I am pleased to announce the second edition of my book Merriam’s Guide to Naming is now available. In the half dozen years since the first edition, I’ve led over a hundred company and product naming projects for Fortune 500 multinationals, mid-size companies and start-ups. As part of this work, I’ve helped executives wrestle with questions and deal with challenges that were not adequately covered in the first edition. And, in reviewing dozens of magazine articles I’ve written and media interviews I’ve given, I realized I had a large body of new knowledge on the subject of naming. Merriam’s Guide to Naming was quite overdue for a redo. Click here to order.
The “King” has a new country. Burger King becoming a Canadian brand has some people up in arms, screeching about lack of patriotism and even calling for a boycott. (Oddly, the same people complaining about Burger King benefiting from “tax inversion” and questioning its patriotism are totally fine with Google’s elaborate Double Irish, Dutch Sandwich, Cayman Island tax avoidance schemes and the fact that GE parks $108 billion overseas to bring its tax rate to just over 7%.)
History has shown that foreign brands do quite well in the U.S. 47% of the top 100 brands in the U.S. are foreign–many of them dominating their categories. And most American consumers have no idea what “nationality” their brands might be. Few American’s can name the nationality of brands like Shell, Haier, or Adidas. Frankly, for many brands, determining nationality is almost impossible. Volkswagen has a reputation for being a German brand, but many designs come from India, with parts from China, tooling in Pennsylvania and assembly in Mexico.
No worries, eh. Burger King can enjoy a reasonable tax rate and not take a brand hit for becoming Canadian. More excellent commentary on taxes, Canada and the Burger King brand here.
Google Doodles have become part of the Google brand. BBC News Magazine interviewed me about how whimsically changing the Google logo defied standard “brand police” rules about brand consistency.
During the World Cup, it seemed Google had a new Doodle every day. While some change works for Google, too much defeats the purpose. A new Google Doodle no longer surprises Google users and thus no longer gains the attention it once did. It’s like saying “boo!” to a child one time too many. Pretty soon you get no reaction and if you keep doing it, you actually become annoying. Google Doodles are a great, fun aspect to the Google brand–if done in moderation. Over-Doodling the Google brand turns it into an uninteresting scribble.
Working with start-ups is a special joy. Client BattleFrog Obstacle Race Series held their inaugural event May 31 – June 1 at the Atlanta International Horse Park. It was run with the precision and integrity you would expect from Navy SEALs who started the BattleFrog and who designed and built the course.
Hobie Call, one of the top US obstacle course athletes, raced to his win
Navy SEALs were on hand to coach racers through obstacles, motivating athletes of all ages to do their best
Navy SEALs know that real winners are the ones with heart: They take on every obstacle, never make excuses and never quit
Live capability demos from actual Navy SEALs were part of the day-long BattleFrog event
The BattleFrog is the newest and most unique race series in the sport of obstacle racing. SEALs don’t need electro-shock, fire or other gimmicks to challenge you. Their training, so notoriously arduous that 80% who try fail, is done on the tourist-filled beaches of southern California. The BattleFrog series is just as challenging.
At the same time, the SEAL ethos of teamwork infuses every step of the course, with real SEALs on hand to coach, cheer and motivate racers. Courses are designed for every age and ability. Taking care of each other is core to the Naval Special Warfare community. BattleFrog obstacles each honor individual fallen SEALs. Proceeds from the event support the Navy SEAL Foundation, Navy SEAL Museum and Memorial and the Trident House, organizations BattleFrog has selected for its mission to honor memory, preserve legacy, support families.
Carolinas June 21-22
DC/Baltimore July 19-20
New York/NJ/Philly August 2-3
Pittsburgh October 4-5
Yesterday, GM announced yet more recalls that brought the total number of vehicle call-backs to an all-time record. The damage to an already hurting brand–see “Switchgate”–is incalculable. The idea of a “new GM” is taking a beating.
Toyota suffered similar negative press several years ago, but the strength of its brand, built over decades, helped it through. GM does not have that asset so this latest disaster may well sink it.
More on Automotive Branding:
Volt vs. Edsel
Volt Green Brand Bomb
GM: General Motors Reorganized Brand Architecture
Toyota Brand During the Recalls
Toyota Recall Doublespeak
Toyota Brand Bounces Back after Recalls
Brand Experience: Land Rover Dealers Take Owners Off Road
Jonah Goldberg has an excellent analysis of political brands in “Jeb, Hillary and the curse of tarnished political brands” published in the Los Angeles Times.
It will be interesting to see which old brand from decades past people will choose–or if they will opt for one that is totally new.
I was interviewed by NBC Sports about Richard Sherman’s brand value post tirade. Did Sherman destroy his brand with his boorish rant or did he turn golden? Opinion is evenly split between those who decry his poor sportsmanship and those who think his antics brought him the notoriety necessary to attract sponsorship dollars.
