Lexicon® Blog

Big Brother Brands

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Food & Beverage, Naming on July 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

George Orwell pegged 1984 as the year that an authoritarian superstate – personified in a political candidate known only as “Big Brother” – would come to power in his fictional work about a dystopian future. The book was first conceived 40 years before the title year (although published five years later, in 1949.)

Now, 30 years after the events of Nineteen Eighty-Four, could it be that Big Brother is finally manifesting? Not as a political entity designed to control the populace, but as a commercial confederation that owns and controls the majority of brands – and the influence that goes with them.

Holding companies with a fleet of products under their ownership are nothing new. Various bits of legislation have cropped up over the years in attempt to control just how much sway one company might wield over a market. (Energy companies have often been the culprits in such attempts – so early on that in 1935 the U.S. passed the Public Utility Holding Company Act to force companies to divest their interests. In 20 years, the number of holding companies declined, from 216 to just 18 entities.)

Such companies exist in every industry, from electronics to financial institutions, high tech to home improvement, and any other business you can imagine. But what factors – besides their seeming unquenchable desire to acquire other companies – make us think that they are exhibiting Big Brother-ish behavior?

We looked at a graphic that had been made available on the Sploid blog, which is part of Gizmodo.com. As they put it, when it came to the inside of the grocery store, “as you can see (these 10 companies) own everything.”

The ten companies mentioned are Mondelez, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Unilever. And each of those companies has controlling interest in anywhere between two dozen to almost a hundred other companies in the case of Nestlé.

Do you choose Nestlés’ Dreyer’s ice cream or Breyer’s from Unilever? General Mills’ Chex cereal or Crispix from Kellogg’s? Many such products are at parity when it comes to such things as taste and quality, meaning it often boils down to how the brands make consumers feel at decision-making time.

Frankly, the more interesting story is not about when these giants go head-to-head in the grocery store. Instead, imagine being a smaller cereal manufacturer getting caught up in the marketing and shelf placement elements that come into play with products like these.

It’s a daunting task: Where do the marketing dollars come from to start to build awareness when the playing field is already dominated by gargantuan powerhouse brands?

Lest you think we’re dissing the Big Brother Brands, far from it. We have worked to create brand names with a large number of holding companies, as well as many of the companies within their portfolios. Their naming choices can tend to seem more on the conservative side versus those made by start-ups and smaller companies but when you’re in business around the world, it often pays to play it safe.

Start A Revolution

Fortunately, there are ways to be a nimble David when competing against one or more of these Goliaths in the supermarket aisle. (And the same rule generally holds true in other industries as well.)

• Be different. The Big Brother companies have vast resources but can be slow to innovate – why create something new when something old is still selling like hotcakes? If whatever you’re making or doing is different from what’s gone before – and you can make it known – you’re bound to be noticed.

• Say something different. Starting with a brand name that stakes out some new territory in the landscape, and on through your brand promise and the story of what your product is about, you’ve got to be the brand that gets attention as opposed to the legions that get ignored.

• Reposition the competition. When competing against brands that are well-established in the marketplace, find a hook that’s different yet welcome. Force those other guys to figure out that you’ve changed the game and now they’re the ones playing catch up.

• Take the high road. Sure, they’re the competition and you’re the hero, but keep the conversation about how good your product is and stay away from comparing yourself to your predecessors. No sense tripping over someone else’s goodwill.

Big Brother Is Watching

Ironically, the more successful a smaller company is with their brand, the more attention they’re likely to get from a Big Brother brand. Those bigger companies typically used to work to create their own similar product, often with disappointing results. More often than not nowadays, they’ll use their resources more wisely — and just buy what they like. Innovative beverages like Odwalla, Vitamin Water, and Fuze were all gobbled up by Coca-Cola. Nestlé has bought up chip, candy and even restaurant brands like they’re going out of style.

Sometimes, however, success is its own reward. For every Odwalla that gets snapped up, an Jones Soda remains cheerfully independent. Three Twins ice cream keeps it simple rather than follow the example of Dreyer’s, which became part of the Nestlé family in 2002.

A compelling brand name is a way to start a conversation with consumers that is effective, regardless of whether the product is owned by a multinational corporation, a hot company on the rise, or a struggling startup. That winning name is also the intellectual property that could be the most coveted weapon in your marketing arsenal.

— Marc Hershon, Lexicon Creative Director

Taking New Car Names for a Spin

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Cars, Naming, Trademarks on March 24, 2014 at 3:00 am

The 2014 Geneva Motor Show recently wrapped up in Switzerland, having rolled out a spectacle of both new car models and speculative concept cars as well. One of the more interesting features that ride shotgun with the unveiling of new car ideas is the fleet of new car names to go along with them.

How Important are Concept Names?

