Lexicon® Blog

The ABCs of Media

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 10, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Freeform_FrontPage_HiResIntent on upending the notion that their offerings were strictly family-friendly fare, ABC approached Lexicon to establish a new identity for their network – one that better reflected its fluid audience. The jump from such a descriptive name to a much more imaginative moniker – Freeform – certainly opened the door for the brand to stand for so much more. But it also represents a larger shift in the branding of new media; we are now in an era of entertainment where disruptive freshmen like Netflix and Amazon, which have a keen sense of brand, are seriously repositioning the incumbents. But let’s take a step back.

Readers of a certain age will recall a time when there were only four television networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS. These initialisms – or acronyms – stood for descriptive names, American Broadcast Corporation, Columbia Broadcast System, National Broadcast Corporation, and Public Broadcast Service, respectively. These three-letter names were a comfortable choice for these networks: they reflected the established practice of call letters for radio and television stations. They were also developed at a time when such limited choice on the airwaves did not drive the need for differentiation.

Then, as more content and offerings started to emerge, a little personality started to emerge in the space, as well. In fact, it was in this world of acronym entertainment that Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcast Network came to life, with one of its properties being CBN Satellite Service – the channel that would one day become Freeform. During this epoch, other channels in the developing cable world started to present distinct personalities, too: TMC (The Movie Channel), HBO (Home Box Office), and Showtime.

All the previous initialisms to date – ABC, CBS, etc. – had corporate-sounding names as the basis of their abbreviations. But CBN, TMC, and HBO were different: the names of the networks were descriptive of the content itself. This then became the standard in the emerging world of cable networks, and necessarily so; in a world of four channels, it is easier for one of those channels to distinguish itself via its content alone. In a world of tens or hundreds of channels, more communicative names become a necessity to distinguish a network for both viewers and advertisers. Previously, the names only had to identify the source, but in the crowded landscape, they needed to capture the experience, as well – an experience that felt fresh and different.

But HBO and CBN were still familiar initialisms; Showtime wasn’t. Showtime was a suggestive name, evoking the excitement of going to the movies. And it wasn’t reduced to three initials. Its success would help contribute to the dominant approach to naming new (and rebranded) networks. Some of these new network brands would incorporate initialisms (MTV, VH-1, A&E, and HGTV, for example) but many wouldn’t (the History Channel, Bravo, the Discovery Channel, and the Disney Channel). CBN was no different, rebranding itself first as The CBN Family Channel, then later simply The Family Channel. Subsequent acquisitions brought us Fox Family Channel and then ABC Family.

Thus, this new distribution platform (cable television) that allowed a great proliferation of networks changed the naming conventions and the way media outlets thought about establishing a distinctive brand. It then comes as no surprise that this would happen again with the advent of video streaming and ubiquitous access to content via web and mobile. Soon new network brands would begin to eschew descriptive and suggestive names for more arbitrary or coined names.

The break began just before the 21st century with the launch of the TiVo digital video recorder. This new technology offering was not a television network, but it was the first shot fired in the television revolution that continues to this day. The disruptive technology was paired with a disruptive name, one that heralds the current craze for short, fun names. Networks began expanding into arbitrary or coined names, like Oxygen and Palladia. Soon the floodgates were opened and now we watch content on YouTube, Amazon, Roku, Hulu, and Freeform. Far from identifying the source or describing the content, these names evoke a brand experience.

As brands continue to compete for consumer share of mind, whether in entertainment, consumer electronics, or even food and beverage, the need for a powerful brand has become increasingly important. We are no longer in a four-brand marketplace, and the stakes are higher. Newer, more distinctive brands are needed to compete in a marketplace that includes digital streaming, the cable set-top box, and every app on your phone. ABC Family saw this need for newness and this need set the table for creating a bigger, more meaningful brand experience. Stay tuned.

-Alan Clark, Director of Trademark

Meet Our First 2016 Summer Intern: Sarah Schechter

In Brand Name Development, Business, Cars, Naming on June 9, 2016 at 9:49 am

This summer’s internship program features four bright thinkers from top universities across the nation. Over the next 10 weeks, each intern will be exposed to and entrenched in every step of our process, from creative development, to consumer research and linguistic analysis.

Last year, Lexicon reintroduced its internship program, which was structured in two groups: 3 linguistic interns and 2 creative interns. At the end of the summer, we were thrilled to offer 2 of those interns permanent roles. This year the interns’ responsibilities will be more comprehensive in nature as each will be involved in all aspects of our services.

