MIND YOUR P's & Q's. And The Rest of the Alphabet for That Matter

According to a recent story in the WSJ, Tesla got more than a little flummoxed over a single letter and a single number. The story goes that each successive Tesla model would be branded a single letter and over the course of four cars those letters will spell out S-E-X-Y.

At first blush, we confess that we were very skeptical that a person as smart as Musk and as cool and confident a marketer as he is (as evidenced by the extraordinary name he gave his company) would do something as trite as spell out sexy.  But, by all accounts it’s true.

But even this wicked smart marketer was thwarted by a single simple letter. You see, the letter ‘E’ is trademarked in the automotive industry by a company they just surpassed in market cap, Ford. Hard to believe one can register a single letter or a single number but it happens all the time in CarWorld.

Musk’s response to this was to use the number three (3) thinking that perhaps when viewed in a rearview mirror it looked like an ‘E.’ Actually, a pretty sharp and innovative answer per se, but in Autoville, numbers carry a significance far beyond a mere brand name. To car buyers they telegraph either a price class or the latest iteration of an existing model. Neither of which is true for Tesla’s model 3.

This is certainly nothing more than a hiccup for Tesla, but when your profession is naming things, it makes for a fun read.

VOLKSWAGEN BREAKS NAMING RULES

Sirocco, Tiguan, Touareg, Fahrvergnugen, Passat. All tongue twisters indeed. (That’s Zungenbrecher, in German, btw.) Common sense suggests that everything else being equal, pronounceable brand names are better than those open to question. An old boss maintained this was not always the case and that pronunciation could be enforced. (See Honda Prelude or Toyota Previa, or just about any non-American automaker for that matter. And really, does anyone who can afford a Porsche not pronounce it correctly?)

But there is a substantial body of empirical evidence (more detail in future postings) that demonstrates that common sense, which is not so common, btw, is right in this case.

From hiring decisions; people prefer Mr. Smith to Mr. Colquahon, to purchase decisions; stocks with simple names sell better than complex ones, pronounceable names are better.

Volkswagen also offers Golf, Jetta, and Atlas. We guess they’re hedging their naming bets.

OATH? Ufda

How you introduce your new brand name is almost as important as the name itself. And since everybody is a budding comedian with a wry comment and a social media account, you have to have your head in the sand not to anticipate sideways looks and withering commentary about your new name no matter how great and powerful it is.

The branding highway is littered with new names that, good, bad or indifferent, were pummeled in the media. And while you can’t completely protect yourself you can be smarter about how you introduce your new self to the world.

First, constraining yourself to launching something as important as your brand using just 140 characters invites ridicule. Names need context, a story, a reason. Brands will never stand alone so why introduce them that way? 140 characters begs people to crack wise with one-liners. Tell your customers and prospects why you chose the name you did. It will aid recall and seat the message.

Second, the Twitter medium itself facilitates the ridicule. Creating is hard, criticizing is easy. No one is going to go viral patting you on the back for your strategy and creativity, so why encourage the negativity with a medium known for anything but reasoned thought.

Now to the name itself, Oath. Verizon didn’t do itself any favors.  In the end, the business will rise and fall on its merits and the name tempest will be but a footnote, but still. Oath is a serious word about serious matters. Let’s face it, we're talking entertainment here so there is a disconnect that could have been easily avoided.  Digging a little deeper and over-parsing it like no consumer will, didn’t Yahoo! take an “oath” to secure its customers’ data?  Irony much?

Linguistically, Oath is short but nonetheless it is an awkward word requiring a few more gyrations of the vocal tract than its brevity would suggest. Not a deal killer, but there are 249,999 other words in the English language.

Yahoo! captured the ethos of its time. AOL, anticipating the social aspect of social media before there was such a thing, invited all of America to join in. Is Oath too serious for these troubled times? Perhaps, something more diverting was called for.

From Bubble Gum To Hedge Funds, Names Matter

A paper just out from the University of Buffalo and Finland's University of Oulu empirically shows that names can have a significant impact on sales.  As if we didn't know.  But interestingly the study was done on hedge fund names - a highly considered purchase by well-informed buyers - and it found that names with gravitas had better sales than those with names that are seen as less weighty.

Uppercase has long maintained this with both evidence and instinct, and now here is international research not just bearing this out (again) but demonstrating it in even the most sophisticated of purchases.

