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Archive for the ‘Cars’ Category

Sharing is Caring

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on July 15, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Sharing

See that girl up there? Let’s call her Jackie. Today’s her sweet-sixteen, and she’s at her local dealership with her parents, eager to pick out her very first car. Fast forward a few hours, and Jackie’s driving off into the sunset in a new convertible, top down, music blaring – the iconic American representation of freedom and one that car brands lean into heavily.

The thrill of earning a driver’s license and setting off like Jackie – a rite of passage for most American teens – has been such a staple in our country’s 20th century narrative. This idea of ownership and the independence gained from cars has essentially been passed from one generation to the next. But recently, data has started to demonstrate a waning interest in this ideal. Ownership, which has been so fundamental to the American car culture, is on the decline, and it seems like sharing will become the new norm.

Today, teenagers are no longer seeking the thrill of owning a car. In fact, rates of motor vehicle licensure have plummeted among young Americans. Some studies attribute such changes to economic factors, but others point to the changing values of a new generation. For instance, a recent NPR article reported that millennials and members of Generation Z are more focused on owning tech devices, such as smartphones, than on owning cars. Jill Hennessy, a clinical professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, studies the attitudes of millennials toward the car-buying process. She claims that “[millennials] are much more likely to find value in experiences than they are to find value in things.”

What does this fundamental change mean for car companies? How are they to brand their vehicles as “experiences” rather than simply as “things?”

Some companies are already adapting. Maven, a car sharing app, is a subsidiary of GM. Branding itself as a “mobility service,” Maven seems to be cashing in on this sense of experience in the form of a service rather than as a tangible product that entails ownership. Uber and Lyft have also laid such a significant stake in this market that users are associating themselves with one of the services—Uber or Lyft—rather than individual car brands—like Nissan or Toyota.

Will other car companies follow suit, tailoring a specific service to budding demographics that care more about an experience than an actual product?

The very idea of brand loyalty will likely expand into a kind of fractional ownership. Rather than investing in a single vehicle, users will be investing in an entire brand.

Such a notion runs parallel to the idea of air travel, where consumers buy into a shared brand experience rather than outright purchase a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 321. To attract a certain consumer base, some airlines tout economical options for those who want to save some money, others offer luxurious ones for those who want to relax on their flight, and still others promise reliability for those who have meetings to make and families to see. Likewise, the automotive industry may end up branding itself in order to convey the kind of service it wants to offer, such as scenic avenue branding to tourists or romantic getaways marketed to couples.

Simply put, the very soul of the car is transforming as we speak. In the 19th century, horses were the symbol of transportation – companions to settlers, wagon trains, and cowboys. A century later, the car supplanted the horse. Now, the shift from privately owned, traditional cars to shared and autonomous ones is slowly gaining speed. Consequently, the youth of today are leaving behind a once celebrated rite of passage, and the world at large is set to leave behind a once highly valued idea of ownership. Which car company will own this new form of branding that reflects this big change?

 

– Kennedy Placek

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Battling for the Back Seat

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on July 7, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Battling

Since their inception, car interiors have been cluttered with pedals, knobs, and forward-facing seats. With little legroom and lots of passengers, backseats can be especially cramped. The rise of autonomous vehicles, though, can fundamentally transform these cabins into ideal places to work, rest, or engage in activities previously thought unimaginable. Although once considered solely a mode of transportation, vehicles may soon offer revamped spaces, limitless interior options, and radical branding and co-branding opportunities.

In 2014, the U.S Census Bureau reported that the average commute was 26 minutes long. Employees who work five days a week and fifty weeks a year would spend a collective 1.8 trillion minutes, 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, or 3.4 million years going to and from work. But that time is not spent working, checking emails, making important calls to clients, reading, or relaxing. Instead, employees spent those minutes stuck in their vehicles, with their eyes on the road, their hands on their steering wheel, and their minds focused on navigating the streets in front of them.

