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August 31, 2005

Reinventing English: i is for Apple, R is for Motorola . . .

New product rumors have been circulating in advance of Apple’s September 7th special event for reporters. Will Apple announce the long awaited Motorola cell phone that plays iTunes music? Will it announce a vPod (video pod)? Or something else? Or all of the above?

Motorola ROKROne of these questions has already been answered with Motorola’s introduction of the new ROKR cell phone that plays iTunes music. In keeping with its current RAZR product naming scheme, Motorola’s ROKR is a natural word that skips its final vowel, e, and vocalizes the ending consonant.

Although they are stealthily bi-syllabic, both Motorola cell phone names (RAZR and ROKR) keep to four neat little letters and begin and end with the same redundant ‘R’. The new naming scheme is simultaneously distinctive and elastic - by last count Motorola has 47 more product naming opportunities based on similar ‘R’ word patterns in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Similarly, Apple’s iPod product naming architecture purports considerable alphabetic extendibility. Since in the mind of consumers, Apple currently “owns” everything iPod (including the recent “Made for iPod” accessory mark) - why wouldn’t they own everything vPod too? Eventually we may see them naming a product aPod, bPod and even cPod. This, perhaps, will pose a dilemma when Apple arrives at the letter “r.”

Posted by William Lozito at 6:02 PM

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August 30, 2005

Do You Drive a "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget?"

Company monikers have a way of burrowing into our collective unconscious until a meaningless combination of syllables becomes synonymous with tea as in Lipton or soft drinks as in Pepsi. And while appropriate choices may change over time, a solid handle will reward a brand with generations of buyers.

Nestles LogoOne popular tactic early on in branding was to dub a company after the founder. Nestlé, for example, is the junior of proud parent Henri Nestlé, whose given name is German means "bird's nest." This explains why the chocolate company's curious logo is a bird nest with two cheeping youngsters. Adidas also celebrates its founder - culled from Adolf (Adi) Dassler - since Adolf might be less of a selling point.

Other companies find inspiration in literature. Starbucks began life as a character in Moby Dick, although by now students may wonder if Captain Ahab enjoyed a half decaf latte before going after the whale. Verizon applied the classics, by combining the Latin "veritas" (or truth) with horizon.

SAAB Logo A Swedish car manufacturer might have had fewer sales had it stuck with "Svenska Aeroplan aktiebolaget" (Swedish Aeroplane Company). Luckily, this was soon abbreviated into SAAB. By the way, "do you drive a SAAB?"

Hyundai and Samsung, two Korean companies, used their native language to attract international buyers. Samsung translates to "three stars" (which begs the question: is three stars the highest rating in Korea?), while Hyundai is Korean for "modernity" or "the present age." In English, of course, it means "good gas mileage."

Sharp Electronics decided to take the name of their first product when the company was launched. And that product happened to be an ever-sharp pencil.

Are there any company names that have you scratching your head as to their origins?

Posted by Diane Prange at 2:07 PM

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August 29, 2005

What Do Ice Cream and Mutual Funds Have in Common?

Sloppy trademark practices.

As usual, companies in other countries continue to use U.S. trademarks that are not protected worldwide.

In India, for example, mutual fund names begat in the U.S. now have surprisingly similar counterparts based in India. Examples include:

US Mutual Fund Name India Mutual Fund Name
Putnam Classic Equity Standard Chartered Classic Equity
Dreyfus Emerging Leaders JM Emerging Leaders
Fidelity Contra SBI MF’s Contra Fund

On the other hand, there is a counter-trend emerging with companies in the U.S appropriating trademarks from foreign companies. This trend has been buoyed by U.S. immigrants who long to buy the traditional brands they cherished in their home countries. Not surprisingly, these consumers are quick to assume that a product in the U.S. with a name from home, is the product they grew up with. But often it is not.

Michoacana Ice Cream

One case in point is the iconoclastic 65-year-old Mexican brand of ice cream bars, Michoacana. [Mexican packaging is on the left; the U.S. version is on the right] Proving that imitation is the sincerest form of profitability, a firm in Modesto California started making identical products in 1991, while brazenly plagiarizing the originator’s name and logo. Since Michoacana was never trademarked in the U.S., the reasoning behind the piracy appeared perfectly logical to the U.S. imitator: “We just chose a name we knew that Mexican people would know.”