Often times, those names – which can tend to be quite exotic, unusual, or just plain bad – stand about the same chance as getting into the hands of consumers as the cars themselves. One thing that most concept names provide for the vehicles they appear on is signal to the industry and car-curious public that there is something different going on.

We thought looking at a few of the categories of new vehicles would be illuminating from the perspective of automobile brand names.

Sports Cars/Performance Cars

Slide1Names for cars in these categories are expected to have the kind of names that evoke power and performance, a responsibility shared by the parent brand as well. Lamborghini, for example, unveiled their new Huracan (the transparently Spanish equivalent of hurricane). Ferrari brought out the California T, conjuring images of cruising down the Pacific Coast, while McLaren offered the 650S Spider. Throwing even more intrigue in the mix is Infiniti with their concept car Eau Rouge (“red water” in French). Lexus sticks to their tried and true brand architecture with the RC 350F, while Maserati introduced their concept car Alfieri which, in Italian, can mean “bishop”, “ensign” or, most likely the case here, “standard bearer” — almost as if this new idea could become the flagship model for Maserati.

Crossovers/SUVs

Slide2These bigger passenger vehicles continue to get more streamlined as the years pass, with the concept vehicles showing off sportier and sleeker lines and details. The concept names are tending to match the styling cues, with Subaru’s fascinating Viziv and the Intrado from Hyundai bearing names with no inherent meaning (although the Hyundai comes close to the Spanish word entrada, meaning “entrance”). The Volvo Estate, on the other hand, is a concept car name loaded with meaning and brings an almost regal tone to the proceedings. Jeep’s Renegade is a very expected name in this category. While most car names these days tend to be short, alá Citroen’s rugged Cactus entry, one big – and we do mean big – exception is the Range Rover Autobiography, a name so long it would only fit on a larger vehicle.

Compacts/Subcompacts

Slide3Two of the concept models are competing not just in the category but in the name department as well: Volkswagen reveals their T-Roc idea while the Opel Adam Rocks small crossover concept also rolled out on the floor. Hazumi is an intriguing-sounding word to go along with Mazda’s new little car, regardless of whether you speak Japanese (where the meanings range from “bound” and “rebound” to “inertia” and “momentum”). Finally, clinging to their traditional naming strategy, Jaguar brought out their tight little roadster, the XE, to go along with the XF, XJ, and XK. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

At Lexicon we think concept names in the auto industry are as important as the final name. Names like Cactus, Autobiography, and Adams Rocks fall far short of sparking our imagination or stimulating interest. Instead, the ideal concept names should strive to do three things: Communicate direction (to both internal designers and engineers as well as to consumers), provoke interest, and begin to tell the story of a new vehicle.

Defy Description

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Food & Beverage, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on March 10, 2014 at 3:05 am

Your brand name should be the one thing competitors can’t take away from you. That’s not the case if your name is too descriptive. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, the crime and punishment division of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), doled out an important lesson last month.

Two lessons, really.

pretzel_crispsThe first was that, even though you may have a trademark for a number of years, as in the case of Pretzel Crisps, a brand of “flat pretzel cracker”, introduced in 2008 by the Snack Factory of New Jersey – you can still end up losing it, regardless of how well business is doing.

The second, and more important lesson, is that being too descriptive with your trademark can set you up for trouble…which is why Warren and Sara Wilson, the inventors of Pretzel Crisps are now likely scrambling to figure out what to do where the name of their popular snack is concerned.

The Pretzel Crisps name had already been relegated to the Secondary Register, which is a kind of trademark purgatory reserved for brand names deemed descriptive enough that only minimal protection can be offered. In this case, both the words Pretzel and Crisps are widely regarded as being generic and only the instance of the two words appearing together is considered to constitute a trademark.

But then snack food giant Frito-Lay, owned by Pepsico, decided to oppose the mark, arguing that Pretzel Crisps cannot be registered as a trademark because the phrase itself constitutes a generic term. “Like ‘milk chocolate bar’, the combination of ‘pretzel’ and ‘crisp’ gains no meaning as a phrase over and above the generic meaning of its constituent terms”, the company wrote in a motion to the USPTO back in 2010.

According to the New York Times, Princeton Vanguard, the LLC that owns Pretzel Crisp and Snack Factory, and filed for the trademark, has spent $1 million in legal fees. Not much, considering Pretzel Crisps has grown quickly, with over $100 million in sales in 2011. But it was a million bucks spent to find out that they no longer hold a trademark on their own name.

What the makers of Pretzel Crisps do next is anyone’s guess, but an expensive name change is one likely scenario. A scenario that could have been avoided by considering names that could have effectively supported the snack chips’ attributes and taste profiles, while steering clear of simply describing what they are.

— Marc Hershon, Creative Director

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