Now What Shall We Call This Widget?


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My inquiry into corporate naming published in Conference Board Review, May/June 2007

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Now What Shall We Call This Widget?

  1. 1. Why companies come up with good names, bad names, and terrible names. Now What Shall We CaU This Widget: By Theodore Kinni eorge Eastman's dry-emulsion film simplified and It sounds rather arbitrary, but Eastman had other reasons G popularized the art of photography. In 1888, he reg- istered the trademark Kodak to identify hisfilmand the cameras that used it, and began advertising their ease of for settling on Kodak. quot;This is not a foreign name or word; it was constructed by me to serve a definite purpose,quot; he ex- plained on registering his trademark in Great Britain. quot;It has use: quot;You press the hutton, we do the rest.quot; By dint of his the following merits as a trade-mark word: First. It is short. prodigious hrand-building genius, the Eastman Co. soon laid Second. It is not capable of mispronunciation. Third. It does claim to the leading position in a field of more than fifty not resemble anything in the art and cannot be associated competitors. with anything in the art.quot; Today, the film that created a corporate giant is tottering Simple, right? Eind an original name, register it, and get toward buggy-whip status, but the name Eastman chose still to work building your own billion-dollar brand. If only things has legs. In 2006, even in the midst of the turmoil caused were that easy today. by the digital revolution, the Kodak brand ranked seventieth in the world in value, with an estimated worth of $4.4 billion, quot;Hitting the Trifectaquot; according to the annual Interbrand Corp./BusinesslVeek brand Eastman had one big advantage in the name game: He survey. Not a bad return on a manufactured word. didn't have to contend with millions of already-established Over a century ago, Eastman approached the naming and legally protected names. In fact, the first U.S. trademark process in much the same way that many of today's brand wasn't issued until 1870, and shortly afterward, the law that and trade namers recommend—playfully. According to made that possible was struck down as unconstitutional. It company lore, he conjured it during a game of anagrams wasn't until 1881 that a new, improved law was passed. Today, with his mother. He started with a letter. quot;The letter K has on the other hand, more than a quarter-million trademark been a favorite with me—it seems a strong, incisive sort of applications are filed annually at tbe U.S. Patent and Trade- letter,quot; he said. quot;It became a question of trying out a great mark Office. Last year, the second-busiest for applications in number of combinations of letters that made words start- U.S. history (after a banner year at the height of the e-com- ing and ending with K.quot; merce boom in 2000), the USPTO reported that it received THEODORE KINNI has authored and ghosmrinen ten business books, including, most recently, No Substitute for Victory: Lessons in Strategy' and Leadership From General Douglas MacArthur. He reviewed Alpha Male Syndrome in the Sept/Oct 2006 issue. 18 T h e C o n f e r e n c e B o a r d R e v i e w M a y / J u n e 2 0 0 7
  2. 2. Too Clever? Sometimes a name catches on so well that it begins representing its entire product cotegory, causing companies to complain about brand-name erosion. Yet efforts to prevent such genericization usually fail. Below are some brand names that have become synonymous with their product categories. 275,790 applications, bringing the active, pending, and dead name has to hit the trifecta: It has to be avaiiabie, it has to be trademarks on file to more than four million. distinctive, and it has to be memorable.quot; quot;By historic standards, it is almost more difficult than ever to get a trademark,quot; says Glenn Gundersen, partner in charge In the Name of Money of the trademark/copyright practice at Dechert LLP and Over the past couple of decades, the growing odds of hit- author of the international law firm's annual Tremb in Trade- ting this trifecta have transformed the name game into an niiirks report. quot;Part of the factor is that people can go and endeavor that typically requires specialized assistance. In re- file for a mark that they are considering using, and mayhe sponse, global brand-management consultants, such as Lan- '^o percent of those applications fall away without the appli- dor Associates and Interbrand Corp., began to prominently cant ever using it. But as long as somebody has an application feature naming on their menu of services. And specialized pending, it's a potential roadblock.quot; boutiques sprang up as well, often sporting offbeat monikers Now, take those pre-existing names and add the myriad designed to leave no doubt ahout their creative capacity, such names required for the endless stream of new products, serv- as Igor International and A Hundred Monkeys. ices, systems, and businesses created in the United States each As you might guess, the price of conjuring a good name year. Then multiply that sum by the globalization factor. After