Sherman’s salary is about $550,000 before taxes and agents. Crabtree–the 49er receiver who didn’t catch the ball and didn’t get the touchdown–earns $2.7 million in salary and even more in sponsorships. Sherman really has nowhere to go but up. One commentator pegged his brand worth at $5 million in the days after that winning play and tirade.
I’m inclined to agree Sherman’s brand worth has gone up. He is an engaging guy who wins games. He was a poor sport Sunday, but he can tweak his brand and start pulling down the big bucks. I recommend he do something self deprecating. Right now, he is rude and outspoken. With care, he can downplay the rude and dial up the outspoken part. Many brands would like up for that. If he can’t manage that finesse, he can always be the spokesperson for Massengill Douche.
Working with Everbrand, we helped rebrand a revolutionary technology for managing corporate knowledge: Auros.
Writing with Jeff Moffa, Vice President for Knowledge Systems at Auros, we wrote this article for Manufacturing.net: What happens when your company experts retire or move to another company, taking your corporate knowledge with them?
Why is the name of the Redskins football team suddenly a huge controversy? If it is racist, why wasn’t there a huge outcry back in the 1960s? Why has it taken decades for the eternal victim class to make this an issue in 2013? Truly, this is another example of people with nothing better to do suddenly throwing a temper tantrum to get quoted in the media. Offense is taken much more than it is given.
NFL team names celebrate some sort of image. These names are about honor. Anyone who has sung themselves hoarse (I’ll admit it, but beer is soothing) singing “Hail to the Redskins” knows they are singing about honor, respect, pride and achievement, not denigrating a skin color or race.
- Is Pittsburgh insulting steel workers with their team name?
- Are Nordic types offended by purple-wearing vikings?
- Is Nancy Pelosi bent out of shape her hometown team is an outrage to the early California pioneers?
- And how about Buffalo?–what a slap in the face to everyone called Bill for gosh sakes!
- And Houston fans must feel terribly affronted that their team is called–gasp–Texans.
The Redskins should stay with the Redskins name. Fans who paint their bodies burgundy and gold should continue to do so with pride. Someone on Twitter suggested the team should change their logo to a potato–that’s a much better choice than destroying years of tradition and homage just to shut up the latest batch of complainers. (Past has shown they don’t shut up, they just gin up new crap to complain about.)
My recommendation: Call them the Washington Thinskins.
Fun fact–the Green Bay Packers were named after Curly Lambeau’s employer, the Indian Packing Company, which paid for the team’s first jerseys and let them practice on company property. How offensive to Indians and native Americans (who are not at all native to this continent).
Okay–comments now open for those wishing to post their gratuitous accusations that I am a racist.
UPDATE: This clear-eyed article in “Real Clear Sports” debunks much of the bunkum behind this fake controversy: What Should Be Redskins’ New Name?
GM’s Volt is the new Edsel, selling far few cars than that famous bomb did in the 1950′s and 1960′s. In fact, compared to the Volt, the Edsel was a blockbuster.
sold in three years
sold in three years
Ford sold 116,000 Edsels between 1958 and 1960. GM sold 7,671 Volts in 2011 and 23,461 in 2012. GM announced this week that they have dropped the price $5,000, but that hasn’t goosed sales. The company had a record-setting June, with 2,698 sold, however, sales started to slide again in July with 1,788 sold. Considering that between January and May, only 7,157 Volts were sold, that means the brand has sold only 11,643 to date. The company must sell over 2,300 Volts a month just to equal last year’s number.
Even if Volt sales were to suddenly hit near record levels for the next five months, the brand will have sold well under 55,000 units over three years.
GM Volt 55,000 (if REALLY lucky)
Ford Edsel 116,000
We called this bomb early here.
In celebration of the release of World War Z, here is a run down of the best and worst named zombie movies:
|| Night of the Living Dead
|Not only the best zombie movie, but the best named zombie movie.
It has the wit of juxtaposition with living vs. dead and the ominous
promise of night.
|| Shaun of the Dead
|Stops your eye and gets your attention with the play on words.
References the classic Dawn of the Dead with a sense of humor.
|Zingy–with a play on Zed, which is undead jargon for zombie and
is a portmanteau for “deader.” Totally ownable as a brand.
What makes these names work is they aren’t literal. The word “zombie doesn’t appear once. They have stopping power to get attention through wit and originality. They make a promise and invite you to take a look.
|A common mistake–using a description for a name. There is nothing to see
here, no promise–just a zombie movie. So what?
|| Planet Terror
|This one makes the mistake of being trendy. You can clearly tell this movie
came out when everyone was naming thing Planet-This and Planet-That.
|Okay, you don’t want to get descriptive, but you don’t want to totally confuse
either. This movie could be about anything. Really a dog of a name.
Boring, descriptive, confusing names don’t deliver brand success.