Similarly, Philippine immigrants to the U.S. can now enjoy domestically produced Magnolia ice cream in traditional South-East Asian flavors such as lychee, avocado, corn-cheese and urbe yam. Again, the U.S. brand name and company logo are strikingly familiar to the homeland’s original, but it’s California’s Ramar Foods International, and not Philippine’s San Miguel, that’s licking up the profits. Ramar’s rationale behind the appropriation from San Miguel is simple. “They did not have the vision to know they could sell to Filipinos here.”

Posted by William Lozito at 9:31 PM

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August 27, 2005

Viiv: Intel Branding Brilliance or Naming Nightmare?

Intel Viiv Logo Has Intel picked a winning product name by calling its new media center platform Viiv? Once you know it rhymes with “drive,” it’s easier to say than “TV.” I can see myself saying “Turn up the Viiv” or “Let’s watch some Viiv” or “Just put that CD in the Viiv.” Ease of use is an important element for the name of a product that's intended for every home.

The spelling “Viiv” has a symmetrical choriambic structure. Instead of two short syllables framed by two long syllables, it has two vowels framed by two consonants. The doubled letters also evoke the dual-core processor that powers Viiv™ technology.

Techies are having a great time speculating on the origins of the name Viiv, such as the Roman numerals VI and IV together as an echo of 64-bit architecture. A Roman, however, would write “LXIV” for “64”, as a more erudite poster noted.

But Viiv isn’t aimed at the people who frequent techie forums. Viiv™ technology is for people who aren’t really PC users at all. There’s no reason the consumer electronics market shouldn’t accept “Viiv” as readily as “iPod”.

The game of guessing possible meanings might even be a selling point, making the name ultimately more memorable.

What do you think “Viiv” really means? Are consumers ready to see it become a household name? Click the comment link below and let us know.

Posted by William Lozito at 10:40 PM

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PetSmart Brand Name Change a Winner

PetSmart Logo

On September 6, 2005 pet lovers across America will witness the whelping of a new brand: PetSmart. If it already sounds familiar, it is. But, on the other hand, it isn’t. Leo Burnett will unleash millions in media and publicity spending to announce the new name for its client formerly known as PETsMART. This pet project is a pretty clever publicity ruse – as the entire re-branding effort hinges solely on a shrewd but subtle recapitalization scheme.

Key to the name change, according to CEO Phillip Francis, is putting less on being a mart, and more on being smart.

And indeed they are. American consumers have more than doubled their spending on pet products from $17 to $34.3 billion during the past decade. The new smart positioning implies that consumers too, are smart to keep scooping unprecedented amounts of their discretionary income into Buddy or Cleo's bowl, especially when they do it at PetSmart.

But could the new PetSmart brand be barking up the wrong tree? Although the new moniker helps distance them from discounters like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and 68 other U.S. “Mart” retailers, the move to “Smart” brings with it new retail associations. At present, there 114 “Smart” trademarks including the likes of CarSmart, ApplianceSmart, SmartMart and SmartPages.

Strange littermates not withstanding, the new name will still unleash a lot of publicity – most of it positive. And, two industry experts, Chomsky and Pushkin, our company mascots, who recently opined have given both the old and the new brand a vociferous “paws up.”

What does your pet think of the PetsMart to PetSmart name change?

Posted by Diane Prange at 10:32 PM

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August 25, 2005

Product Naming - A Town Named DISH?

Would you be willing to rename your hometown, forever and always, in return for ten years of free satellite television? That's the deal being offered by Colorado's EchoStar Communications Corp, according to the McKeesport, PA Daily News.

That's right. Rename your town DISH into perpetuity, and receive, free of charge, ten years of Nick at Night, Soap Network, Oxygen, Country Music Television, et al. How very seductive.

Is this phenomenon a logical extension of the long-standing practice of granting naming rights to the highest bidder? That fine American tradition dates back to at least 1926 when Cubs Park in Chicago was renamed Wrigley Field in honor of Juicy Fruit, Double Mint and their chewy brethren.

Or is it a symptom of a deeper disease? We're a media-inundated society. What once would have garnered front-page news is now so much background clutter. So folks get desperate. For instance, not too long ago, a casino paid $10,000 to a woman in Utah to have her forehead tattooed with its name. First it's logos on sweatshirts, then it's logos on foreheads. Is this a clear sign of entropy at work?