has risen along with the job's complexity and the field's pro- all, if you want to sell your w idget around the w orld, you must fessionalization. quot;I am guessing the minimum 'ou are going either find a name that is compelling and legally unencum- to pay one of these established firms will be approximately bered in the ten or fift' or however many different countries $25,000,quot; says Alex Frankel, author of Wordcraft and founder in which you pian to market it, or you must come up with a of Quiddity, a naming firm that opened and closed with the number of different, but still great, country-specific names dotcoms. quot;I saw that Zune, Microsoft's version of the iPod— for the same widget. And, hy the way, you must also contend and notice that I have to use Apple's iPod to even tell you with ail of the businesses around the world that are trying what Zune is—cost $200,000 to name.quot; Indeed, last No- to come up with their own great names. vember, Dow Jones reported that Lexicon Branding, which quot;This bombardment of names creates a high hurdle for named the Zune, as well as the BlackBerry, Intel's Pentium, actually christening new products and services, or names for and GM's OnStar, charges about $150,000 for a name. new companies,quot; says Glen Rock, N.J.-based brand consult- Is it worth that kind of money to come up with a name? ant Steve Rivkin, co-author of The Making of a Name. quot;A new The jury is still out in the case of Microsoft's Zune. If you M a y / J u n e 2007 The C o n f e r e n c e B o a r d R e v i e w 1 9
  3. 3. see the name as simpiy tune with a quot;z,quot; you might conclude picked up the story in 2002, Umbro apologized and renamed that its cost was excessive. If, however, you see the name as tbe shoe. a product of expert knowledge and comprehensive research Not all naming gaffes are so egregious. More often, they that can help differentiate Microsoft's offering among con- just make it a little bit tougher to attract customers and sell sumers and lure them from Apple—and that the name can your product. I can't pass a KIA dealership without think- become a verb (quot;I just ziinal you the new U2 singlequot;)—and ing quot;killed in action,quot; surely not a connection tbat the Korean that is capable of supporting what Robert Bach, president of carmaker ever intended. It's just one example of the trans- Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, characterized lation problems that run rampant in the global name game as an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars, then these days. $200,000 sounds like a drop in the bucket. Rivkin ran into another translation snafu while leading a naming workshop in Kuala Lumpur. He was describing bow If You Don't Have Anything Mitsubishi was selling tbe same SUV in various regions under different names—Montero in the United States, Sho- Nice to Say . . . gun in the United Kingdom, and Pajero in Asia and Austraiia, No one is suggesting that a great name can make a sub- when a group of Latin Americans in tbe back of tbe room standard product or company great. Ask Intel, which made began laughing. They refused to say why but suggested tbat implicit promises of state-of-the-art performance with the be look up pajero in a Spanish dictionary. It turns out that quot;Pentiumquot; name, ln 1994, to preserve its brand, the com- tbe word, wben used as slang, means a masturbator. quot;Mit- pany was forced to undertake a $475 million recall of chips subishi just didn't think about the Spanish audience appar- because of a bug that the vast majority of its customers would ently,quot; says Rivkin, wbo asked tbe company about its choice never encounter. Google, as another example, became part of name but received no reply. {On the company website, of our vocabulary not because it's a great word but because Mitsubishi claims to bave derived tbe name from the South the company built a great search engine. If the company's American feline Felispajeros.) search algorithm hadn't been so amazingly comprehensive, The obvious point is that the name of your product or Google would be another also-ran in the search business, company sbould be working for you, not against you. Choos- just like Snap and Direct Hit and Infoseek. ing a name thoughtlessly or witbout expert assistance makes A bad name, on the other hand, can hurt or even kill a it more likely that you will end up with tbe latter result. product or company. Back in 1996, Reebok created a women's running shoe and named it Incubus. No one knows what What's in a Name? possessed Reebok to ignore the dictionary during the nam- Herein lies tbe rub, to misquote Sbakespeare. It's easy ing process, but the company failed to discern tbe word's to point out a great name and construct a highly rational ar- definition until the first day it advertised the shoe. quot;We gument for wby it's great... in bindsigbt. I initially thought apologize,quot; announced chagrined PR director Dave Fogel- BlackBerry was a silly name. Tbe name didn't intrigue me son. quot;Certainly, it is very inappropriate.quot; He told Reuters enough to bother to figure out wbat tbis new gadget was— that the company bad to come up with 1,500 new names until it was selling like