Hedge funds hold billions of dollars in investments.  Seems like a no brainer to invest in an extraordinary brand name for themselves.

Who Says Insurance is Boring?

Patting ourselves on the back just a bit, we thought we broke the mold when we helped our client create the Stillwater name for their insurance brand. We saw a landscape cluttered with odd acronyms and iterations of farm and state. But the latest entrant found the mold, repaired it and broke it again.

Lemonade is a New York-based insurer for home owners and renters. Now insurance is a stodgy business but that's because most of us want stodgy when it comes to covering our assets. But Lemonade takes a whole new approach and hats off to them for selecting a name that telegraphs this.

A refreshing name for a refreshing business model!

NAME THAT BRAND! with MARKETING PROFS

Uppercase Branding’s President, Mike Pile, enjoyed a wonderful half hour discussing brand name development for new products and companies with Marketing Profs’s host Kerry O’Shea Gorgone.

Listen to it here:

https://www.marketingprofs.com/podcasts/2017/31472/branding-mike-pile-marketing-smarts

YAHOO!'S NEW MONIKER ALTABA. IS IT A CHOICE OR AN ALTERNATIVE

The powers that be at Yahoo and Verizon surely had bigger things to worry about than their new name.  And by selecting Altaba, it’s clear they concerned themselves very little. Brand pundits are likely surprised by the move, given how much attention Yahoo! devoted to its recent rebranding.

First, congratulations for demonstrating the courage to abandon the name Yahoo!. By any measure, it is an easier task to rebrand than to change minds.

And at face value, Altaba is not a bad name. In fact, one can make a compelling argument that it is a strong name: It is not overly long or hard to pronounce despite having three syllables; it has a certain rhythm to it; and if you want to deconstruct it linguistically you can speak to alta being elevated or top (positive attributes to be sure) and the repeating ‘a’s reinforce leadership, performance and superiority. Furthermore, sound symbolists will argue that the percussive ‘b’ sound triggers notions of action and movement. (Compare this to the fewer gyrations your vocal tract makes to produce the less active ‘p’ sound.)

But Altaba doesn’t stand alone - it is inextricably tied to Yahoo! And given everyone’s penchant to kick around the company anyway, a name without a positive narrative to support it will turn into a punch line.

Five years from now, the company will either succeed or fail on its merits and nobody will care about the name. But you only get one chance to make a first impression, so it is incumbent upon any brand leader to ensure the narrative, especially in a high-profile situation like this, is positive.

Here’s what we know: Altaba is portmanteau of alternative and Alibaba suggesting, somewhat flat-footedly IMHO, that the new entity is an alternative to Alibaba. Fair enough… but it misses opportunities both clear and subtle. Clearly, while consumers love choice, they don’t so much like alternatives. This is a difference with a distinction.  Choice has unabashedly positive connotations, while alternative suggests second-class status. Subtly, the stories promulgated in the press paint a picture of resignation. Part of that tableau is a business model that seems to say: “well, an alternative is the best we can hope for.” And the decision seems to take place amid a background that disregards the power of creativity in general, and the power of a brand story in a particular. It sounds like they settled.

Altaba is now and forever a simple portmanteau, whereas it could have been a soaring new choice in the media landscape.

No brand name is an island as it will always be considered in context. This is less about a brand name than it is a lesson in how to support the brand narrative behind it.

TEAM TRUMP TRAMPLES TWICE

With members of the electoral college exercising their constitutional duty to vote and their constitutional prerogative of voting for any candidate their conscience tells them to, those hinting that they may not vote for Trump are being branded as “Faithless.”

 

Resurrecting a ploy from their election playbook where they effectively ridiculed “Little Marco” and near slandered “Crooked Hillary,” let’s look at just how powerful this latest name is.

 

Faithless appeals to the base of church-going folk who may be tolerant of other religions but are arguably intolerant of any one without faith of any kind.

 

It resonates with the others in his constituency who bought the rigged election story. The revised narrative goes like this: just when you started to believe in the system, just when you have renewed faith in America, in democracy, in the election process, the Faithless undermine you yet again.

 

Secondarily, it is repellant to everybody else. Even Clinton supporters are hard pressed to get behind Faithless people. Compare Faithless to say, something less evocative but more accurate, Conscientious Objectors. Anybody can understand someone following their conscience even if they don't support them but they may be hard pressed to explain away some one who is a heathen.

