Vanguard Group Goes Mavericky with "Vanguarding" Campaign
April 20, 2010 ‐ 3 comments
For the past month, Vanguard Group has bludgeoned anyone not already residing under a rock (or perhaps spelunking incommunicado on Eyjafjallajokull) with a relentless campaign across broadcast, print and digital media asserting that a salient distinction exists between mere investing and "Vanguarding."  Stuart Elliott traced the etymological origin of this gem to "a brainstorming session" held at Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal.  Here at BrandCulture, we've been vocal supporters of Vanguard's traditional focus on low management fees and investment fundamentals, but we find this new campaign inapposite for an institution of Vanguard's gravitas and stature.  In short "Vanguarding" cheapens the Vanguard brand. We're not latter day Neo-Luddites decrying the devolution of English as trademarked brands turn into verbs.  We happily FedEx, Skype, TiVo, Hoover, Google and occasionally even Rollerblade.   We're not opposed to the brand-building homophone, and have even observed folks "Do the Dew." And we hope we never have occasion to utter, "Don't Tase Me, Bro," but for reasons independent of  the use of registered trademark "Taser" as a verb.  We're not even relying on the oft-cited legal rationale that allowing verbification "genericides" brands and puts them into the public domain a la Xerox for photocopying or Kleenex for tissue.  (For the record, you can see from the superscript "TM" on screen capture above that Vanguard asserts trademark protection for "Vanguarding.") We object to "Vanguarding" because it's, well, cheesy.  We bet we'll even use "Bing" as a verb (much to the delight of Steve Ballmer) before we engage in the following conversation: Q: Are you going to be able to send your kids to college and retire before you reach age 85? A: No worries Bro . . . I'm Vanguarding! The problem with "Vanguarding" lies in the incongruity between the seriousness of the subject matter -- staving off debtors' prison and the dole -- and the glibness of coining a cheeky new word that purports to preemptively encapsulate and assert a long-term, time-proven, proprietary investment philosophy.   The Vanguard Group actually is different, and unlike many in the fund industry, has been a vanguard -- at the front of an action or movement -- in going against the grain to offer individual investors a fairer shake and a better deal. But sweets grown common lose their dear delight; low investment fees may seem to be a boring brand pillar, but, land sakes, do the results speak for themselves. What's more, even the least sophisticated investor can understand "we take less of your money, so you keep more of it."  But transforming its storied brand into a present participle pablum, the "Vanguarding" campaign isn't the move of a vanguard, it's more like getting mavericky. Vanguard founder John Bogle (frequently a thorn in the side of the mutual fund industry even before his retirement) might agree.  Although we rarely spare precious BrandCultureTalk pixels to repeat quotations, this Bogle bon mot merits recapitulation:  “By adopting the customary and time-tested techniques used to sell cosmetics, aspirin and frozen foods, too many firms have come to view themselves as businessmen selling hot products, not as fiduciaries offering trust services.” Well put as usual, Jack, even if you were bemoaning the state of industry affairs in 1987.  Vanguard has earned the right to take the high ground.  Let's hope it consigns "Vanguarding" to the BuzzWhack annals of history and returns to what it does best: helping long-term investors earn and keep more.
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September 24, 2014 3:13 am
Very energetic post, I liked that bit. Will there be a part 2?
Deidre Sullivan
April 17, 2011 5:08 pm
Very fair and very funny post. I loved it.
Imogene M. Cooley
April 20, 2010 8:58 am
Your great expertise with language indicates a love of proper language that is on the wane. Words are being replaced by icons. Vanguard wants to become a well used verb such as Google, and perhaps aspires to be a proper noun, such as in the answer to the question: who's your doctor? Dr. Google, of course. (I Yahoo, myself.) I agree that Vanguard is cheapening itself by jumping on the trendy bandwagon. Let's hope they continue to help long-term investors continue to keep more.

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