An AIG by Any Other Name ...

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What's in a name? Probably more than you think.

And this week, The New York Times reports that American International Group (NYSE: AIG  ) once again sells more fixed annuities than anyone else -- but not under the toxic AIG brand name, of course. Americans still want what AIG is selling, but only if it comes with another name, like First SunAmerica or Western National Life.

The AIG name hardly inspires confidence these days -- but the company's products under other names are beating out fixed annuities from the likes of Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW  ) and MetLife (NYSE: MET  ) .

That which we call a rose by any other name may still smell as sweet, but the concept doesn't always transfer to the business world. It's amazing what some fresh letterhead, or a new label for a product, can do for a company.

In the software industry, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) is doing all it can to make us forget about Windows Vista, even though Windows 7 makes reviewers think "Vista, service pack 3." The damage done to the Vista brand name by a hurried and bungled launch almost three years ago was too much to overcome, even when the actual product ironed out most of the launch problems by way of updates.

The 1990s were not kind to the tobacco industry. The largest tobacco producers were ordered to pay hundreds of billions of dollars to settle a firestorm of health-related lawsuits, and tobacco was suddenly the longest four-letter word in the dictionary.

So what did market leader Philip Morris do? Distance itself from that sordid past, of course. Philip Morris has been known as Altria (NYSE: MO  ) since 2003, though the Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) division thereof has since spun out on its own. It's Altria for American tobacco and Philip Morris internationally. Got it? Good. I suppose the Philip Morris name still carries weight abroad.

Even mighty Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) is dabbling in undercover operations, rebranding a few stores and running them like independent cozies in an effort to keep growing without flooding the coffee-store market with the Starbucks name. That desperate gambit might not work out too well, though.

Did I miss your favorite name change? Tell us all about it in the comments below. And remember that each comment is really a charitable donation -- just under a different name.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call on Microsoft. Philip Morris is a Global Gains recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (14)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 2:04 PM, madmilker wrote:

    Wal-Mart to Wal*Mart

    wus tat done before r after they moved their Global Procurement Offices to Hong Kong and than to China?

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 2:40 PM, wlp624 wrote:

    My favorite is ValuJet changing its name to AirTran in the hope that no one would know that they had killed 105 passengers and 5 crew members because of their shoddy safety procedures.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 3:32 PM, lution wrote:

    You haven't heard of Union Carbide since the Bhopal accident. I believe they are known as Praxair now.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 4:48 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    GMAC changing the bank unit's name to Ally Bank was a good example.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 4:48 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    GMAC changing the bank unit's name to Ally Bank was a good example.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2009, at 3:36 AM, Clint35 wrote:

    AIG using a different name. That's one of the few smart moves they've made in the last couple years.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2009, at 10:35 AM, mrspiffy1 wrote:

    The stock and name may be total drek...keep in mind the insurance operations are regulated by 50 sets of insurance laws. The insurance side of the company had plenty of money and was in good shape. It was the chop shop across the hall manufacturing the derivitives the took everyone down. The insuranceco is a good asset.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2009, at 10:36 AM, mrspiffy1 wrote:

    Bonds of different subs (equipment leasing and american general) excellent value.

  • Report this Comment On December 13, 2009, at 10:39 PM, terpgrad wrote:

    Thanks for your comments mrspiffy1. There is always more to the story than what the shallow media reports.

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