botcakes. But now I realize that its annually and thought it bad a winner—one tbat no otber tiny keys are like a blackberry's seeds, tbat tbe name evokes company bad thougbt to trademark. quot;Obviously it became tbe coobiess of Apple's products and, by extension, tbe Beatles' very apparent to us yesterday wby nobody else was using Apple Corps, ajid tbat, in some odd way, it's natural, organic, the name,quot; Fogelson said. Reebok recalled 53,000 pairs of and friendly. O^ course BlackBerry is a great namel the shoes inadvertently named after a mythical demon that Alex Frankel calls Viagra—witb all tbat vitality, not to men- seduces sleeping women. tion the power of Niagara Falls—anotber great name. quot;Tbe quot;In some cases, a name can clobber a product just getting name allows tbe company to own a large share of tbe market out of tbe box because it is so grossly inappropriate,quot; Rivkin by being tbe first tbing tbat people tbink about (wben it comes says. quot;Tbere are some names that are outright hideous. Tbe to treating impotence] and emerging as a generic name for British shoemaker Umbro named a brand of sboes Zyklon, tbe product,quot; be says. quot;By creating a great name at tbe out- the name of tbe poison gas tbat the Nazis used at Ausch- set, you pave a pathway for success. A name like Viagra would witz. You put Zyklon into Google or any search engine, and move from one person's moutb to tbe next and just spread like I guarantee eight of tbe first ten bits that you get will say wildfire. It belps to build market share quickly.quot; Holocaust, Nazi. How could anybody not bave done tbat?quot; But did it really matter wbat tbe first pill to cure male After the Simon Wiesenthal Center protested and the media impotence was named? Wouldn't it have been the subject 20 T h eConference Board Review oy/June 2007
  4. 4. A Red by Any Other Name a2zmata2z. Manatee. Inch names proliferate in the mar- tive blueberry blue, cherry R Worm. These are just a sampling of Crayola's newer ketplace. quot;1 was curious about all these weird names,quot; soys red, and watermelon green names. In a secand experi- itive reason why a marketer chase an unusuol name.quot; Though they moy not under- colors. Whatever happened to Elizabeth Miller, assistant pro- ment, participonts were stond that reason, on ambigu- red. blue, and yellow? They're fessor of marketing at Boston asked to order sweaters out ous name tends to pique still there, af course, but over College, quot;and wanted to find of o catalog without seeing their curiosity. Therefore, why the years, they've been joined out how they were offecting the actual colars. Again, label a product yellow or by Jazzberry Jam and a rain- people's purchosing and Miller and Kahn found that, lemon yellow or even rain- bow of other ambiguous hues. preferences.quot; When Miller, rather than choose sweaters slicker yellow when you can But why would Crayola come along with Wharton market- with descriptive colors like call it porty yellow? out with names that don't ing professor Barbara Kahn, dark red and light brown, But before you start at- describe their crayon colors? conducted a study on the ef- people were more apt to pick taching strange color and Because when it comes to fect of color and flavor nomes sweoters labeled antique red flavor names to your prod- using color—and flavor—to on consumer choice, they dis- and lucky brown. On top of ucts. Miller is quick to point nome products, the more covered that consumers are thot, individuals were likelier out that such naming strate- imaginative and non-descrip- increasingly drown to offbeat to order greater quantities of gies don't always succeed. tive the nome. the likelier names that give little informo- the ambiguously named quot;Unusual color and flavor consumers ore to prefer the tion about a flavor or product sweaters. names work best for hedonic product. And we're not just color. product categories, like fash- quot;People ore always trying talking crayans. For example, when Miller ion and food goods,quot; she to figure out why a morketer From Ben & Jerry's Chubby and Kahn held an experiment chose a name,quot; Miller ex- coutions. But they wouldn't Hubby ice cream to Cator- with jellybeans, they found plains. At the some time, she work in other product cate- ade's Riptide Rush sports drink that people were more apt to odds, quot;they know thot mar- gories. Razzmatazz Health to nail-polish monufocturer choose moody blue, Florido keters exist to try ond sell a Insurance or Inch Warm Hard Candy's shade af Trailer red, and monster green than product, so people figure Sovings and Loan, anyone? Trash, vague color and flavor the mare typical and descrip- that there must be some pos- —VADIM LIBERMAN of a googol of late-night talk-show-host jokes no matter it slang for urination, but Nintendo also had this problem what its name? After all, there are plenty of bad names that where they were perceived by gamers as skewing to a younger turn out good. audience, while the company was really trying to elevate the Lnst t'nil, Nintendo announced that its new game platform product to an older audience, a segment that they haven't would be named Wii. quot;Wii sounds like 'we,' which empha- been able