June 28, 2012
The news that the beleaguered SAAB brand might see light again as an electric car brought a smile to my face. It seemed, well, genius.
SAAB was always a kind of off-beat car for American drivers and its reintroduction as an eco-vehicle made sense, sort of like the news that the DeLorean might make a similar comeback.
The brand looks set to be controlled by a group called National Electric Vehicle Sweden or NEVS (ironically owned by a Chinese-Japanese investment group). So, it seemed that after a few false starts, a new SAAB with (sort of) a Swedish connection would hit the road.
And then reality struck. NEVS seems to own everything related to SAAB including the Trollhattan production facility, but not the right to use the SAAB name or griffin logo we all know and love.
The SAAB name is shared by Swedish defense company SAAB AB and the logo is used by SAAB related truck company Scania. And thus the SAAB story gets another setback as the whole attraction of the new SAAB vehicle would be in the name.
Chalk this up to another company learning the hard way that you may buy another company but you don't automatically get the name. NEVS will need to work with SAAB AB and Scania to come to an agreement on use of the SAAB name.
I have followed the demise of SAAB for years now, and once called the name the ultimate "anti-brand." I meant it in a good way. The brand has the kind of individualistic, exotic cache that Apple used to have. And the Swedish connection makes it even more exotic, even if it has Chinese-Japanese owners.
SAAB has been around since the 1940s and it is one of those car brands we would hate to lose. But as Autoblog says, "Not to state the obvious, but if you're going to buy an automaker, it's probably advisable to secure rights to use the name."
June 20, 2012
The news that Intel has a new multi-processor chip and that it is going to be called Xeon Phi is pretty interesting.
This is a chip with "50 brains," which is probably the best way a non-technical person might think about its power.
Intel says "As we add Intel Xeon Phi products to our portfolio, scientists, engineers and IT professionals will experience breakthrough levels of performance to effectively address challenges ranging from climate change to risk management."
In other words, this is one impressive computer chip, and probably a big step forward for high performance computing.
Its code name was originally "Knight's Corner" and can do a trillion scientific calculations a second, a unit of computing charmingly called a "teraflop" (not to be confused with a "megaflop" and a "petaflop").
The Xeon Phi brand is set to be around for quite a while, partly because these chips can be integrated into equipment users already own.
This is the introduction of a new set of brands that will possibly usher in a new era of supercomputing, or "exascale" computing as the geeks call it.
June 15, 2012
The blogosphere has had time to digest the domain name rush and there are very few words of encouragement for it.
GigaOm calls this whole thing a "train wreck" and gives us a compelling list of reasons why this will turn into a mess.
Are that many companies or individuals or organizations really going to register for a .gay domain name, or a .arab one? And what purpose would it serve to have a .beer domain name, or a .pizza domain? That doesn't seem to matter to ICANN -- it plans to hand out names by the thousands regardless of whether anyone wants them (although it's not clear what will happen with .porn or other suggestions).
The problem is, of course, that so much of this is frivolous, and that it looks like a blatant move by ICANN to make some quick cash off brand managers and domain registrars.
Washington lawmakers seem to be calling this a big ".fail," with nervous government watchers worrying that this will cause confusion on the Internet.
And while we are on the subject, what about domain names like ".sucks" and ".fail," which are certainly going to be used to criticize brand and political figures.
The "most applied for" brand name extensions look a little encouraging (".app," ".LLC," ".LLP," etc) but let's note that many companies are against the process and have signed a petition with the Association of National Advertisers.
Still, Wired has asked us why the new gTLDs are not a bit more amusing and have in fact produced a list of domain names we'd like to see but, will not, due to the cost and regulation of the process of registration.
June 14, 2012
We're all waking up today to the reality of the new ICANN top level domain name proposals. And despite the fact that this will add confusion to the Internet, we can be sure that things are changing.
The new gTLDs might change the character of the Internet altogether. Amazon wants ".joy" while Google wants ".love" and L'Oreal wants ".beauty." Google also went for ".hangout, .here, .inc, .kid, .lol and .music" just to add to the insanity.
Big technology names like Google, Microsoft and Amazon are the most active and appear to have big plans for new gTLDs.
Amazon also applied for a number of interesting gTLDs, including ".tunes, .app, .author, .aws, .book, .bot, .buy, .call, .circle, .cloud, .coupon, .deal, .dev, .fast, .free, .game and .play."
There turned out to be 1,930 proposals for 1,409 different suffixes. Most of the proposals came from North America and Europe with only a hundred or so in non-English characters.
Months remain before any of this will take hold and of course nay-sayers point out that while having an interesting suffix is quaint and cute, the fact is that users find stuff on the Internet using Google. They don't type in a suffix or company name into the URL line.
Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility said, "One thing that's going to occur is a lot of money is going to get sucked out of the ecosystem... The cost is billions and billions of dollars with no value returned to people and an enormous capacity for confusion."