The rise of autonomous vehicles could revolutionize that commute, and major automotive companies are already offering their own visions for the near future and its reimagined interiors. These potential-to-be-branded modes are distinctly different from the normal regular and sport modes of today’s drive.

Volvo’s Concept 26 (named for the average commute time) envisions an autonomous vehicle with three different modes: Drive, Relax (in which the driver’s seat completely reclines, the steering wheel retracts, and the screen rotates in front of the windshield), and Create (in which the driver’s seat slides back, allowing a small desk-like tray to pop out from the door).

Mercedes-Benz, meanwhile, pictures a premium “luxury lounge” with walnut wood panels, and four rotating white leather lounge-chairs. These descriptions, which could easily apply to a modern apartment or premium suite, introduce a new type of rhetoric and, subsequently, a new type of brand.

With these designs in mind, will the interiors of cars start to reflect those of airplanes or hotels? Just as first –class cabins on airplanes market complimentary hot meals, priority boarding, and extra legroom, “first-class” automotive interiors could offer hot meals or snacks, priority pick-up and drop-off, and more legroom than an “economy” counterpart.

The potential for change in auto interiors may even expand to include industries previously unrelated to automotive or transportation. Specific profession-based interior offerings would restrict the roles of automotive companies and involve other industries: pairings that Lexicon has envisioned and named.

A Quill class, for example, could offer more desk-space and touchscreens for the busy business professional. This word harkens back to the academics of old. Sophisticated and timeless, “Quill” also implies that the ride would be so smooth that the writer would not have to worry about spilling their ink. Different industries, like banking or tech, could partner with the carmaker in order to ensure that this mobile office space has WiFi, electrical outlets, good acoustics for conference calls, and other company-specific amenities.

The Joule fleet could be equipped with a high-tech entertainment system that is perfect for partygoers. The high-energy name “Joule,” a scientific unit of measurement, would convey the vibrant atmosphere of these interiors, and entertainment venues and bars may sponsor specific cars, each of which provides an idiosyncratic catered experience.

Pond interiors would be known for their focus on privacy for those who desire a quiet commute and a potential spa-like experience.  The serenity of a pond could be the inspiration for aromatherapy, massage chairs, soft lighting, and a choice of teas or infused waters that are available for passengers.

To meet the evolving demand, auto companies would have to focus not on the speed and power of the past but on the in-car experience of the future. As a result, car interiors may become a product of co-branding opportunities. Sleep-deprived start-up founders, like the minds behind Casper, might find their way into BMW autonomous cars featuring their mattresses, and coffee addicts may order, via touchscreen, the latest Starbucks creation: the Venti Volvo. A favorite breakfast spot could turn into a transportation system, in which an individual steps inside their favorite café and steps out, pastry in hand, at their destination.

Although car interiors were once cluttered and cramped, the rise of autonomous cars could change those connotations. New interior spaces would require names and, possibly, co-branding opportunities, that reflect this transformation. With the infinite possibilities and combinations possible, companies should understand that the only way to get ahead in the automotive industry is to take the backseat.

Lexicon has brainstormed some possible themes for the interiors of autonomous cars. Are there others that you would like to see? Leave them in the comments below!

 

– Eva Epker

Changing Lanes, Changing Names

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on June 29, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Changing-Lanes

As we march closer to the age of autonomous vehicles, it’s clear that there will be a drastic shift away from the car America has grown to love over the past century. What will the transition to autonomous cars mean for automotive branding, and more specifically, what type of names will these new cars have?

The United States has a rich car-culture history that has become intertwined with its identity, built on liberty, adventure, and self-directed freedom. It has been reflected in advertising, communication, design, and most prominently, in brand naming. When thinking about cars from both the past and present, monikers such as Mustang, Firebird, Escape, Explorer, and Navigator come to mind. These brands that dominate the marketplace are just a subset of the cars that were named with the theme of adventure.

But when one thinks of the future of automotive, this traditional, deep-rooted set of values seems to be at odds with the new generation of autonomous vehicles. Instead of taking the wheel, an individual enters a destination into the computer. The feeling of control and the wonder of the unknown will turn into predestination. In fact, drivers themselves may cease to exist and will instead become passengers just along for the ride.

