this could bring his agency.

Ever wondered where the world’s great ideas come from? When Google commandeered our name XXVI last week, I wondered no more.

Sure, it’s likely the boffins at Google came up with the name of their own accord. But when you run the world’s most popular search engine, one thing you can’t claim when borrowing ideas is ignorance.

In case you missed it, last week the company formerly known as Google, now known as Alphabet, registered XXVI Holdings Inc. to manage its range of “other bets”, like self-driving cars and delivery drones.

It might have slipped under your radar, much like the forming of Google’s parent company Alphabet did. But it certainly didn’t pass me by since our agency has been called XXVI since 2005.

We chose the name because there are 26 letters in the alphabet. As a strategic copywriting and brand voice agency, those 26 letters are the only tools of our trade. Using Roman numerals to spell out a number just adds to the intrigue – and they look nice too.

The story behind XXVI is one that is close to our hearts. We tell anyone who’ll listen. Yes, we admit it’s a slightly roundabout link, but it’s this complication that has allowed us to live in a unique, creative oasis for the past dozen years.

Now Google has wandered into our quiet corner of the jungle, cut down all the trees and grabbed our baby – story and all. 

How do I feel about it? I’m not mad. I’m disappointed. Because with all the brainpower at Google, wasn’t this an opportunity to come up with something truly original? They’re the byword for innovation, and rather than simply recycling someone else’s ideas, they should try to add something fresh to the world. If they don’t show genuine creativity, who will?

But Google landing on your name is a bit like having an enormous elephant lumber along and sit on your head. You can shout a lot, and bang your fists and wave your legs, but in the end the elephant has you where she wants you. You’ll either suffocate, or learn to appreciate the shade.

So what should this ant do to the elephant? We have no legal right to pursue Google in the USA. We can’t twist their arm, or threaten them with our mountains of cash. We could mount a boycott and start using Bing instead. But we all know that’s not going to happen.

We could write them a beautifully persuasive letter with perfect grammar asking them to shove off elsewhere, or offer our services to come up with an alternative name, but success feels like a long shot. 

If we were being truly professional, we would share our experience of operating with the XXVI name. We love it and it’s been the start of many great conversations, but Google should know what they’re getting into. Firstly, XXVI doesn’t come up easily in search. Since the letters don’t spell out what they say, it’s a name that can be hard to find online. I don’t want to tell them how to suck eggs, but…

Secondly, for this very same reason no one’s actually going to get it. Sergey and Larry, you’re going to have to explain what XXVI means, to every person, every time. No one understands Roman numerals, because it’s 2017 and Roman numerals disappeared from vogue with chariot races and sandals and Russell Crowe a few thousand years ago.

Thirdly, people won’t know how to say it. They’ll say X-X-V-I, or Exvi or any of the thousand other mispronunciations I’ve heard over the years. Many people won’t even try, because they sense a trap and don’t want to look foolish. You’re making life hard for people, and as a fellow XXVI’er I feel a duty to inform you.

Where to now for the original XXVI? We’re going to take a moment to celebrate the fact that we’re more original than the Google boffins. We might put this on the front page of our website. One day we might even tell the story of “how we named Google” in our case studies. 

Ultimately, we’re going to take it as further proof that genius is cumulative rather than individual. Originality is dead, and as creatives this is another lesson to appreciate each other, and the fact we’re all building on something that’s been done before.

Hamish Cargill is director of brand language at XXVI.

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