Kraft, Mondelēz, and the 'Art' of Rebranding

Photograph by Brent Murray

Think what you will of Mondelēz International, the new name that Kraft Foods will slap on its global snacks business after the company splits this year, at least it’s not “Tfark.” That was one of the 1,700 names suggested by more than 1,000 Kraft employees during the five-month process of soliciting ideas.

For Kraft spokesman Michael Mitchell, “Tfark” is a personal favorite. “I’m not sure what it means,” says Mitchell. “I just liked the way it sounds.” He submitted “Snax” as part of what he likes to call “the co-creation process” but admits he “was told it’s not a good name.”

Mitchell explains some version of Mondelēz—pronounced “Mohn-dah-LEEZ”—was suggested by two employees in different parts of the world. The first was Johannes Schmidt, a 35-year company veteran working in information systems in Vienna. The other was Marc Firestone, Kraft’s general counsel and someone Mitchell describes as “a real renaissance man,” based at the company’s headquarters in Northfield, Ill. Both came up with the idea of playing on the notion “delicious world.” This is, after all, the part of the company that deals in chocolate, cookies, crackers, gum, and candy. (Putting boxed macaroni or cheese spread under such a label might not be as obvious a fit.) “The higher purpose is to make today delicious,” says Mitchell, no trace of irony in his voice.

And what’s more delicious than reaching into the romance languages to evoke visions of eating bonbons by the Seine and caramel-drenched doughnuts on a Mediterranean cruise? Or, for that matter, a couple of Oreos and some Trident gum? That’s the idea, anyway. Monde, the French word for world, is self-explanatory. (Italy’s mondo or the Spanish mundo is also evoked by the name.) But “Dah-leez?” As Mitchell explains: “It’s obviously a made-up word, but it’s a play on délice [French for delight] or delicioso in Spanish.”

The challenge, of course, is teaching people how to pronounce a name that anyone who speaks Spanish would naturally default to pronouncing “Mohn-dah-layse.” For this, Kraft added another feature rarely seen outside a primary school classroom: the macron. Remember the horizontal straight line that goes above a vowel in grammar class to connote a long vowel sound? (The short vowel has a little “u.”) That’s a macron, and it’s now part of the Mondelēz brand, over the second e. Not only is it “another way to make the name unique,” Mitchell says, but it supposedly will prompt people to go with the “eez” sound instead of “ayse.”

The problem is that most journalists, like this one, don’t have a macron on their keyboard or don’t know how to find one on deadline. (And many others don’t even know what it is without grabbing a dictionary.) As a result, most of the news coverage has failed to include the symbol that’s now intrinsic to the brand name. On one level, taking brand guidance from Hooked on Phonics seems silly. On another, though, it is inspired.

While Kraft spent several weeks doing due diligence on the winning name, it’s practically impossible to anticipate who may already be using the name in some obscure corner of the world. (I vividly recall Shangri-La Hotels losing a court case over the use of its name in the Philippines because a tiny Manila restaurant claimed to have been using it first. The matter was apparently resolved some other way.) Tossing a macron on top makes duplication less likely or, as Mitchell put it, “more ownable.”

And one consolation for consumers is that they probably won’t have to pronounce it: Mondelēz is simply the corporate brand. The consumer names, from Cadbury to Oreo, will remain intact. Kraft shareholders are scheduled to vote on the name change at their annual meeting in May. The two Mondelēz winners will be recognized for their flashes of insight, Mitchell says, though he’s not sure yet what form that recognition will take. And Tfark’s founder? He or she shall remain unnāmed.