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.
Brian Williams’ brand as a trusted news anchor is damaged beyond recovery.
I’ve long been fascinated by “person brands,” and the power of an individual to create and project a reputation that persuades. While such brands are powerful, they are also uniquely human. When the human fails, the brand can fail, too. In the case of Brian Williams, willful and large lies told over a long period make him utterly untrustworthy and unfit for the news anchor desk. The fact that his lies were gratuitous and self-serving adds insult to injury.
Not every human failing hurts the person brand equally. Martha Stewart’s incarceration was barely a blip. Her brand was built on her design sensibility, not her financial acumen. An insider trading rap was a blip in the health of her brand. Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong had brands based on honesty. When their integrity fell apart, so did their brands.
Brian Williams can certainly redeem himself–but not his anchorman brand. He must take a long look at other rewarding opportunities that life offers. Redeeming himself and redeeming his brand are two different things. He won’t get a Michael Vick-style chance to redeem his brand. Vick was able to return to football, but that was because dog fighting (heinous though it is) did not impair his quarterback skills. Lying, Brian Williams torpedoes a journalist, as well it should.
“Brian’s problem isn’t just journalistic. It’s that he’s undermined his persona as a celebrity journalist. It isn’t just that he misrepresented facts on the ground or told lies about what he’s done; he’s undermined his image. He’s undermined his brand.”–Television news analyst Andrew Tyndall
Deflategate–the shameful scandal involving under-inflated footballs that Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the entire Patriots organization unbelievably have no knowledge of and no responsibility for–is the latest in a long line of scandals branded with the __-gate construct.
As noted in this post from the past, Watergate opened the floodgates for gate names–Deflategate will surely not be the last.
Effective brand names are those that generate the right instant associations. People have to “get it” and understand the core of what you are trying to communicate in a femto-second. The popularity of __-gate names is that you instantly understand that what you are talking about is sordid and scandalous.
The NFL seems a fine breeding ground for scandals–who can forget the wardrobe malfunction that became Nipplegate?
Unlike the wardrobe malfunction, Deflategate has the potential to seriously damage the NFL brand. Nipplegate was about a celebrity during the half-time show. Deflategate’s unsportsmanlike cheating goes to the heart of the sport of football.
I was honored to work with the authors, contributing insight into a key entrepreneurial trait: How to do what you don’t know how to do and making money doing it. Read how to have the confidence, courage and grit to make a go of it.
My quote from the book: ” ‘Fake it till you make it’ is a tired business cliché, but one I have lived profitably since I started my business in 2006. When I left the safety of a New York branding agency, I needed to offer something different to compete. I came up with the idea of…” Buy the book to get the rest.
Isis or ISIS used to be a perfectly nice brand name–until it became synonymous with Islamic terror and beheadings. ISIS trademark owners large and small are now rebranding to distance themselves from a now-tainted word.
Isis Mobil Wallet, a mobile ecommerce app backed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile rebranded as Softcard in September.
Isis, the U.S. mobile wallet platform backed by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is rebranding. “In a few weeks, Isis Wallet will become Softcard. It’s a different name for the same great way to pay,” the company notes on its homepage.
The Isis brand of women’s sportswear is in the middle of a relaunch.
Isis Equity Partners has renamed itself Living Bridge (head scratcher of a new name, by the way).
ISIS (Internet Sexuality Information Service) is now YTH (proving acronyms are always a horrible choice for brand names).
Others, such as Isis Pharmaceuticals, Isis Electronics and ISIS Performance auto parts are standing firm, have no plans to make a change.
Rebranding is expensive. Before contemplating such an investment, marketers need to think carefully about the cost/benefit trade-off of a change. The two critical questions for marketers is how much will terror dominate the word and for how long. Already, some media outlets have started using ISIL to refer to the Islamic murderers. And perhaps they will be crushed sooner rather than later, making terror a small footnote to the word’s history. Isis is a name rich in history and meaning that possibly should not be so quickly abandoned.
Watergate tops most top ten US scandal lists, which may explain the ubiquity of the ___-gate naming meme for scandals. Gruber-gate is only the latest in a long list of scandals with “gate” in the name.
The naming -gate scandal construct got it’s start shortly after Watergate and Nixon’s impeachment with BillyGate, where President Carter’s beer swilling brother accepted payment from Libya to become their foreign agent. Since then, -gate naming has been in full swing beyond politics into fields as diverse as science with ClimateGate (shout out to Buffalo with historic snowfall levels today), media with news reporting truth problems in RatherGate, sports with the shenanigans of a certain golf player in TigerGate, and entertainment with the wardrobe malfunction known as NippleGate.
The field of politics remains at the top of the flood of gate names, with Bill Clinton, being the top inspiration from TrooperGate to TravelGate to MonicaGate and more. The British are first through the gate, however, with the scandal involving a Member of Parliament insulting a policeman who stopped him from using the wrong gate at 10 Downing Street. While rating rather low on the disgrace meter, GateGate wins by having the best -gate scandal name.
Adweek reports today that Converse has sued 31 companies in U.S. District Court for infringing on its Chuck Taylor All Star brand design. Brands are not just about names and logos–they also encompass shapes.
Coca-Cola was a pioneer in recognizing brand design as a key asset to protect. The company’s contour bottle is one of the first three-dimensional shapes to be trademarked in 1915. In its 2014 fiscal year, Nike reported that Converse generated about $1.7 billion in sales–the iconic shape is definitely an asset to fight to protect.
Successful brands frequently spawn copycats and counterfeiters. Brands like Chanel spend millions stamping out such parasites who try to leech a living off its iconic image. With $1.7 billion in sales in fiscal 2014, Converse has a lot at stake.
Creating branded content is an increasingly important part of brand building. The demand for more and more content makes it tempting to hire cheap writers. How hard can it be to write a tweet? Does the daily blog really need Mark Twain quality? ABSOLUTELY:
I offer some insight in this well-written article by Debra Donston-Miller
“Why Underpaying Writers Can Kill Your Content Marketing”
Brand sponsorship requires a rush to judgement. Though Adrian Peterson has not been found guilty of a crime, brands can’t afford to serve as a backdrop to the drama of indictments and investigations. Radisson’s brand did literally serve as a backdrop to yesterday’s press conference by Vikings general manger Rick Spielman as he discussed child abuse allegations involving the team’s brightest star. This morning, Radisson announced it was pulling its sponsorship.
Brand reputation is too valuable to risk in the innocent until proven guilty dynamic of the court system. While I sincerely hope Mr. Peterson is cleared of charges and is indeed innocent, the brand damage is already done.
More on celebrity brands:
NBC interview discussing Seattle Seahawk’s Richard Sherman
Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong brand
The phenomenon of “Tebowing”
Michael Vick’s comeback
Martha Stewart and Tiger Woods–lessons for celebrity brands
And even more here
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.