Two ways of looking at an unpopular name change
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M. Michael Brady
On March 13, NSB, the Norwegian State Railway train operating company, announced a change of its name to Vy, principally to renew its brand image. NSB, the abbreviation for Norges Statsbaner (literally “Norway’s state-owned railway enterprise”) was founded in 1883. In 1996, it was split into two state-owned enterprises, a train operating company under the same name, and a rail infrastructure company, Jernbaneverket (Norwegian National Rail Administration, NNRA). In the opinion of this correspondent, the change of name to Vy is unwise, for two reasons.
First, historical precedence suggests that NSB suffers from corporate amnesia, as it apparently fails to recall the recent failure of a name change aimed to attract more customers and contribute to the profitability of the company. In April 1999, NSB tried to attract customers by dividing its intercity services into two branded types, Agenda for medium distance ones, and Signatur for regional ones. The incentive was a colossal flop. As reported by Norwegian Broadcasting on radio and TV, by 2002, the annual passenger count had gone down by some 2 million. In May 2003, the Agenda and Signatur names were dropped, and NSB resumed the traditional name of NSB (read more at: www.nrk.no/okonomi/kutter-signatur-og-agenda-1.552112).
Second, particularly for public services, the name and/or logo of a company should state or at least imply what it does. In the everyday Norway of 2019, NSB still means Norges Statsbaner, the trusted provider of train services. Its logo, with the initials NSB and a graphic that connotes rail services, strongly support that meaning. In contrast, the name Vy is at best a vague reference. It is a Norwegian word, albeit an archaic, literary one that comes from the French transitive verb voir (“to see” in English) and means “view” or “vista.” The wavy, black-and-green Vy logo looks like a 3D rendition of a gift wrapping gone wrong. Neither the name nor the logo suggests a transport service. Newspapers and the public seem dismayed with it. Time to reconsider, lest the country suffer another disaster of the Signatur-Agenda sort?
M. Michael Brady was educated as a scientist and, with time, turned to writing and translating.
Linn Chloe Hagstrøm
The Norwegian American
The renaming of the government-owned railway company Norwegian State Railways (NSB) sparked fierce reactions among the Norwegian public. Why did people react so strongly toward the new name? The renaming from NSB and Nettbuss to Vy comes as another blow in a series of what are characterized as neoliberal reforms. Public anger and pushback may be an expression of a sense of loss of cultural values and public ownership in a continuously changing Norway.
As Bjørnar Moxnes, leader of the Rødt (Red) party, argues in Dagbladet, “NSB’s name change was probably the last drop making the cup run over. A cup full of frustration that there are ever-fewer things we can call ‘ours’ in Erna Solberg’s new Norway. Many feel powerless toward a Norway that is becoming increasingly privatized and commercialized. It’s no longer called ours, it’s mine and yours. It’s not called us, it’s called AS.” This argument resonated with my own experience of shock and disgust over the announced renaming of NSB and my visceral reaction stems from my stance against neoliberal policies.
Neoliberalism may be a commonly used term, but not everyone knows what it means. Neoliberalism is a policy model. It commonly refers to market-oriented reform policies that aim to move control of economic factors away from the public sector and to the private sector. Neoliberal policies lean toward free-market capitalism and away from government spending, regulation, and public ownership. Policies include deregulation, eliminating price controls, lowering trade barriers, and reducing state influence through privatization and austerity. So, what does that have to do with this name change?
Neoliberalism as an ideology, concept, and economic policy model very much characterizes our contemporary global economy and where we are headed, if we don’t resist now. In the context of a shifting order characterized by globalization, increasing urbanization, and free flows of people and capital, we face security challenges from climate change, war and instability, and international terrorism and extremism. Why does this name change matter at all and why is it so darn annoying to the Norwegian public? I argue that the renaming of NSB is simply another expression of neoliberal thinking, and it’s facing resistance from the Norwegian public.
Historically, neoliberal policies were and continue to be justified in the name of healthy competition, lifting the economy, and job creation. However, the devastating effects we have seen from neoliberal market reforms in the global south raise serious doubts as to whether neoliberalism actually works in the favor of people. Take Ghana, for example, which has been celebrated as the most successful neoliberal project in Africa by the World Bank.
Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science Professor Franklin Obeng-Odoom demonstrates through an empirical study that the effects of neoliberalism are not favorable to everyone, even when it’s deemed highly successful. He shows that the effects of neoliberal policies in Ghana were two-fold. On one side, the private sector became more important and had positive impacts in terms of creating capital and jobs. But on the other side, urban and national inequality levels dramatically increased. Can we really call it successful when it isn’t favorable to the majority? What Obeng-Odoom reveals in his paper—and that is often glossed over by supporters of neoliberalism—is that despite the idea that neoliberal reforms may help reduce urban unemployment and poverty levels, most employment generated turns out to be low-paid wage jobs that lead to increasing income inequality. Does this sound strangely familiar?
I bring up Ghana because it’s viewed as the most successful example of neoliberal reforms, however, the positive effects on society can be contested. This makes one wonder why neoliberal reforms continue to be viewed as viable solutions when they facilitate increasing social inequality. Who are the policies for and who benefits from them?
That is what informs my response to the Vy name change: Don’t do it. The “simple” change of name, logo, and colors will cost the Norwegian state how much exactly? The largest expenditure on the name change is estimated at a total of between NOK 220 million to NOK 280 million. If people are unhappy with public transportation services, it’s because they keep waiting for delayed and overcrowded trains, not because they want a new name for it. People don’t want their public state-owned company to spend a ton of money changing its name to something strange and unfamiliar. Rather, we want the money to be spent on affordable public transportation services, more frequent train departures, well-staffed trains, functioning signaling systems, better railways, and more efficient travel. In addition, we want it to remain ours, not become Vy AS.
Chloe is a contributing editor who currently pursues a Master of Science in International Relations in Norway. She has a keen interest in issues of global development, international politics, and security.
The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, by Karl Polanyi. Published by Beacon Press in 2001.
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This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.