What’s in a name?

May 05, 2011 by Mark Baines Category: Brand Design

The Post office could tell you!

Their attempt at renaming themselves Consignia has gone down in the annals of branding history, along with BA’s little disagreement with Margaret Thatcher’s handkerchief (‘Oh dear’ she is reported to have said, as it fluttered down concealing the artily painted tailplane of a model Boeing 747!).

Choco Pops gave up trying to change to Choco Krispies after over a million people called to complain. But ‘BackRub’ successfully changed to Google, Jif got away with it when they changed to Cif, and Marathon to Snickers. So it’s not all disaster stories.

A hoax website set up to satirise the trend for trite, nonsense brand names backfired after several of the spoof names were registered for real. The creators at the agency involved claimed they were ‘literally trying to think of the most stupid company names’, but 20 of them, including Bivium, Libero and Ualeo, were later registered with Companies House!

Brand names go through trends: ‘tech’ and ‘compu’ were cutting edge additions to any business name in the ‘70s and ‘80s; the dot-com era saw a plethora of monikers prefixed with an ‘i-‘ or ‘e-‘,  and the lack of available URLs means firms are now opting for words that sound familiar but have an unusual spelling, such as ‘flickr’ and ‘wii’.

Branson claims the Virgin name came from his as-yet unused libido, which was a considerable source of frustration for him at the time, while Haagen-Dazs was invented to sound European to American ears! Accenture replaced Andersen Consulting (‘accent on the future’), Aviva replaced Norwich Union (still sounds like a vitamin pill to me!) and Ulay became Olay. Diageo apparently is a mash-up of ‘daily’ and ‘worldwide’, which is pushing it a bit, in my opinion!

So the list goes on, but the rules stay the same for all brand names:

1 Make it durable. Will you expand or diversify over time? Too specific a name will limit your options.

2 Ask your customers what they think. Simple, and obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people don’t.

3 Change because it’s needed, not because you want to. You never really know how much brand equity is attached to the old name.

4 Creating a made up name is okay. Just because the Royal Mail got it wrong doesn’t mean you will.

5 Make sure you can afford it. There’s a lot more to change than just the logo on the website!

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