Rebranding the Mercenary


Blackwater, the notorious private army, contracted by the Bush administration to protect “high value” military personnel, and accused of numerous crimes against Iraqi civilians, has recently undertaken an extensive brand repositioning. 

The corporate name itself, Blackwater, had become a public relations liability, a toxic asset if you will. The company spent more than a year in an internal search to develop the new name, “Xe” (pronounced “Zee”). Following this arduous renaming and rebranding process, company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell announced there was “no meaning at all in the new name.” 
Perhaps Ms. Tyrrell is telling the truth, that no meaning whatsoever, is an appropriately pore-less exterior for a company doing secretive contract work around the world. Of course companies spend vast sums of time and energy creating brand marks. They know these nuanced signifiers exude meaning to audiences around the world. I sincerely doubt that Xe is an exception. Since this is not a topic they wish to discuss, we are left to judge by what we see as formally trained graphic artists and observers of media.
At first glance, the word “Xe” seems vaguely technical. Perhaps it is a reference to the chemical xenon, or more specifically, the highly explosive xenon trioxide, XeO3. The gender neutral pronoun seems a stretch for this brand. But who knows? Maybe Xe is all about inclusiveness now. They won’t let us ask, and they won’t tell. Then there is the phonetic interpretation. The letter Z is the final letter in the English alphabet. Perhaps Xe is a metaphor for the last word? The last line of defense? Who you call as a last resort? The final option? Or maybe Xe is a reference to another famed vigilante, Zorro, “the Gay Blade” who went slicing his “Z” tag about following a conquest. The new Xe logo does have an slicing motion embedded within it. Perhaps more appropriately, there is Bill Barker’s underground comic from the early 90s, Schwa, where distant alien overlords in concert with omnipresent corporations and religions organizations control all human activity. Xenon figures prominently and is used on items such as “Alien Invasion Survival Cards” so you can tell if you have been abducted.
The old Blackwater mark was crass and ominous, with it’s sharp claws and encompassing bear-trap/target. It might have been seen as cartoonish, like a semi-pro football icon, had the news reports surrounding the company not been so gruesome. The new Xe brand mark suggests a professional level of discretion, subtlety, and cutting edge stealth. This is clearly a company growing in efficiency and evolving in sophistication. In an era of instant media attention, keeping a clean image is of the utmost importance. 
Blackwater may now fade into the dark memory recesses of public consciousness while the kinder, gentler vigilante group can continue doing our goverment’s business. In this light, the rebranding of Blackwater can only be viewed as a success.

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