EVERYONE CAN USE a fresh start from time to time. When Enco and Esso oil companies combined in 1973, they came up with the name Exxon—a word that at the time had no meaning or connotation—and then moved forward as a completely new company. Now, of course, we know that Exxon means “Lucifer’s Henchperson of the Coming Darkness.” So when Exxon and Mobil combined in 1999 to become the most powerful oil company in the world (Saudi Arabia is a small subsidiary), they wanted to distance themselves from the high negatives of the old name. So they came up with ExxonMobil, leading a confused public to ask, “Gee, I wonder what they sell?”
The point is, sometimes institutions need a makeover, and who better to turn over a new leaf than al Qaeda, an organization that, for at least the last decade, has suffered some really bad press.
As documents from his not-so-secret compound have revealed, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was concerned about the deteriorating reputation of his organization. The brand had become a problem. Too many mistakes in targeting and execution had tarnished all the positives of the proud al Qaeda name, which used to be synonymous with acts of mercy, community building, and the delicious cookies they sold door to door. (Thin Mints were my favorite.)
Shortly before his death, bin Laden had drafted a letter to associates asserting that al Qaeda should get a new name and, since ExxonMobil was already taken, he came up with a few possibilities, such as the following, translated into English (you’re welcome):
Smite Club. Similar to Fight Club, the movie about young men with a penchant for violence, it has a nice Old Testament feel. Plus, with “smite” you lose the “al,” which is the next-door neighbor whose lawn mower you need to return, as soon as you come up with a believable story for why it only has one wheel. “Club” works because al Qaeda is already kind of a club, although the moms usually don’t bring out Thin Mints when it meets in the tree house.
Death by Pillows. This name has it all. It starts out strong with the traditional high five of extremists, balanced quickly by something soft and invitational. It combines the threat of a violent end with the comfort of a good night’s sleep, presumably free of assassination attempts. It’s yin and yang, sour and sweet, and shows the powerful determination of the all-new al Qaeda: You mess with us, and you’ll be spitting out goose down for a long time.
Angry Puppies. This one has that all-important appeal to the younger set. Having lost almost a generation of fighters to the cause, al Qaeda needs to recruit fresh blood, and what better way than with the promise of something cute and cuddly. Note: Depending on cultural differences of the target audience, “puppies” can be replaced with the word “ponies” or “Big Bird.”
Datsun. This might be a stretch, but hear me out. In the 1970s, you could buy a new Datsun 510 for $2,000, a price that reflected its inexpensive materials, its simplicity of design, and the affordability of replacing it when a fender bender caused it to crumple like the tin box it was. Cheap and lethal: the perfect slogan for the new al Qaeda.
Unfortunately, Nissan Motors just announced it was reprising the name, so that won’t work. Does “Angry Pinto” do anything for you?
Planned Parenthood. Al Qaeda leaders don’t know what it is about these two words that arouses such blood-curdling hatred and fear among Americans, but at least half the infidels on Capitol Hill can’t stand them, so that’s a good thing, right? If you can’t destroy the Great Satan, might as well make him get all red in the face.
OR THEY COULD just go with a tried-and-true name, one that personifies al Qaeda’s commitment to world enslavement and domination: Exxon.
I think it’s available.
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.