July 29, 2011
The Colonel is the icon behind the brand KFC, and he is the company's answer to Ronald McDonald. The difference is, of course, that the Colonel was a real person and his face is on many of the restaurant items. He even has a Facebook page.
The page is being spearheaded by the Colonel's longtime assistant Shirley Topmiller and the site enables people to send in stories and photos. They can also view a minute and a half video of the man's life. There are plenty of people who remember the Colonel and who claim they know the eleven herbs and spices in the secret recipe.
The problem KFC's parent company, YUM! Brands, is clearly trying to address has to do with the fact that people are slowly forgetting who the Colonel is. A 2010 survey of adults aged 18-35 showed that 60% had no idea who that person is on the KFC bucket, and 52% thought the Colonel was a made-up person.
Some viewers find the whole thing a little hokey but everyone agrees the man is indeed a legend.
The problem will be how to balance off the real person with the image KFC needs to continue to build its brand.
The Colonel's dated reality (he died in 1980) is going to be tricky to balance. Millions of people who cannot speak English or have little familiarity with the US frequent KFC (it is, for instance, the number one fast food brand in South Africa). Will they "get" the whole concept of the Colonel?
I noted last year that KFC was planning on building up the Colonel despite the fact that many people were having trouble remembering what KFC actually stood for ("fried" is a naughty word).
As I said before, the very fact we have to resurrect him shows us that "even iconic figures in the world of naming and branding can fade if they're not constantly promoted."
And made relevant.
July 28, 2011
Like most people in the branding community, I watched with interest when a blogger in China discovered that there were five fake Apple stores in China.
Most people were agog - we knew that there were plenty of fake products, but faking a whole store seemed a little over the top. Even if one called itself an "Apple Store."
This news has led to many articles noting that some of the employees seemed unaware they were working for a counterfeit store, not least because these stores looked pretty real.
China seems slow to close these zombie stores down, seeming more concerned over whether or not the store owners have paid their trade licenses than if they are committing grievous copyright infringement. And while we might expect there to be vituperation and frustration across the blogosphere over this blatant theft of intellectual property, there seems instead to be a growing chorus of "meh."
As one blogger puts it, "This is the same country in which an entire mall dedicated to fake brand name stores opened in 2009."
Some bloggers are even suggesting that these stores offer Steve Jobs free market research and even more publicity.
Others are suggesting that the culture of fakery in China is more amusing than it is damaging. People in Asia tend to joke about their fake handbags and watches. They post pictures on Facebook of Hyundai vehicles with BMW stickers on them, Subway clone shops that read "Busway" and socks that guarantee they are "100 percent pure sock." It's all a kind of burlesque.
Jane Wells at CNBC even points out that a culture of clones could be a good thing, as "You haven't made it until someone's faked you. It's the sincerest form of flattery."
The fact is, the real brands are making money hand over fist from people willing to pay the premium prices they charge. Do the fakes cut down on business? C'mon. Apple has never had so many fakes out there, and never made so much money.
Hmmmm. Fake brands may be providing a service we never knew about....
July 27, 2011
An interesting article in PC World entitled "What's in a Code Name" brings up a topic I have written about for years - the weird relationship between tech code names and the ultimate brand names we buy.
They discuss the ill-fated Congo platform naming from AMD and the strained relationship Apple had with Carl Sagan over the doomed Newton brand name. They also mention the famous Ginger name (Segway) and Google's Taco Town (Buzz) naming.
Of course a quick persusal of the Name Wire would offer a few more tidbits that might make even President Barack Obama laugh (he was code named "Charlaque" by his British security team, which means "smart alec" in Hindi).
There were also some notable flops. AOL's Project Phoenix was a name that should have remained hidden. Hilton's Project Global 21 had us wondering if they were taking over the world. T-Mobile changed a smartphone name from "Dream" to G1 and it it became a nightmare.
Finally, Nokia's "iPhone killer" of 2008 was called "Tube" before it sort of went down the, um, tubes.
July 26, 2011
The new Google+ social networking tool is already facing a problem with naming. No, they do not want to change their name, they instead want to make sure you do not change yours.
Apparently, the use of pseudonyms is rife on competing social networks (cough, Facebook, cough) and Google is demanding that people use bona fide Google accounts with their real names when they sign up. The company has been suspending accounts with business names and fake names. Users are also complaining that Google is suspending accounts with nicknames or strange punctuation.
Google is heading for trouble, it seems. First of all, they want you to use your "common" or "real life" name, so people will know they are connecting with the right person.
Google's own Vic Gondotra, does not use his full, legal name everyday and would use the name "Vic" to log on.
But what about Internet celebrities like Kirrily Robert, of "Skud" fame? Many of us have a different online identity than our real life identity, meaning that online friends may be more interested in the virtual you than the real life you. Google is now contemplating making people produce government issued ID before registering.
The problem goes deep into why we use social media. Consider the dilemma of the person who is hiding from an abusive family member, or existing online as a different gender. Google says using your real name is just a courtesy, like wearing a "shirt in a restaurant."