 

No descriptive term will ever carry the weight of an emotional one. And maybe here, captured in a single in a word, is the explanation of why the (far) right is ascending and the left and center is on the defensive.  Emotion trumps rationality almost every time. 

THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITIES MISSED

Bill Foley, the owner of the newest addition to the NHL, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, explained some of his thinking about why he chose the name.  As a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy (the Black Knights) the name has personal meaning for him.  And that’s a good thing we guess.  Foley goes on to explain that a knight always advances and never retreats.  And that’s certainly good for a sports team.

 

He also took personal reasonability for it and that is a good thing.  “If people don’t like the name, then that’s on me,” he said.  The undercurrent of frustration was almost palpable.  It is easy to imagine the endless arguments, both rational and emotional.  It is even easier to hear the hundreds of suggestions from everybody and their brother, “how ‘bout the Las Vegas Stripper’s?  Get it? The strip and show girls!”

 

At the end of the day, a sports team’s business success is 100% dependent on winning. But you only get one chance to make a first impression so having a cool, buzz-worthy name can go a long way to jump starting any new business. 

 

We look forward to the horse galloping across the ice between periods.  Will the steed wear ice skates?

APPLES HAVE BETTER NAMES THAN APPLE

One day, when we have time, yeah, right, we are going to investigate who names apples.  The eating kind not the electronic kind.  But in the meantime let us stroll through the orchard and smell the blossoms. 

Apple names have come a long way since Captain Obvious named the Red Delicious.  There’s the Golden Delicious, not quite so literal but obviously carrying positive attributes.  Fuji is a bit mysterious; we don’t really associate Washington State with things Japanese but indeed this line traces its parentage to Japan.

The Granny Smith dates to 1868 proving that even more than 100 years ago marketers recognized the power of an interesting name.  Minnesota introduced the HoneyCrisp proving that if they can’t field a decent pro football team they can name things. And if they ever do, you can celebrate with a Gala. 

There’s the Ambrosia and the Braeburn and the Cosmic Crisp and the Juici and the Kiku and the Pacific Rose and the Smitten and the Sweetie.  And don’t forget Aurora, Autumn Glory, Breeze, Cameo, Jazz, Jonagold, Junami, Kanzi, Lady Alice, Opal, Pinata, Rome, Sonya, and the SweeTango.

We have to hand it to the Apple marketing folks, the ones in Washington State, not Cupertino, for their unbridled creativity.

FROM ALPHABET TO ZICA Names in the News

Crooked Hillary, Lil’ Marco, Low-Energy Jeb… names made a lot of political headlines this year, but they made news in business as well. Here’s Uppercase Branding’s round-up for 2016.

Check out this profile of Amanda Peterson of Google. Her entire job is to create, manage and evaluate every potential name for Google’s new offerings. If you are a word lover, how much do you want that job? If you don’t think names matter, perhaps you might want to follow the lead of this $550B behemoth. See Business Insider

Speaking of tech names, this article captures the travails of Yahoo! through the grammatical gymnastics of its name. While Yahoo! struggled to define itself as either a search engine or a media property, it also tried to right the branding ship by attempting to make the noun also serve as a verb. Do You Yahoo? See AdWeek

Names like Google and Yahoo! are evocative and lay a foundation for a compelling brand story. But in the pharma world, brand name decisions are governed by strict protocols that have a direct impact on sales and patient safety. Here, we learn that biopharma names, especially those that have a certain look and sound, can actually impact a pharmacist’s dispensing habits. See STAT

Check out this piece over at PM360, which suggests trends in drug naming as if the companies had the creative freedom of a Picasso. By our read, these trends reflect nothing more than adherence to longstanding exacting FDA proprietary drug-naming guidelines. See PM360

Proving that physicians can be smart, insightful, creative and funny, we hear from a St. Louis dermatologist who provides her informed take on both drug names and clinical conditions — including our favorite, Cyberchondria (defined as the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptoms based on review of online information). See Dermatology Times

Unquestionably the biggest naming story of the year comes out of the UK as reported in almost every publication imaginable. The New York Times said it best: “This is what happens when you let the internet decide.” We call it Boaty McScrewup. See The New York Times

Two pieces from a couple of niche sites make the claim that Tesla’s naming convention spells out SEXY over the course of the last four product releases. Musk, or one of his peeps, did claim at one time that there is no reason an electric car can’t be sexy, but these stories just don’t pass the sniff test. See CarScoops and BidNessEtc

