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.
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.
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.