But dissidents in certain unstable countries or people in law enforcement would much prefer to shield who they are when online. And while many people think that it might be good if people are held accountable for what they do in the social networking sphere, others say it is the relative anonymity of the Internet that gives certain users the freedom to criticize news articles or indeed other users. To, in other words, be themselves.
The problem has led David DiSalvo to wonder if Google will "die the death of a thousand pseudonyms."
Some writers, for instance, do not want to be found online by people who disagree with their views, many female writers, for instance, feel safer existing online as a genderless entity. "If a writer or anyone else feels more comfortable under a pseudonym, then why prevent them from using one?"
One thing seems for sure. Google was not expecting this to be such an issue. There are thousands of posts out there accusing Google of violating people's privacy and defending people with funny names.
Other people in the blogosphere defend Google's choice . Joe Wilcox at Betanews says this: "Google's policy of real people associated with accounts is a sensible one. Time to enforce such policy is now, while the service is invite-only and restricted to people 18 or older. It's about time somebody put the kibosh on anonymous accounts and started making people using the web to be identifiable and therefore more accountable for their behavior."
A place where people need to reveal their names will be more secure and less of a lure for trollers, goes the logic. This may be so, and may make Google+ run a more honest shop than its competitors. But it will certainly cut down on user numbers.
The main problem here is that Google is forcing us all to toe the line and behave while in our free time. Are we ever truly ourselves in the cyber-social world? If so, where's the fun?
July 25, 2011
Today I am thinking about acronyms instead of euphemisms.
I note that there have been some interesting name changes by government contractors who are moving away from bland acronyms to coined company names or neologisms.
For instance, Silver Spring-based ITSolutions is going to call itself Acentia, from "ascend" and "essential." Another defense contractor is moving away from ITT towards "Exelis," a nod to the word "excel."
Global Defense Technology & Systems (GTEC) is now going to be called Sotera Defense Solutions: "Sotera was derived from Greek mythology and meant to represent the spirit of safety, preservation and deliverance from harm, according to the company."
Remember, these are government contractors. There is not as much of a need to be flashy or interesting to the typical person on the street. Nevertheless, the name changes are meant to share corporate values with the government and "motivate employees."
Acronyms in general get a bad rap partly because they look so meaningless. One blogger puts it this way: "Al Ries and Jack Trout, authors of Position: The Battle for your Mind, argue that lesser known companies tend to loose their identities when using initials. Customers are unclear about the types of businesses in which these companies are engaged."
The idea is to give consumers something that sets you aside from the rest. Unlike these coined company names, famous acronym brands - IBM (International Business Machines) or GM (General Motors) started out as real names.
Random letters are just not "recall friendly" even in relatively confined brand spaces. The attraction of acronyms is that they sound businesslike and make your company appear big.
One blogger puts it this way: "True, acronyms are short, very easy to say, and easy to type. But that's where the benefits end."
They are not easy to remember, and they are even harder to Google.
To put it even more simply, according to Jason's Blog, the major reasons, therefore, that companies choose acronyms are:
- To abbreviate wordy corporate names
- To neutralize brands for international markets
- IBM is successful, and they use an acronym
All of these are not really convincing. Doing a search for the acronym PAA for Please Aviod Acronyms returns an extensive list of companies and terms using the PAA acronym.
The drawback is obvious.
July 22, 2011
I was laughing today over an article by Mark Ellsworth, a person who is not in the naming business, but who seems to have a pretty good idea of how names are sometimes used to hide the ugly reality.
He uses the example of "used cars." These have been called "pre-owned" and "previously owned" and now we get "certified pre-owned cars."
But when he talks about the difference between "franchised distributors" and "authorized distributors" he really makes me laugh; "Using this logic, a person who decides to open a hamburger stand not affiliated with the majors (Mickey D's et. al.) is in effect selling unauthorized beef."
The fact is, we need to use names to describe things, hide things, and explain things. Twitter doesn't advertise, for example, it has "promoted tweets."
The word "price" has almost been eradicated from most marketing speak as simply too painful. We might refer to a "price adjustment" over a "price increase" or maybe talk about the "price tag" but "price" by itself is like "cost"... ouch.
And, going back to cars, automakers tried to find new names for "hatchbacks," such as "fastbacks, five-doors, liftbacks," but they are starting to call them "hatchbacks" again.
In the world of marketing we really can go overboard. One cold-caller alumnus has a blog post about how some companies are giving cold-calling names such as, "profiling" (like, in the FBI) or "Canvassing, appointment-making, prospect research, pipeline building and I've even heard of warm calling."
Warm calling? Really?
The fact is, euphemisms destroy credibility, especially given the educated and savvy consumer we have to deal with daily.
Good product nomenclature aims for clarity and attractiveness. Too many euphemisms in any kind of communication leads to a kind of cynicism on the part of the buyer.
It's just bad business... but it is indeed funny business, too.