No compendium of naming stories is complete without a story about Killer Startup Names! An interesting but ultimately not very useful review of names following the usual taxonomy of invented, respelled, fanciful, etc. As if this provides any clue as to what constitutes a Killer name. See Medium

From no less serious a publication than the Wall Street Journal comes a story about Hershey’s bid to purchase Mondelez, and with it the chance to ditch a horrible brand name. The name Mondelez was the Frankenstein monster created during a crowd-sourcing exercise to name Kraft’s snack division. Look, naming isn’t rocket science, but some things are best left to dedicated professionals. If I ever experience chest pain, I am certainly not going respond to a Survey Monkey requesting a diagnosis. See WSJ

Meanwhile, Wired excerpts a fascinating chapter from a book about the science of swear words. And if it were not obvious enough what’s about to unfold, they provide a trigger warning. Is this PC or a clever come-on? While the linguistics and sound symbolism are familiar to those of us in the naming business, anyone looking to name their next product or company should read this carefully. See Wired

After naming wine, booze or lingerie, the most fun project has to be naming reefer. In this article, 21 pot brands are explored from a visual and verbal aesthetic. No mention of product performance. After sampling the various edibles mentioned in the article, I’d probably forget, too. See High Times

From CNN & Money, file this one under “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” India’s Tata Motors has to rename its Zica car after the outbreak of Zika. See CNN-Money

Concluding our round-up, an attaboy to the editors of these articles who, in all but one case, avoided quoting Shakespeare in the headline.

OF ZOMBIES AND BABIES

Samsung announced it is ceasing production of the Galaxy Note 7 phone. 

While we are encouraged by the refreshing lack of witty headlines with various turns of phrase like nova, big bang, exploding stars, black holes and other celestial explosions, there is a serious brand question facing the company beyond the immediate public relations issues.

And that is whether or not to cease production of the brand name “Galaxy.” 

One set of brand mavens will recommend keeping it based on its legacy and equity.  They will quote chapter and verse about how expensive it is to launch and establish a new brand name.

Another set of brand gurus will recommend that the name is too tainted and is better left to die.

There is no best practice path to follow:  Anderson consulting successfully changed to Accenture.  Zenefits, on the other hand, is staying with its brand name asking for forgiveness and hoping Phoenix-like for a second chance.

But we are firmly in the camp of pulling the plug and creating a new brand.  It is simply the path of least resistance.  With a new brand you create the story you want.  With a tainted brand, you have to shift out of reverse, get to neutral and then put it into forward gear.  Too much work.

Why bring something back from the dead when you can have a fresh, clean, sweet-smelling newborn?

PLEASE DON'T MANTERRUPT MY MANSPLAINING

Another shout out to those who don’t think names matter or at least don’t matter much.  To wit: the difference between (the generic) “interrupt” and the (coined) “manterrupt” is mammoth. As is the difference between “explaining” and “mansplaining.” These two neologisms provide compelling evidence – once again – of the power of names.

  1. They take complex subjects and distill them to their essence.  In a single word they carry the load of weighty and emotional social issues.
  2. They are evocative, provocative and image laden.
  3. They are attention-getting, conversation-starting and memorable.

Not a news cycle goes by without a name being invented to refer to a celebrity couple, a social issue, a criminal, a sports hero.  It is human nature to label.

With enlightened self-interest, Uppercase humbly recommends that every marketer ought to actively identify their products’ features, attributes and benefits, and give them names to refresh, renew and re-energize their brands.

However, we do not recommend “bigly."

STICKS AND STONES Names in the Political Arena

With the first presidential debate in just a few days, we are on the edge of our seats fully expecting Donald Trump to continue to leverage the power of names and labels that has propelled him to this moment. 

While Hillary is the skilled debater, Trump is the master of language. He is unrivaled in his ability to translate complex problems into simple one-word solutions.  Walls prevent crime. Tariffs create jobs. Bans provide security.

By definition, winning involves beating opponents and Trump’s true genius in winning is name calling - a competitive tactic that works from the school yard to the political arena. Trump labels his opponents with names so withering, so derisive, so spot-on they are dumbstruck. His opponents cannot frame an argument or command respect because their every utterance is viewed through a Trump lens. “Lying Ted,” “Bleeding Megyn,” “Little Marco,” “Ugly Carly,” “Low-Energy Jeb,” “Crooked Hillary," have been branded with a scarlet “T.”

