Automotive: January 2006 Archives

Product Naming: Luxury Brands Battle of the Alphabet

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lincolnmkx.jpg On January 25th Honda Motor Company suit against Ford Motor Company, stating that the name for Lincoln's newest SUV, the , is too close to that of the Acura MDX model designation for its SUV.

MarkX.jpgThis means that as automakers migrate toward a more for its luxury vehicles, it is more and more likely that potential conflicts will arise. Ford is arguing that it wants to refer to the new Lincoln MKX SUV as the “Mark X”, and thus confusion with the Acura MDX would be minimal. I’m sure Ford management is well aware that its sister brand Jaguar, first used the Mark X designation to refer to one of Britain’s .

acuramdx.jpgI think that Ford is trying to have a dual-brand nomenclature for its new Lincoln SUV, which will only serve to dilute its branding efforts. Ford should decide on one naming approach and one only. That, I believe, would be in their best interest to strengthen the beleagured Lincoln nameplate.

No matter what Ford ends up with for its new Lincoln SUV nomenclature, I think it's clear that alpha and alphanumeric designations will likely conflict with existing auto brands.

Q7b.jpgI predict that the Acura-Lincoln alphabet conflict will be resolved out of court, as was the Nissan vs Audi “Q” conflict. In the latter, it was reported by that there was a gentleman’s agreement, with a likely financial settlement, that allows Audi to continue using the Q7 name and the Q-series nomenclature for future SUVs.

I believe that it is difficult to impossible for a brand to tie up a letter of the English alphabet. Can you think of any examples of a brand in any category with a trademarked letter or letters?

Read more commentary on the Acura vs Lincoln conflict at .

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On my recent trip to Switzerland to spend time with friends and family, I was reminded of the importance of conducting a thorough global linguistic analysis of names for products or services that would be marketed internationally.

Everyone’s familiar with the Chevy Nova, which loosely translates to “No-go” in Spanish. Some of you may know that the Mitsubishi Pajero is slang for masturbation in Mexico. Buick had the same problem when they introduced the LaCrosse in Canada. LaCrosse is also slang for masturbation in French-Canadian. Do you see a trend here? I think it’s probably a coincidence.

travelocityEven less known is that in French, Travelocity translates into "City of Transsexuals", travelo being a derogatory term for transvestite. Without making any judgements on anyone’s sexual orientation, I think it was wise on the part of Travelocity to use a different name in France. If you type , it takes you to www.odysia.fr. Odysia, although most likely a coined name, reminds me of odyssey, a more appropriate term for the travel industry.

odysiaWhen it comes to marketing a product or service internationally, I can’t help but think of what my mother taught me, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

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This fall, the beleaguered car brand will discontinue their traditional car brand names in favor of alphabetical naming, following the lead of its closest American rival Cadillac, which slipped into an alphabetical naming convention close to a decade ago (much to the dismay of those of us who miss the Seville and the Coupe de Ville).

AviatorThe change will be initiated by introducing the new Aviator, which has been renamed . Other car brands, like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus have found that using an alphanumeric naming convention focuses the customer's attention on the brand and not the particular model, in other words, Lincoln doesn't want people driving Town Cars and Aviators anymore, they want them driving Lincolns.

For many car lovers, the demise of well-loved car brand names like Town Car and Navigator credits a nostalgic longing. But Lincoln is facing drooping sales precisely because the brand is seen as outdated. I think if you want to appeal to the entire spectrum of luxury car buyers, young and old, an alphabetical or alphanumeric nomenclature makes sense for Lincoln.

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