When to keep things secret

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Do you know who makes your favourite products?

The answer is probably determined by how much the product maker wants you to know.

In some cases it is made very clear. Samsung Galaxy, Cadbury Twirl and Google Chrome all carry the parent brand in their name because it is thought to bring positive associations.

Sprite, Persil and Duplo do not - but the corporate entities they belong to are still displayed very prominently on their brand materials - by Coca-Cola, Unilever and Lego, respectively.

Again, a close association with the parent brand is thought to be beneficial. In other cases, however, the parent brand is kept hidden from view, and the association is limited to those in the know.

And so the knowledge that VW owns Porsche, L’Oréal owns the Body Shop, Nestlé owns S. Pellegrino and Nike owns Converse, is not exactly secret - but it is also not something any of these brands necessarily shout about either, because it could hurt their carefully cultivated image. It was surprising, then, to discover last month that Facebook intends to make explicit the fact that two of its most popular products are part of the company.

Instagram will become “Instagram from Facebook” and WhatsApp “WhatsApp from Facebook.”

This despite the fact most people do not know they are owned by Facebook, and many might be alarmed or put off by the association - especially after so many recent scandals, and also because Facebook is just not a cool brand anymore.

“Hard to describe how stupid this is. Adding words to elegant and simple brand names; taking brands that have so far remained fairly clean and polluting them,” says Scott Galloway, professor of marketing at NYU Stern. “Why would some of the smartest minds in business make one of the dumbest moves in the history of marketing?”

The answer is likely to be a large dose of corporate hubris mixed with a desire to keep antitrust regulators at bay.

In tightly binding Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp together - in name and in operations - it will be harder to prise them apart.

By Guy Cookson, Partner at Hotfoot Design