July 21, 2011
New technology company Data Robotics has changed its name to Drobo, Inc.
No, this is not the name of a long lost Hobbit (possible cousin of Bilbo and Frodo from the Lord of the Rings) but an acknowledgement of how customers refer to the company. It is also the name of one their best selling product, a multi-bay desktop storage unit that users populate with their own hard drives.
While making the "company and the product one singular, eponymous brand," they are also moving to a bigger headquarters in San Jose, CA.
According the the Drobo press release, "Our customers and resellers have come to recognize us by the Drobo brand and product name so we decided to make it official... We're just doing what they told us to do."
The verdict in the blogosphere is that this is a "catchy" name and certainly better than Data Robotics, which was created in 2004. The latter was a "practical" name but the new one gets the name of the week award.
A large percentage of yearly name changes in the US follow this pattern, in fact. Customers catch on to a product and the actual company name gets forgotten in the shuffle. Think about how America Online went to AOL or Citigroup changed to Citi.
Changing the company name to reflect a best selling product gives further equity to the product itself. The only problem that might occur would be if the Drobo product was eclipsed by a newer one. This is, after all, a new company in the technology space.
But for now, it seems clear that people like the Drobo name and it is certainly easy to remember!
July 20, 2011
Here is a lesson for all of us: when you trademark a brand name, trademark its acronym too.
Just ask Starbucks, which is finding itself suing a company over the use of the initials "SDN." Starbucks uses this to refer to Starbucks Digital Network, which provides free Internet access for all Starbucks stores through its Web site. The letters also come up on Starbucks' smartphone app.
A small South Dakota broadband service provider, South Dakota Network LLC, claims they own the acronym trademark.
They sent letters to Starbucks to stop using the "SDN" acronym to avoid confusion between the milions upon millions of Starbucks customers and their probably not so numerous customer base.
But the Starbucks' law suit says "Defendant's accusation of willful infringement casts a cloud over Starbucks' ongoing use and development of the Starbucks Digital Network, threatens to cause irreparable harm to Starbucks, and threatens Starbucks' substantial investment in the Starbucks Digital Network."
This may be so, but a SDN Communications rep has said "We intend to defend our trademark that we secured... We've tried to come to an agreement with them, to no avail. It shocked us that suddenly, they were suing us. We're this home-grown, rural South Dakota company that did its trademark homework."
Starbucks is trying to get the Federal law on its side but this looks like SDN has a case. In fact, Starbucks has drawn first blood, filing suit in Nebraska after getting cease and desist letters from SDN lawyers. Why has Starbucks gone to Nebraska with this? Nobody is sure exactly but the South Dakota company has an office in Nebraska.
The coffee giant assures us that "Starbucks' use of the acronym SDN is only used as a shorthand reference to its Starbucks Digital Network website and is not used to promote Wi-Fi services or any services other than the Starbucks Digital Network website that is available exclusively to Starbucks' in-store customers."
Well, that may be so, but a trademark is still a trademark.
July 19, 2011
I have been watching with interest the way in which moms are being increasingly targeted by alcohol companies... especially winemakers.
There can be no doubt that mothers of young children have a real love for the stuff - the Facebook group called Moms Who Need Wine has over 415,000 fans and the group called OMG I So Need a Glass of Wine or I'm Gonna Sell My Kids is also very popular.
The marketing has spilled into naming.
Is this a good thing?
For years we have made beer drinking for dad look like a recreational activity. Women account for over three quarters of the wine buyers out there, and many of them are moms... so what's the harm?
Some bloggers say that the wines do not encourage overindulgence and in fact speak for moderation. I support that, and the fact that many moms are thrilled to have wine brands targeted right at them. There is even a social group called "Wine With Mommy."
There is no wine called "Daddy's Time Away," jokes NY Barfly.
But these wines for mom have lately been embroiled in a trademark dispute, over that touchy name "mommy." My take on it is that the name is generic, and I have been awaiting the outcome of this.
But I also side with Booze Business Blog, which says "One thing is clear to me. The moment they co-pack the wine with a Sippy cup, I'm going to hurt someone."
July 18, 2011
Today is the trademark registration birthday of a legendary soap brand of International renown - Palmolive.
Although the Palmolive name was created in 1898 for the B.J. Johnson Soap Company, it was used as a common law mark for over 18 years before achieving registered trademark status.
This simple combination of two ingredient words, Palm and Olive is now sold in over 88 countries in 54 varieties.
Strategic Name Development has identified significant branding events that have occurred on every day in the month for July. For the full This Day in Branding™ report, click here.
July 1, 2011
The waiting is over, the weekend is here
that only comes on the 4th once a year.
They'll be hotdogs and hamburgers, fireworks and sun,
maybe even a parade before its all said and done.
So forget about September, December and May,
it's the 4th of July, our Independence Day!
There may be many problems that we are currently facing as a country, but there is still so much more that we have to be thankful for as Americans.
And there is no time like the 4th to take notice of all the liberties that make the United States the land of the free.
Happy 4th of July everyone!