Automotive-Think-TankAs an exciting and new aspect to this year’s program, our interns will be part of our new Automotive Think Tank. Their fresh perspectives and varied backgrounds will help us explore the branding landscape of the automotive future – an industry that is on the cusp of experiencing seismic shifts. The purpose of the think tank is to closely examine the current automotive industry structure, how rapidly it’s changing, and what those changes will look like – for everyone from car manufacturers to insurance companies to the government. Our recent and continued work in the space has positioned Lexicon as a leader in the automotive naming space.

Lexicon welcomes our first 2016 intern:

SARAH SCHECHTER

“I’m a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying for a Masters degree in Product Design and Development. Before coming to Philadelphia, I worked in data analytics for four years and received a BS in Physics from Georgetown University.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through the UPenn Careers Site”

Sarah is most excited to “get creative” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how her design background will shape her views on the future of the automotive industry – perhaps opening our eyes and painting us a picture that no one else could have foreseen.

The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Naming on June 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm

As new technologies fundamentally change the way we live – from autonomous vehicles to surgical robotics – it’s good to look back at how far we’ve come. That was precisely the point of Time Magazine’s recent retrospective on “The 50 Most Influential Gadgets of All Time.

As a branding company, we thought such impactful inventions would likely have compelling names. After all, life-changing, culture-shifting concepts spring from fresh thinking, and it’s helpful for consumers to see that impressive thinking reflected in a product’s identity in the marketplace.

We analyzed the list with a brand-naming lens and discovered, not shockingly, that a lot of the appellations of these iconic consumer goods possess three characteristics of great brand names:

Seemingly Simple Yet Powerfully New
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These compound names draw on basic English vocabulary – words that are recognizable and easy to learn, even in areas of the world where English is not well known. However, what makes these names so memorable is that they fuse commonality to create a fresh context. Before Sony enabled cassettes to be played on the go, on-demand portable music was not part of the consumer conversation. What a stroke of genius to put that idea in the marketplace with two easy words, never before seen together in the electronics space: walk for portability and man for a companion we could relate to. Sony was so pleased, it repeated this stunningly simple strategy with Discman and Play Station, both of which also made Time’s top 50 list.

DeskJet, FitBit and Palm Pilot are also profoundly effective and simple in construction. Through a little bit of poetry – a near rhyme with repeating e’s – HP introduced the first true desktop printer to the world. The poetry of FitBit is even more transparent, supporting a discreet companion that can measure your wellness goals. And Palm Pilot compels you to imagine the first computer-in-hand experience, with the device as your captain.

Takeaway: Simplicity can be pithy when the proposition is truly novel.

Economy: Small Names, Big Ideas
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Huge changes to entertainment came from these four devices with names as compact as their dimensions. Roku means ‘six’ in Japanese and was chosen because it’s the sixth company that its CEO was engaged in starting. The meaning hardly matters when the form and function tell us that this device is different from anything else on the market. However, the name’s effortlessness, length, syllable patterning, and pronunciation all work in perfect harmony to position a product that is simply, intuitively, and efficiently designed.

Wii is another one of those short, sweet names that invites speculation and garners consumer interest: do the two “i’s” stand for people sitting together, gaming? Does the name refer to its English sound-alike “we”? Is the name a corruption of the spelling of the onomatopoeia “wee”? Regardless, its buoyant nature makes it feel meaningfully different than the harsh sounds of Xbox and PlayStation – which helps support its differentiated proposition.

TiVo merely says “TV” with some an full “o” sound; and the near-blandness of the word iPod almost seems like an undersell for a device that all of a sudden put a 1,000 of your favorite songs in your pocket. The lesson is that the name does not have to communicate such grand meaning, as long as it feels different and the product that comes in tow is meaningfully different, too.

Metaphorically Speaking
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As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes it’s enough just to suggest a picture. All of these names take us on an excursion from the bland and predictable by associating a product with an image that seemingly lacks any logical connection—and yet that stimulates and rewards our imagination. Better still, this technique helps us remember the names, as we know from popular memory-training exercises that pair an unexpected image with the thing to be remembered

Two of these names are based on physical resemblances. The BlackBerry has little black buttons shaped like the drupelets of the fruit, and the Brownie is a playful nod to the vivid and whimsical cartoons of Palmer Cox. The way Rift deals with the cutthroat gaming console market is to announce a complete break with the competition. The Nest collapses two images—comfort and home—into one.

These metaphors are original yet accessible, and they don’t exhaust what these winning names communicate. Every word has unique powers of suggestion. Kindle sounds thin and light—due to its particular consonants and vowels as well as to the ending it shares with spindle. BlackBerry sounds friendly. Rift sounds quick and strong.

These gadgets display inventiveness on the part of their creators and enable inventiveness on the part of their users. But the ultimate invention is language itself. Having evolved over eons, it’s equipped with unlimited subtlety and power. Language is totally up to communicating what’s great about a product, even a product the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

-Will Leben and Michael Quinn

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