The “inauthentic” use of umlauts in American culture has been well-known for several decades now. Common uses include the metal umlaut (e.g. Mötley Crüe, Motörhead) and what I would call the “fake Garmanic umlaut” (e.g. Häagen-Dazs and the movie title Brüno). They are “inauthentic” because somehow we’re supposed to think these words come from a language where they are originally spelled with umlauts…even though the words either don’t exist or are spelled without the umlaut.
But recently I am seeing new umlauts (or dots above letters) used in English product or company names. Unlike the other umlauts, there is no Germanic connotation whatsoever. Instead they are meant to be heads of happy people uniting under the product line. Specific examples include Udutu (Üdütü?), a new online content development platform, Intuit (InṪuiṪ?), a small-business Web hosting service with a Quicken plugin, and my personal favorite, Unum (Uṅüṁ), a provider of long term disability insurance. Here are their logos below:
As you can see, this usage of the dots differs from the metal/fake Germanic use in that 1) there are both double dots and single dots used and 2) they are meant to represent the concept of people, not another language. In terms of tweaking a phonetic writing system to add a logographic element is interesting, but not new (e.g. I &heart; NY).
To be honest, I think what struck me more is how strong a reaction I had to it (and not a good one). My favorite is Unum, because my mother was a former Unum client and all was well until she had to collect on her disability payments. Then it was a multi-year process for her to be actually approved (after which, my mother said they actually had excellent relations).
Unfortunately, I don’t think she suffered alone, as this LA Times article notes attests. Not surprisingly Unum is rebranding itself, but honestly I would much rather read about their improved performance rather than see a cutesy logo with cheerful TV campaign.
I should add that the focus of this post isn’t to bash Unum – it appears they are trying to improve their record. And truthfully, getting disability payments out of Social Security was just as long and arduous (that’s a complaint for another time).
My actual point is that I wonder if these logos are really increasing trust. Maybe they have tested well on the market, but to me, they remind me of the falsely cheerful restaurant server who says “Hi, my name is …” Does knowing my server’s name in the local chain build a rapport? If they don’t get the order right, then no. I’d rather see a server who may be a little world weary but exudes a sense of experience gained through many days of “being in the weeds.”
I feel the same principle applies same here. But that’s just my opinion.