Donald Trump is winning with name calling and he can be beaten with name calling. To that end, we present our nominee for best Trump nick-name:

“Miss. Trump.”

Like any great name, “Miss. Trump” works on two levels, logical and emotional.

Rationally, it is a name with which one can build a compelling narrative.  A narrative that though rich in facts and rooted in truth can still be made comprehensible, palatable and memorable.

Donald Trump is not stupid but he is misinformed. An opponent can select any issue and summarily pick apart Trump’s position or policy because his reasoning is so demonstrably without merit in fact. Even when the arguments become subtle and complex he will be “Misinformed Miss. Trump” by the end of the story.

Donald Trump is not a bigot but he is misguided.  Anybody should be able decimate his candidacy based on his antiquated views.  “Misguided Miss. Trump.” 

His inexperience in world affairs will cause him to misstep.

He’s been divorced twice, won’t release his tax returns, is sued all the time, fails to pay his debts, hmmm, The Donald must be mischievous.

He doesn’t mean all that he says, he just misspeaks.

A vote for Trump is a mistake.

He doesn’t lie but he does mislead.  “Misleading Miss. Trump.”

You get the picture.

Emotionally, “Miss. Trump” challenges his self-aggrandized image of masculinity and virility. It undercuts the dominant attribute of his appeal; I am a powerful, successful, swaggering man-among-men able to do all, protect all, fix all. It is at once playful because it is delivered with tongue firmly in cheek and powerful because it questions the very essence that he so relentlessly promotes.

The label is the easy part, delivery less so.  Communicating this narrative will be an exercise in balance and nuance.  There is an underlying sexism in the name itself to start. But tone and backstory tempered with a little tolerance can address this. Over use risks the idea becoming a cute joke undermining its power.  But well-balanced and well-placed name calling can be the perfect lexical foil to a candidate who so powerfully harnesses the power of names.

PITY THE POOR D

We were reading the dictionary the other day.  Because that’s what we do for fun.  And it was warm and sunny out too.  We lingered on the letter D and it will come as no surprise to those in our business that D is not the greatest letter.  Is it just a coincidence that D is below average, the worst grade you can get?  Even worse than an F because today we embrace failure.  Failure is just one step closer to success.  But a D means you tried, sorta, and couldn’t even manage to be average let alone fail.

So many English words that begin with D are just not positive.  Starting with dabbler – would you hire one? – to damp which is not as good as moist to depress to diffident and don’t even get us started on the dis words.  But when you think all is lost, you come across discovery.  A wonderful dis word that works as a double negative; the un covering of something. But then you’re right back to dysfunctional.  How distressing.

This disturbing drift continues to the end with a number of dy… words which in any configuration of letters that follow is something that if you have, you are not healthy.

Is it also coincidence that of the Fortune 500 company brands (not named after a person, e.g. Dick’s Sporting Goods) only three start with d? 

Well, OK, it probably is.

YOUR UNDERWEAR SHOULD BE CLEAN AND WELL NAMED

We are all too rarely presented with a nice gift of reportage of five new brand names and synopses of their value propositions in one place, but we were recently by T Magazine.  So here’s our brief (don't pardon the pun) analysis of these five new brand names in the sustainable lingerie space.

Pansy

There is no mystery with Pansy. It is what it is; diminutive and either insulting or conversely sly.  Any wearer has to be self-confident to sport this brand. "I just love my Pansies!" 

Brooke There

Powerfully alluring and sexy.  In context, ‘Brooke’ must be the owner’s name and ‘There’ is wonderfully suggestive of promises to come. ‘There,’ of course, being the universally understood replacement for ‘naughty bits’ in shy company.

Botanica Workshop

Descriptively but unimaginatively defines the product.  But we don’t buy products we buy aspirations.  And besides, when you really parse it, Botanica is about growing things and who wants things growing ‘there’?

Sloane & Tate

Two seemingly random surnames that mean something to the owners but probably not the buyers.  Surnames certainly fit the space and can become powerful brands, ala Chanel, Ralph Lauren, et. al., but when the world is your oyster there is nothing moister than an evocative brand name.

The Nude Label

Aka Hit-You-On-the-Head-With-a-Brick brand.  Counterintuitively, this name doesn’t evoke hints of soft, comfortable, wispy garments but instead conjures one of those old timey images of a naked guy wearing a barrel held up by ratty old suspenders.