These new themes are difficult to accept and even more difficult to sell. Some automakers, such as BMW, try to preserve the old feeling with cars that play pre-recorded engine noises to match up with the operator’s driving – making him or her feel more in control. But rather than resist, why not embrace change? Will autonomous vehicle makers create a new value set to attract customers? The first companies to pivot may be able to set the tone and have a competitive advantage.

So what will the new trope look like?

In order to come up with names, we have to understand some other, more beneficial aspects of self-driving cars that can stand above what they are losing. What will the new autonomous car be able to offer?

When a person is no longer responsible for driving the car, they are free to engage in different activities during the ride. Entertainment will become a key part of the package. Perhaps cars may position themselves as theaters or concert venues, promising fun and engagement in their name.

Relaxation will also become prominent. Riders may be able to lie down or sleep in a spacious cabin that no longer needs to accommodate a wheel or drivers’ seat. Will autonomous cars become more like hotels in that way and be branded as suites? Hotel chains choose names that impart luxury, quality, and relaxation. Will cars follow?

What about the concerns that accompany autonomous vehicles? Many doubt the foolproof software and do not trust in the safety that automakers are promising. Names that give customers peace of mind will be crucial in assuaging fear. Perhaps something relating to nature will impart serenity.

Another similar concern is the fact that automakers will now be selling “intelligent” robots. Autonomous cars will essentially be robots that people entrust their safety in each day. Lexicon has done extensive research into the naming of robots, finding that humanizing names and terms relating to history and art often prevail in gaining consumer trust. Alternatively, robots named with individual letters and/or numbers are common in reality and in science fiction; they may match well with current vehicle naming conventions. R2-D2 is a robot but E 350 is a Mercedes.

As Lexicon starts naming the cars of the future, we will continue to imagine the new contexts and the new dialogues between brands and consumers. The changing language might be surprising – perhaps uncomfortable at first – but so is arriving at a destination without ever touching a steering wheel. Below are some concepts we developed that could fundamentally change the themes of the automotive industry.

Birch

The imagery from nature used in the automotive world has always skewed rugged and powerful: Tahoe, Outback, and Sequoia. Now, we’re introducing something a little slower – from a sound standpoint – a little more approachable, and decidedly softer. This name feels more suitable for a high-end restaurant or spa, which is why we think it could be an unexpectedly powerful brand name for a car.

 

Manhattan.jpeg

Cars have historically been powerful symbols of liberation, freedom, and escape – which is why one of Ford’s SUVs is called precisely that. Now, instead of leaving the city, cars will reimagine the metropolis and how we navigate it. A city-centric car has been executed in design, think: the Smart Car, but not so much in brand. This could be a powerful platform for this first autonomous car in a major urban environment.

 

Oyster.png

Cars lean into playfulness when it comes to advertising and copy, but rarely when it comes to brand names. Cars will look and drive in decidedly different ways, so why not introduce a new personality into the space that feels decidedly different than its predecessors? A great metaphor for protection, this fun name also gets at the new and exciting interiors of cars – which may start to feel more like hotel suite than car cabin.

What other names might we see in the coming years? Let’s start the conversation.

 

– Sarah Schechter and Michael Quinn

The Road Ahead

In Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on June 22, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

The-Road-Ahead

The automotive industry has seen momentous, impactful changes over the years — power steering, air bags, antilock brakes — but nothing that has quite reframed mobility in the way that today’s developing technologies will. As the prescient futurist and science fiction writer J.G. Ballard said more than 40 years ago, “The car, as we know it, is on its way out.”

But what exactly are the implications of these changes from a brand perspective?

Rumblings of a revolution can be traced back to when Google started its autonomous vehicle work over five years ago. To many, it seemed like a flight of fancy or a PR stunt. But, 1.5 million self-driven miles later, hands-free driving is no longer a Jetsons-like fantasy, but an imminent reality. And it’s not just Google that is spearheading this movement.

