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What did the search giant's motto really mean, anyway?

Language Matters in Life and Business: Google Drops “Don’t Be Evil” Slogan

google new logoNo doubt Google will take some ribbing for dropping its longtime “Don’t Be Evil” slogan. I can hear the late-night monologue jokes now.

But the real import is zero. Company mottos don’t have substance, they’re just marketing.

Mission statements are just marketing too – internal marketing.

“Don’t Be Evil” was a cheeky message suggesting high-spirited youthful idealism in opposition to a prevailing greedy corporate culture. I don’t mean to suggest that the founders of Google didn’t mean anything by it. As they glossed it at the time of their 2004 initial public offering, “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served – as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.”

Still, while that sounds admirable, you can’t get much vaguer. It didn’t commit the company to any specific actions or policies toward doing “good things for the world,” suggest what those “good things” might be, or suggest or commit to forgoing any “short term gains” in particular.

Now Google’s newly formed parent, Alphabet, has dropped the slogan from the search company’s messaging. That doesn’t commit Mountain View to anything either.

Of course, it doesn’t mean Google has now freed itself to “be evil.” (Or does it???)

By itself, “Don’t Be Evil” was a pretty foolish slogan anyway. First, it suggests that the company and its staff were amoral Machiavellians who needed to be reminded not to do evil.

Second, it suggests that capitalism in general is evil.

Third, “evil” is about as ill-defined as words come. Ask 10 people what it means and you’ll likely get 10 different answers, some probably on the order of, “Well, now that you mention it, that’s really hard to say.”

Fourth, with Google’s enormous wealth and size, and its dominance of the search market and more, the company’s image as a high-minded upstart is long gone. So whatever resonance the slogan may once have had, its echoes have long since dwindled to silence.

Good riddance to “Don’t Be Evil.” I think the company is just recognizing that its old slogan is outdated, and moving on.

That’s all this means.

(Or is it???)

 

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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