But let's hold on just a minute here. With civic budgets straining to keep police cars filled with gas, it seems unlikely EchoStar will have any takers. The costs would be astronomical, and all the free TV in the world does nothing to help recoup them. Think of all the public and private signage, the maps, the stationery, the return address labels, all needing replacement.

Here's something to consider. What if EchoStar actually expects no takers at all? Could this be a public relations red herring designed to generate free press at no cost whatsoever. Could anyone be so duplicitous with brand naming for buzz?

This suddenly became much more interesting. What do you think?

Posted by William Lozito at 9:25 AM

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August 24, 2005

Product Naming: Apple vs. Microsoft in the Name Game

Apple and Microsoft have long diverged in their creative approaches to product development and product promotion. Apple, most observers will agree, trades on that elusive, intangible cool that seems to apply to their computer and, it seems, in the way they play the name game. Suffice to say that Apple is more considerate than its rival, who seems to feel free to name first and field lawsuits later.

Two cases in point have come up recently that have cast Microsoft in a negative light. The first is Microsoft's clear intention of rebranding RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology into, simply, "Web feeds" linked into Internet Explorer 7. RSS open source technology is favored by bloggers and Web-based news publishers to keep readers informed when new entries have been posted to web sites. According to Dave Winer, one of the pioneers of RSS, changing the application's name for use in IE7 is "childish and self defeating," adding that "Like it or not Microsoft, the technology is called RSS. If you try to change that, for whatever reason, you will get routed around." Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, recently pointed out in the same Macworld article that there is no harm in renaming a brand that is known "specifically to some industry or group" while others say that this renaming follows a trend Microsoft has shown in the past in taking industry standard software and striking a claim. Microsoft has already had its fingers burned in this regard, after paying out $1.9 billion last year to Sun Microsystems for its implementation of Java.

Microsoft's woes do not end there. The name Vista, which Microsoft already publicly linked to the new Windows on July 22, is in fact already being used by at least three software companies who are unwilling to share it. One is a business software company founded in 1999 and owned by John Wall, a well known technology executive in Seattle who also founded Wall Data. Wall recently told the Seattle Times that "We are going to consider our options and talk to them." Meanwhile, both VistA Software Alliance and World Vista, two non-profit groups who create software used in the administration of veterans hospitals, have denounced the new Windows brand. VistA has been in use for over 20 years and according a recent article in Macworld "provides the electronic records for millions of veterans in 163 hospitals, 135 nursing homes and 850 clinics." Microsoft is releasing its new version of windows just as VistA is launching VistA-Office EHR (electronic health record), causing further consternation to VistA 's developers.

While other software developers who are trading on the Vista name may be pleased with the association with Big Bill, it is the strategy that rankles. The name " Vista " has already been announced as the brand name for the new operating system, which will be available in the fall of 2006. RSS is already implemented in IE7 beta. A look at how Microsoft manages these issues leads one to wonder if Microsoft simply uses names at will and worries about damage control later. Do the brand managers at Microsoft believe that they are simply so far ahead of the game that the rules don't apply to them?

Apple, for its part, has handled these problems with a shade more elegance. A blog on Geek.Com recently gave notice that Apple has quietly applied for trademarks on the following names "iWork", "Pod"; "ZeroConf" (another industry standard that is likely to be dropped), and "ProBand." Interestingly, it has agreed to phase out its use of the "Rendezvous" name after settling out of court with a company called Tibco . Apple's new, two button mouse is produced under an official agreement with Viacom to use the copyrighted "Mighty Mouse" name. Both and the product's web page include the following fine print: "Mighty Mouse © Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved."

It seems that Apple treads with greater care on competitor's toes, and has earned a great deal of consumer goodwill in the bargain. One day before the April release of the new Macintosh OS, which is nicknamed "Tiger", online retailer Tiger Direct filed papers looking for a restraining order and an injunction , despite the fact that Apple had been advertising the system for some weeks before Tiger Direct made its appearance. Only days later, Bob Young, CEO of Lulu.Com and owner of the Hamilton Tiger–Cats (a professional Canadian football team) offered Apple the opportunity to use his team's moniker free of charge, saying that Tiger Online's lawsuit was "a load of codswallop." He added that "Nobody and no company should have the exclusive use of the word 'tiger.'"

Now THAT'S customer loyalty!

Please comment on Microsoft vs. Apple's brand naming approach.

Posted by William Lozito at 5:00 PM

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