GM has invested half a billion dollars in the ride-sharing service, Lyft, to build out their autonomous fleet. They’ve also launched Maven, a ride-sharing service that flies in the face of outright car ownership. And other major players aren’t passively waiting on the sidelines. Volvo has promised autonomous driving by 2020, Audi is queuing up high-end electric vehicles, and Ford has launched a subsidiary called Smart Mobility to design and build technologies. Clearly, no major player in the industry is sitting on the sidelines.

Even the industries around cars are innovating for this not-so-distant future. State Farm, the largest auto insurer in the United States, and Travelers, a big global player, are filing patents for technologies that are befitting of Silicon Valley start-ups.

From a technology perspective, the road ahead seems pretty clear. But from the branding viewpoint, it’s not. America has a rich car culture embedded in its history, and these changes will undoubtedly affect its future. The outcomes of this transition will be felt at home and across the globe.

That’s why Lexicon Branding has put together a ten-week think tank to speculate about the changes and opportunities automotive brands will face as they drive into the future. Our team here at Lexicon is leveraging our extensive experience in automotive branding to help existing brands, new companies, and consumers successfully navigate the upcoming landscape.

– Kennedy Placek, Michael Quinn, and Sarah Schechter

Meet Our 2016 Summer Interns

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.

Meet the 2016 summer interns:

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.

kennedy_bio

KENNEDY PLACEK

“I am a current student at Stanford University, majoring in Political Science. I just finished my sophomore year so to be completely honest, I am not sure where I will end up post-graduation!”

What was your favorite part of the internship last summer?
“My favorite part of the internship last summer was being able to participate and contribute to in-house creative sessions and presentations to clients.”

What are you most excited for this summer?
“I am most excited to bring the new team together for our recently developed automative think tank this summer!”

 

eva_bio

EVA EPKER

“I am a rising senior at Stanford University, majoring in English, minoring in both Art History and History as well. My academic goals are to make the most of my senior year, finish my degree, and decide what I want to do post-graduation.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Through an email sent to English majors from a past Lexicon summer intern. I did research last summer and taught middle-schoolers in 2014. [I applied to Lexicon because] Lexicon values some of the same skills as Stanford’s English major, such as clear, creative thinking, and efficient, successful communication”

Eva is most excited to “be able to sharpen her creativity, utilize her love of words, and be inspired by the rest of the Lexicon team” this summer.

 

noah-bio1

Noah Rucker

“I just received my BA in Linguistics from the University of Florida. Grad school is definitely on the table, but I’m uncertain what I’d go into as of yet. Language and technology is one option, but I’m definitely still exploring, trying to find my niche.”

How did you find Lexicon?
“Lots of applications, and a sudden enthusiastic call from Greg. I worked with an educational video gaming company on a science fiction universe where I helped write and worldbuild educational quests, including aspects of naming the galaxy, constellations, people, and places. I also interned with the IHMC (Institute for Human and Machine Cognition) where I looked into social media data for individuals diagnosed with particular mental disorders (specifically, eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, etc.) and then teased out particular linguistic features that were more prevalent in these kinds of users.”

Noah is most excited to “learn an industry and contribute some snazziness” this summer. Lexicon is excited to see how his background in linguistics and technology will add to the unique perspectives our Automotive Think Tank will provide on the potential new naming conventions in this burgeoning industry.

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.

Say What?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks, Uncategorized on June 13, 2013 at 3:00 am

Just how important is a brand name’s pronunciation, anyway?

When names for a new product are being weighed, there’s usually nervousness around pronunciation. Still, think of the different ways people pronounce Porsche, Hermès, Zagat.

And don’t even get us started with l’Occitane.

Some brands succeed despite tricky phonetics–so tricky that pronunciations can still vary long after the brands have become established. Zagat’s intended pronunciation is “ZAG-it,” yet many of us go for the more exotic sounding “za-GAT.”

