A puzzling name change for one of the world’s mega-food companies is—at best—a head-scratcher from a marketing standpoint; many might suggest it’s a big-time blunder.

First question: How is Kraft Inc.’s new corporate nameplate—Mondelez—supposed to be pronounced?

Is it “Mon-dah-lay?” Or “Mon-deh-lezz?”No, according to company officials, it’s actually “Mohn-dah-LEEZ.”

Okay, second question: Why?? Why create a new name to replace a perfectly acceptable one, and then require phonetic spelling to pronounce it correctly?

No answer to that one yet.

Question three—if anyone who buys Kraft products actually bothers to think about this change in any depth or detail: What does the new name mean? The company says the name is a combination of the word “monde," Latin for “world,” and “delez” (remember, it’s “dah-LEEZ,” people), which is supposed to connect with the concept of “delicious.”

If you say so.

Officially, Kraft is launching the new name as a way to re-brand its global snacks business after spinning off the North American grocery unit earlier this year. The Northfield, Ill.-based food marketer plans to use Mondelez only on the back of packages of snack foods like Oreos and Fig Newtons. Those brands will continue to face the consumer, and Mondelez will remain “in the background,” according to the official news release.

Fine—but that begs an important additional question: What’s the point of a name change that management decides has to stay in the background, so as not to confuse customers or investors?

A mixed bag of change

Of course, the track record of corporate entities assembling a marketing team (one would suppose) to dream up a name change is littered with examples of smart and savvy rebranding, along with transparent (and largely derided) attempts to whitewash a negative image, as well as the occasional clunky attempt to be way too clever for a company’s own good. For example:

  • In the mid-1980s, Consolidated Foods smartly adopted the moniker of its leading consumer nameplate—Sara Lee—as a far more palatable and recognizable brand for a company focused on the retail consumer marketplace.
  • A few years later, ConAgra, the Omaha-based food and agricultural giant, shifted its public-facing nameplate to such well-known consumer brands as Banquet, Chun King, Parkay and the new nameplate the firm created, Healthy Choice.
  • About 10 years ago, Philip Morris, once solely a major manufacturer of cigarettes—and at the time, the majority owner of Kraft Foods—renamed itself Altria, supposedly a derivative (again) of some Latin word,in a move most observers noted was an obvious attempt to convince the marketplace the firm was more than just another big, bad tobacco company.
  • In 2001, Arthur Anderson Consulting, which had split from the once-dominant accounting firm, renamed itself Accenture (“accent on the future”—get it?), a move that proved fortuitous when Arthur Anderson got sucked down and destroyed in the Enron scandal a few years later.
  • More recently, British Petroleum officially became “BP,” because management wanted to be known not as a greedy global oil giant and unrepentant eco-villain but as a friendlier “energy provider,” with the emphasis (allegedly) on clean, green energy and technology.

From a marketing standpoint, does the public, and the investor community, buy any of these name-changing stunts? Yes and no. The public certainly responded more favorably to Sara Lee than it ever could to a stodgy conglomerate like Consolidated Foods, less so with a company such as BP that ends up in the headlines as the cause of an unprecedented environmental disaster.

But at least the naming game examples noted above all originated for a reason, and that’s what’s so puzzling about the Kraft-to-Mondelez maneuver: Why are they doing it?

The answer remains inscrutable, at least for now, and in the end, will probably have little impact on the firm’s performance and earnings.

I have my suspicions how Mondelez originated, however, and I might be wrong, but I believe it’s yet another Exhibit A of the consequences of charging a committee to come up with consensus.

The classic case of such a strategy occurred a few years ago, and although you might not remember it, the debacle was big news across the Pacific Northwest.

In an attempt to bolster tourism in Washington state—hey, our summers only last a couple weeks, so you’ve got to motivate people to visit—a marketing consultant was hired to re-brand the official state hospitality slogan. After months of work (and a six-figure budget), the result was . . . wait for it . . .

“Say WA!”

Yeah, that’s right. An alleged take-off on, “Say what? Say WA!” (WA being the postal code for Washington, of course), which was immediately written into every late-night comedian’s monologue within seconds of the announcement, only as “Say what??” (or “Say what the ****?”).

Name changes can be strategic, they can be serendipitous, and as Washington’s experience proves, they can be boneheaded beyond belief.

In the case of Mondelez, it appears, at least from this distance, to be just kinda confusing.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.