to tap into. That was a huge controversy.quot; sizes this console is for everyone,quot; the company painstak- But tbe controversy turned out to be a PR bonanza for ingly explained. quot;Wii can easily be remembered by people Nintendo. HTien Manning wrote a blog post suggesting around the world, no matter what language they speak. No that the name was so bad that Nintendo must be quot;punkingquot; contusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii. Wii has a dis- its customers and would announce the real name wben the tinctive *ii' spelling that symbolizes both the unique con- product shipped, his readership jumped six-fold to thirty trollers and the image of people playing it.quot; thousand page views. quot;Nintendo didn't have to put a dime Everyone hated the name, and Nintendo faced a firestorm behind it,quot; says Manning. quot;All they had to do was say the of criticism. quot;Think of all the objections,quot; says Steve Man- new name is Wii and it just lit up the Internet, and the press ning of San Francisco-based Igor International. quot;Not only is as well, because everybody came out and said, 'What a crappy o y / J u n e 2 0 0 7 The C o n f e r e n c e B o a r d R e v i e w 2 1
  5. 5. name.' Every single member of their target audience knew are probably a hundred names that are Mountaineer or Ex- that name within twent>'-four hours and were never going plorer or Navigator or Rainier or Tahoe or Sonoma or what- to forget it.quot; Nintendo sold 1.14 million units of the game ever. And the question becomes: Wiiat is the equity in being console in Japan by January 7, 2007, more than twice as many the ioist SUV that is saying exactly the same thing to exactly units as Sony's new console, which was on store shelves three the same audience in exactly the same way? Frankly, I think in weeks before M^ii. the SUA' category-, the best name is still the Suburban. It's the The bottom line: The vagaries of naming are legion. only different name, and it's the only one that is brutally hon- est. We are not really driving up the mountain in these trucks.quot; Getting Good Marks Next, great names launch with great marketing strategies Other than the fact that great names are easy to identify or, at the very least, should flow from some sort ot prede- after they've become hits, what can be said for sure about fined strategy. For instance, luxury carmakers such as BMW^ crafting winners? For starters, context is everything. First, and Mercedes and Infiniti concentrate all of their market- there is the product or company itself to be considered. Thus, ing might on promoting their corporate names. Their cars, while Incubus is a great name for an alternative rock band, named with letters and numbers, such as BMW's 3 Series, naming a sneaker after an evil spirit that attacks your intended 5 Series, etc., all derive benefit from the value ofthe larger customers in their beds was clearly not so great. brand. (That doesn't mean that they don't take their model There is also the competitive environment to consider. names seriously. Infiniti reportedly paid San Francisco-based quot;Take the SUV category, where everything is positioned NameLab $75,000 for two letters—the J and the Q that would exactly the same; the great outdoors,quot; iManning says. quot;There lead—not follow, mind you—their model numbers. The car- When Pudding Becomes Satin Chocolate Pudding istorically, it's been mesan, increased sales H tough to accurately quantify the impact that by 27 percent, enhonced post-trial evaluations of a product or company quality, value, and restau- name has on customers. rant-related attitudes, But recent scientific studies and bolstered customers' have begun to lend cre- intentions to return to the dence to the idea that cafeteria. In the Name of Killing Time names can deliver profits In 2006, another re- in and of themselves. search team, this one from aming projects can easily chairmon and CEO deter- In 2001, Cornell profes- Munich's Ludwig-Maximil- N become sinkholes of lost mined that he wanted to look sor Brian Wansink and two ians University, announced time and resources. Just ask ot whether or not we should colleagues published the that it hod discovered that Greg Pruett, who spent twenty chonge the nome of the com- results of a study that when people hear or see years involved in a series of pony, change its visuol identity. found that cafeteria pa- popular brands, the parts renaming initiatives ot Pacific reposition the way the com- trans Cin this case, mostly of their brains linked to Gas & Electric Corp. before pany was visually presented to university professors and self-identity and reward joining the American Gas customers, investors, etc.quot; At other education profes- light up. Well-known Association as vice president the end of that effort, the sionals!) buy more, eat brands—regardless of the of communications. company did chonge its visuol mare, and come back for product—activated parts quot;It started all the way back identity—but not Its name. more when menu items of the brain associated in 1987,quot; Pruett recalls. quot;PG&E In 1995. the name initiative such as chocolate pudding with positive emotional had had the same identity resurfaced as the company di- are renamed, say. Satin processing; less familiar since 1905—identified by a 'P,' versified into other businesses. Chocolote Pudding. The or unknown brands acti- a 'G,' the word 'and' with a quot;We retained a consultant and researchers found thot voted parts of the brain tilted underscore under it, and again spent a great deal of descriptive labels, including associated with negative the letter 'E,* all in brown ond money on a study.quot; Pruett con- Grandmo's Zucchini Cookies emotional response, light beige with a light beige tinues. quot;The consultant came and Tender Chicken Par- —T.K. backdrop. At the time, the forward with mony names. 22 The Conference Board Review Mav/June 2007