In Europe, thanks to its profusion of languages and cultures, variability looms even larger. When Lexicon was developing the name Azure for Microsoft’s cloud platform, a company officer in Germany worried that Azure could be pronounced a dozen different ways by non-native speakers. And that client probably wasn’t even aware that native Britishers say it at least four ways: “AZH-er,” “AZH-yoor,” “AY-zher,” and “AY-zhyoor,” Yet the brand has been extremely successful, even in Europe.

So how important is pronunciation?

More than anything else, brand names are about first impressions, so it makes sense to avoid any possibility of confusion when launching a new brand. But reasonable as that rule is, sometimes it’s better to violate it.

At the outset, Acura, Honda’s premium brand in the U.S., was accented like bravura and Futura by some people. Yet, thanks to early advertising that spread virally, and also thanks to the (intentional) resemblance to accurate, an unambiguous pronunciation was quickly established, and the brand, which now has been around for three decades, is still going strong.

The correct lesson to draw from Porsche, Hermès, and l’Occitane is that a brand already well-established in its homeland will transport more easily despite pronunciation issues. In fact, the name’s oddness may help its identity. Add Zagat to that list, should you consider New York City a homeland.

There is one type of pronunciation problem that seems to trip the marketer up more badly than the marketee: sounds and sound combinations that are normal in one language but distinctly odd in another.

Japanese doesn’t have the sound [l] (or “el”) and avoids most consonant sequences. This ought to create problems for a brand like McDonald’s, yet thanks to well-established conventions for dealing with foreign words, the name is actually straightforward for Japanese speakers: makudonarudo.

English speakers are no different: hors d’oeuvres is supremely easy for us to (mis)pronounce, though it remains a devil to spell.

Bottom line: avoiding pronunciation issues is a good idea, but some odd pronunciations or spellings are not as problematic as they may seem. In fact, sometimes a difficult name delivers a beneficial, attention-getting jolt.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

Understanding The “X” Factor

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on September 26, 2011 at 3:00 am

Not long ago Brand X was just a way to dismiss a brand as generic. (Or to diss competitors by not acknowledging them by name in commercials.) Then suddenly X acquired panache and power, as in Microsoft’s Xbox, Nissan’s XTerra, and The X Games from ESPN. What happened? The reasons go back to developments in the culture at large.

Logos for X Games, X Terra and XBoxSince the 17th century, x has served as an algebraic variable along with y and z, all chosen for their out-of-the-way position at the end of the alphabet. Scientific discoveries around the turn of the 20th century added uses of x that extended the algebraic meaning slightly:

  • x-ray, a term chosen by inventor Roentgen in 1896 for brevity’s sake.
  • X and Y chromosomes, named around the same time as the x-ray and again probably chosen for their out-of-the-way place in the alphabet.

The use of x for an unknown quantity crossed into a new cultural context around 1952, when Malcolm Little became the public figure Malcolm X, explaining that he replaced his slave surname with X to represent the unknown name of his ancestors.

Around the same time, x began to shift its meaning toward “restricted” and “special.” An early example is the x-rated movie. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this use to a 1950 British document suggesting a category of movie that children were to be excluded from. At the time, British ratings were set as U for “universal”, meaning anyone was welcome; A for “adult”, suggesting that children be accompanied by a grown-up; and H for “horror,” which meant only people over 16 could watch. Then nudity began to enter the picture, and in 1951 X replaced H to signify exclusion.

Next, X began making its mark on U.S. industry in a big way when, suddenly, the brand Xerox changed the game.

The Haloid Photographic Company, founded in 1906, changed its name to Haloid Xerox in 1958 and then to Xerox in 1961. Like the name Haloid, whose root halo meaning “salt” comes from Ancient Greek, the name Xerox was built on the Greek root xero meaning “dry,” creating a new term for a new printing technology: xerography – a novel technique of dry photocopying.

For a company to alter its name is a pretty big deal, involving major changes in advertising and loss in equity from the old brand. Fifty years ago, it was nothing short of heroic. But what an attractive name Xerox was, with an x on either flank. The changeover not only succeeded, it also gave x a new, futuristic connotation. Thus it was no accident that in 1972 the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey changed its name to Exxon, its double X signifying a radical break from the past.