Big brands who own suffixes like ".app" will be able to say who gets to use the suffix, causing suffix owners to be essentially gatekeepers. Yet this might be a smidge overblown. Apple only wanted ".apple" and Facebook didn't want any: "It was Amazon that bid for '.like' - the famous button on Facebook that lets users recommend links and brands to friends."
This last piece of news is a relief for me. It shows that not every major company is going to drink this ridiculous .Kool-Aid.
June 13, 2012
Brace yourself, world.
Today, Wednesday, June 13th, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names
and Numbers (ICANN) will release 2,000 proposals for new Internet domain suffixes.
As you may recall, in January ICANN started accepting proposals for new domains.
Now, the mad rush has closed and we get to see who wants what. Those interested in applying for a new domain name had until the end of May to propose new domain suffixes and cough up $185,000.
So what happens next? Well, according to Businessweek:
THE CHALLENGES: The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposals. Someone can claim a trademark violation or argue that a proposed suffix is offensive.
THE LOGISTICS: Because of the high number of proposals, ICANN will review them in groups of about 500. There's a lottery-like system to determine which ones get to be considered first. It could take a few years to get to the final group.
THE REVIEW: ICANN will review each proposal to make sure that its financial plan is sound and that contingencies exist in case a company goes out of business. Bidders also must pass criminal background checks.
And there is more to the review process, of course. Months and months of it.
This is adding hundreds of hours of work for everyone who has a meaningful domain, and offering upstarts a chance to make the Internet that much more confusing.
Think about the headache Coke has, for instance. Every single permutation of its name and the word .cola now must be theirs.
Or, consider the hassle faced by Lady Gaga (or any other celebrity): they are all waking up today hoping that porn sites haven't lobbied for their names.
As I have said before, this might be a big disaster. Or a small one. But a disaster nonetheless.
June 8, 2012
I'm fascinated to see the arrival of Dallas-based company Bedrock manufacturing in Detroit.
They are setting up an upscale watch company at Detroit's College for Creative Studies A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in New Center.
The watches look great and they plan on making half a million of them a year. This may actually be the revival of the American watchmaking industry. But the thing that has really caught my attention is the brand name...
Now, some of you may recall that Shinola used to be a shoe polish that saw its heyday in the 1940s. The shoe polish has since disappeared (although it has a Facebook page) but a classic expression that incorporates the name has lived on: "He doesn't know sh+t from Shinola."
The phrase even made it to the big screen in Steve Martin's The Jerk.
Now, one might think that the people who chose the name overlooked this expression, but interestingly enough, they liked it so much it was the inspiration for the name. The expression came up in a "heated brainstorming debate" and it, well, stuck.
Just as interesting is the equity the Detroit name has. The company chose to set up production of the watches there because they found that "Made in Detroit" actually means something.
The car ads have obviously paid off and brought a certain gritty panache to the city. In fact, Detroit seems to be slowly becoming aware of the value of its name.
When consumers were given a choice between a $5 pen made in China, a $10 pen made is the US, and a $15 pen made in Detroit, they preferred the more expensive pen "Made in Detroit."
Behind all this strategic planning is the founder of the hugely successful Fossil Watches, Tom Kartsotis, so this is no stab in the dark. Apparently, people like Kartsotis really do know sh+t from Shinola.
June 7, 2012
So Twitter is giving us all the bird - a new bird logo that is, and CNN calls it "cute and upwardly mobile."
Twitter has done away with the lowercase "t" and "bubbled typefaces."
Now, according to a Twitter blog post, "Twitter is the bird, the bird is Twitter." They go on to explain
Our new bird grows out of love for ornithology, design within creative constraints, and simple geometry. This bird is crafted purely from three sets of overlapping circles -- similar to how your networks, interests and ideas connect and intersect with peers and friends. Whether soaring high above the earth to take in a broad view, or flocking with other birds to achieve a common purpose, a bird in flight is the ultimate representation of freedom, hope and limitless possibility.
Twitter has released lots of do's and dont's around the new bird as well. We are required to use the bird to represent the brand, make sure the bird faces right, and allow for at least 150% buffer space around the bird.
The "don't" list is pretty fearsome: no rotating, coloring, animating the bird and no using speech bubbles or "other marks and logos to represent the brand."
This has let one source to say "the bird is the word," literally.
By the way, the bird's name is "Larry" and is named after basketball legend Larry Bird.
Design Week sniffs that Twitter should have "launched a new brand story," noting that negative reaction to a company's new logo "doesn't happen (as much) when rebrands are led by the story of what's happening to merit a new look, a new name or a fresh approach. Particularly if there's actually something in it for the audience."
I guess so, but then again the new logo is kind of cool.
June 6, 2012
The name comes from the Hillshire Farm brand that was acquired in 1971, which Sara Lee says represents the company's "ambitions for growing our portfolio of iconic brands in the future."
Meanwhile, the name Sara Lee will be maintained for the food service division as Sara Lee Foodservice.
As one would expect, the company will have a new visual identity for its "meat-centric brand and snack solutions."
