Word Games: A4e

A lot has been written about A4e in recent weeks, but not nearly enough of it has been about the company's diabolical name. Acronyms are rarely inspiring, but A4e delves into the murky depths of company branding to reach a new low, at which it waves as it plunges into even deeper recesses of awfulness.

One of the many things that annoys me about the name is that it was always A4e. Let me explain: usually, a company is lumbered with an acronym when a marketing bod decides it's time for a revamp and the company moniker is deemed unwieldy and dated. America Online is a classic example. There it was, clear and straightforward, its purpose and grandeur of intent nicely communicated within its name - America will be online and we will the people to take it there! - until someone decided that words were totally over and rechristened it AOL, a name that makes you want to nod off from corporate lethargy. A4e stands for something - Action for Employment - but it was never called Action for Employment (which means something) and has always been A4e (which doesn't).

Then there are the capital "A" and lower-case "e" - irritating simply because someone thought that the differentiation was significant. I mean, there were probably long meetings and entire away days spent abseiling down a Welsh cliff-face while mulling the relative merits of upper- and lower-case letters in a brand name. The person who had the eureka moment that a lower case "e" made the company seem more youthful and modern was probably the same person who thought the "4" was a clever use of text speak in a company name. Perhaps the same person who ensured that the A4e website URL was myA4e.com (puke) and in the "About A4e" section of the website, wrote a tract entitled "No faceless multinational". Call me harsh, but telling people you're definitely not a faceless multinational strikes me as a bit "the lady doth protest too much". But then, A4e
also has a blog with the subheading, “what we think about life, love and the universe". A4e on love (at last!): this kind of wisdom don't come cheap.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The last Tsar