By the 1970’s, the emergence of Xerox and Exxon had established a clearer trajectory for x: from merely expressing anonymity to symbolizing drama, power, and performance. To understand these developments better, Lexicon’s linguists analyzed X in a large sample of American English texts from 1990 up to today. We looked at X in three contexts:

  • As the second part of a two-part word (e.g., Gen X)
  • As the first part of a two-part word (e.g., X Factor)
  • As the first letter of a single word (e.g., Xena)

Categorizing the most frequent uses of X and examining patterns in their relative frequencies make it clear how X is changing in use and in meaning.

Here are the main trends:

  • Use of X across pop culture categories has been steadily increasing since 1990
  • Service/humanitarian usage of X has grown significantly
  • Use of X in technology is heaviest and continues to grow

Surprisingly, as X has become more common in the technology sector, its use has waned in the realm of science fiction, both in books and in graphic novels. This may be due to the reality of rapidly advancing technologies — where X was once seen as signaling the future, that future is now. Or maybe Marvel Comics’ X-men became so popular they essentially usurped the science fiction category for themselves.

Looking toward the new future, X in a new brand name will likely be viewed as entertainment-focused, or perhaps “tech-forward.” X may even come to express the bigger picture of a constantly interacting technology and humanity, the X Prize being a prime example.*

The evolution of x in brand names is not over. China’s role in global commerce has been expanding dramatically, and x appears in Roman transcriptions of many Chinese names. Examples include provinces like Xinjiang, Guangxi, and Jiangxi; large cities such as Xi’an, Xiamen, Wuxi, and Xiangtan; and surnames such as Xue.

This adds not just a new source of x words and potential new meanings to x. It also adds a new pronunciation. We’re used to pronouncing the xx in Exxon as the consonant sequence ks; the same for the final x in Xerox. Words that start with x we normally pronounce with a z sound — as in the words xylophone or the gas xenon. But the pronunciation of x in the Chinese examples above is different, often described as similar to the sh of sheep.

As our exposure to other world cultures expands, the meaning and pronunciation of X will no doubt keep shifting. With enough marketing clout to spread the message of a new pronunciation of x, the shame of being known as Brand X may well be a thing of the past.

Dr. Will Leben, Lexicon Director of Linguistics

*To understand these developments better, Lexicon’s linguists analyzed X in a large sample of American English texts from 1990 up to today. Corpus of Contemporary American English

Honda Loses Market Share (How surprised were we supposed to be?)

In Branding, Business, Cars, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on January 3, 2011 at 11:56 am

From a naming standpoint, we weren’t surprised at all. The December 30, 2010 Financial Times reports that Honda’s market share dropped by over 5% in the U.S. and by more than 25% in Europe in 2010. Probably there are dozens of technical and business reasons for this. But as a branding company one of the major lessons coming out of this unfortunate news is that bad names affect car sales.

2011 Honda InsightHonda’s new Insight is a sleek hybrid with a beginning price under $20,000 in the U.S., and mileage in the 40 mpg range. It drew raves from Car and Driver magazine. Yet the Financial Times reports that sales have been “well below the company’s expectations.”

How could this be?

One reason is that Insight brand isn’t doing this car any favors. Many consumers attuned to hybrids still remember Honda’s original 2000 Insight, a clunky two-seater with low power and not much interior space. Back then the name may have appealed on an intellectual plane with some hopeful early adopters. But given that car’s shortcomings and its failure to catch on in the marketplace, why carry that baggage over to an attractive new car whose main link with the 2000 model is its hybrid status?

Honda’s new sporty hybrid, the CR-Z, also had disappointing sales last year. While to our eye it has less going for it than the Insight in the looks department, it also has a naming problem.