Obviously the Sara Lee name meant "bakery" to many people, but the Hillshire Brands portfolio includes meat brands, such as Jummy Dean, Ball Park, Hillshire Farm and State Fair as well as two "artisan" brands: Aidells and Gallo.
Hillshire Farm was established in Wisconsin in 1934 by Friedrich (Fritz) Bernegger in New London, just northwest of Appleton. The name still stands for "quality, integrity and superior taste" according to Sara Lee.
This is not the first time Sara Lee has embraced a name change. The Sara Lee name dates back to 1939, but the name itself was changed in 1954 to Consolidated Foods, only to switch back in 1985 to Sara Lee.
I think this marks the beginning of the end for the Sara Lee name as we know it, ushering in a far more streamlined approach to a greatly transformed company. Yet, I am glad the Sara Lee name will remain in some capacity even if I am not expecting to see it on retail shelves anymore.
June 5, 2012
IKEA is running into a problem in Thailand that many global companies encounter - their product naming translates, well, poorly.
As The Wall Street Journal reports today, "Is Redalen a) a town in Norway b) a bed sold by Swedish furniture chain IKEA or c) something that sounds uncomfortably close to getting to third base in Thailand?"
"The answer, it turns out, is all three."
IKEA's fifth largest superstore is in Thailand and the locals are finding the Swedish sounding product names pretty crazy. In addition to the Redalen bed, there is the Jättebra plant pot which sounds like a crude term for sex in Thai.
Consequently, a team of Thai speakers has been hired to modify the product naming by evaluating each product name and carefully and slightly changing the names to avoid negative connotations.
The problem of global naming is of course, a subject I have written about before. In earlier blogs I noted that Mr. Muscle sounds like Mr. Chicken Meat in China, and Pepsi's "Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation" tagline translates to "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead" in Taiwan.
And the list of naming faux pas goes on and on.
Interestingly, IKEA intentionally goes out of its way to create unusual names.
Chairs and desks are men's names, dining tables and chairs are Finnish place names, garden furniture is named after Swedish islands, and the list goes on.
June 4, 2012
It's probably not a surprise to most gamers, but the Wii U product name will remain on Nintendo's upcoming home console.
This is a source of disappointment for some bloggers who are quick to point out that this product naming decision caused much confusion when it was announced in 2011.
By only tacking on the "U," many people thought is was just a tweak on the base unit, "like the DS Lite, DSi and DSi XL launched in previous years" suggests IGN, who already lambasted the Wii U name in an editorial as "too clever for its own good" because it doesn't differentiate the hardware from previous incarnations.
This may lead to a similar situation as the Nintendo 3DS where the company was forced to put red stickers on the boxes to differentiate them from the DS system while also reminding the people watching their TV advertising that "This is not DS. This is Nintendo 3DS."
I blogged about this earlier this year, pointing out that you really have to dig hard to figure out that Wii U is a whole new console. But Nintendo is adamantly sticking to the name, probably assuming we've figured it out by now.
As one blogger put it last month when it looked like the name was sticking around, "The Wii U Name is Final, Deal With It." I probably couldn't have put it better myself.
June 1, 2012
There was an interesting post in the UK about "meaningless names." It seems that a company called "Yell" has rebranded itself as "hibu," which means, well, nothing. But it has launched an interesting discussion about the efficacy of meaningless names.
I think the point is that meaningless names are not only easier to find an available URL for, they also seem to carry subliminal meanings. Hibu sounds like "Hi!" and "Boo!" but, alas, also echoes the Japanese word for genitalia.
The point? Even fake names sound real. Like one contributor points out, Häagen-Dazs doesn't mean anything, but it sounds interesting.
Ikea sounds interesting but might as well be meaningless to the average American buyer, just like Toyota, which is based on a Japanse family name but it's doubtful many Camry drivers (another meaningless name) know this.
Toyota's luxury brand, Lexus, just happens to sound as if it has a Latin meaning, or possibly sounds like "luxury." And Finnish brand "Nokia" sounds like a Japanese brand.
Change is usually resisted at first when it comes to naming and logos. And thoughtless naming can be disastrous, as MAC cosmetics discovered when they created a line of cosmetics inspired by the Mexican City of Ciudad Juárez, a place known for its violence, drugs and murders of women.
The point is, a name is never meaningless. Almost any combination of letters will look like a real word or evoke some feeling simply by what it sounds like. Think of BlackBerry. It was originally going to be called StrawBerry, but that first syllable was too long and slow. Now, calling a phone a fruit is kind of crazy, but BlackBerry phones are still ubiquitous.
Here's a meaningless name: Viagra. One Stanford researcher pointed out that the name Viagra sounds like "Niagara," as in Niagara Falls. "Water is psychologically linked to both sexuality and life. And Niagara Falls, home of thousands of heart-shaped beds, connotes honeymoons. The initial vi- is a homonym of vie, meaning to fight or compete, and echoes the beginning of "vitality" and "vigor," while "-agra" evokes "aggression." On the basis of semantics alone "Viagra" is a winner."
Even though it doesn't mean anything.