  6. 6. maker has since moved on to G, M, and F.) ing on the assignment for you,quot; Rivkin says. quot;Otherwise, Experts cnll this ;i quot;naming architecture,quot; and having one you are likely to have a huge disconnect—the classic exam- creates a sort of brand consistency that customers come to ple being somebody who has done nothing but dotcom recognize. quot;This is something that I appreciate as a con- kind of entity names who is now trying to work for a tradi- sumer,quot; Frankel says. quot;If sub-brands are all scattered, it's tional industrial heay-machiner' company. One is not right, harder as a customer to know what is going on.quot; Thus, Apple one is not wrong, but they may not be destined to work well is following the iPod with the iPhone. together.quot; Finally, think about the ry-pe of name you want. There are Of course, if you end up with one ofthe winners, it's basically three categories of names: descriptive, as in Close- worth all the effort. Names iike Absolut vodka and DieHard Up toothpa.ste and Sears' Weedwacker; invented, such as cor- car batteries and Hefty trash bags all captured substantial porate names Lucent and Integris; and evocative, such as Apple shares of competiti^'e markets, in no small part due to their and Monday, the new name PricewaterhouseCoopers chose names. quot;Evaluate your own vocabulary in a sense and see iust before IBM acquired the consultancy and put a quick end how many brand names you are using on a daily basis,quot; sug- to that flight of fancy. Alost naming experts tend to favor and gests Frankel. quot;Everytime somebody goes to the wireless- be especiall}' good at coming up with one of these types, so retailer store and says, 'Give me a BlackBerry,' even if there research naming companies before you choose one, because are other makers, it helps Research in Motion,quot; the item's mismatches are often a colossal waste of time and money. lesser-known manufacturer. quot;Five years ago, Google was not quot;Spend some amount of time and get comfortable with a verb, and now it's everyw here. That verb usage was part of the people who run the firm and who are going to be work- the Google success storj'.quot; (tt many identity treatments. And money,quot; Pruett says. quot;But he authorize you to go out and the California energy crisis at the end of the day, I still commissioned me to take a hire somebody to take a look unfolded before our very eyes, remember how the chairman look at how we branded the at recasting the identity of which drove PG&E and, ulti- picked up the binder, which non-utility business units we the parent company,' And he mately, the non-utility units was pretty considerable, like were creating.quot; This time, Cal- looked me in the eye and said, into bankruptcy and forced a New York White Pages, and ifomia's utility regulators threw 'And 1 don't want anybody to the company to divest itself of said, 'I like our current name. a monkey wrench in the works. come in here and start talking the nan-utility units. So there I see no reason to change it. When PC&E decided to extend to me about branding. I don't was no point in chonging the Thank you,' He dropped the its brand across all of its busi- want to hear the word brand- name then.quot; binder on the boardroom table nesses, state regulators insisted ing. Do you understand?'quot; The total cost of these and walked out of the room, that the state's citizens owned Surprisingly, it worked. quot;We exercises In frustration? Over and that was the end of that.quot; a share of that name and de- identified a name for the new $12 million, according to Pru- That chairman was gone by manded royalties, in addition company, we identified a ett. The lesson for companies 19<?7, when the Idea of a new to other onerous conditions. ticker symbol and reserved it, considering name changes? name surfaced once more. Two more years flew by. we had this name translated quot;Right at the very start, before quot;We had a new chairman and quot;Finally. I think the chairman into fourteen languages, and you do anything, including hir- CEO who was very much of a got sick and tired of hearing it just came through with flying ing a consultant,quot; he instructs, like mind to the previous one— me gripe,quot; Pruett says. quot;He said colors,quot; Pruett remembers. quot;We quot;get uniformity of agreement that this is a big waste of to me, 'OK, I am going to were all set to launch. Then internally.quot; —T.K. M a y / J u n e 2 0 0 7 The C o n f e r e n c e B o a r d R e v i e w 2 3