The name CR-Z borrows its name structure from Honda’s popular CR-X from the 1980’s. (The Z will strike some fans of economy sport hatchbacks as having been borrowed from Nissan’s enduring line of Z cars.) But the CR-X brand disappeared in 1992. Hoping that brand equity will survive a hiatus of double-digit years is highly risky, as Ford found when it re-introduced the Thunderbird brand in 2002 and dropped it after 2005.

Interestingly, GM has just introduced a brand with the same consonants as Honda’s CR-Z in the same order, the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. What a difference those vowels make. While Honda associates its cars with discontinued past models, Chevy uses Cruze to proclaim a fresh start. The link with cruising brings thoughts of fun, carefree operation, and driving as a social experience. The consonant and vowel sounds that make the name Cruze for the most part imply smoothness and comfort.

As the many positive reviews note, Honda has much to be proud of with its new hybrids. But the names it has chosen totally fail to communicate that simple fact.

Will Leben, Director of Linguistics

Do You Want to Drive a Leaf? (Part 2)

In Branding, Business, Cars, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on October 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Fusion Vs. Leaf Vs. Volt Vs. Prius

 

Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion

 

Ford Fusion

The gasoline-powered Fusion first appeared in the 2006 model year, but for 2010 Ford added the Ford Fusion Hybrid, a gasoline-electric hybrid with EPA ratings of 41 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. It placed at the top of Kelley Blue Book’s 2009 list of “green cars.”

As a car name, Fusion blends a scientific notion, atomic fusion, with the mixing of world cultures associated with fusion in the food business. In this way, the high energy associated with atomic fusion is combined with, but not at all lessened by, the sophistication of cultural fusion. This double life wouldn’t sit well with a smaller car, but it’s a reasonable reach for a mid-sized one like the Fusion. It would be nice if the name also conveyed human charm, but that’s really not the case.

 

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

 

Nissan Leaf

Nissan’s Leaf, scheduled to begin appearing in December 2010, is a compact 5-door hatchback electric. Its all-electric city driving range is estimated at 100 miles, as compared with an estimated 700 miles for the Fusion.

As a car name, Leaf exudes attributes like “green,” “natural,” “good for the environment.” In a daring break with tradition, the name doesn’t say power or luxury. As a name, Leaf may strike consumers as overly delicate, but something about leaves — their beautiful contours, the grace with which they fall from trees — helps us think “comfort” when we see Leaf on a car.

Most important of all, thanks to its uniqueness among the luxurious, muscle-bound, and sports-centric car names of yore, the quiet name Leaf furthers the aim (announced by Nissan America’s Vice-President of Marketing) to make this car the “poster child of innovation” for the company.

 

Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt

 

Volt

Chevrolet’s Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, anticipated in November 2010. Its batteries will power the Volt up to 40 miles, after which a small gasoline-powered engine will kick in, extending the Volt’s range to over 300 miles.

The name Volt would have had appeal even in an earlier era when gasoline-powered engines were practically the only choice. In those days, Volt would have scored high for expressing power and highly-charged performance. In today’s changing marketplace, Volt will of course also draw attention to the electric side of this hybrid.

What’s especially nice is that the name’s pronunciation is not far off from bold and jolt — a possibly advantageous contrast with the mellow associations of Nissan’s Leaf.

 

Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius

 

Prius

Since its U.S. debut in 2000, this car has done more than any other to popularize hybrid vehicles as a practical choice for the mass market.

The car’s perceived advantages were enough, with some help from government rebates, to outweigh a price premium of several thousand dollars over similar-sized conventional models and a wait of up to six months for delivery. Two symbols of the car’s stand-out qualities were its unique shape, with the roof forming a near-perfect arc, and its distinctive name Prius.

The name Prius joins a new root pri with the ending -us first used in Toyota’s Lexus. The root pri begins with the same three sounds as the root prem of premium and premier. The three letters Pri also begin the prim of prime and primary. Both prem and prim go back to the same Latin root, meaning “first.” With this name, Toyota chose to express Prius’ stand-out quality without focusing specifically on its green appeal.

That choice now seems prescient, as the marketplace readies itself for many new models and technologies designed to appeal to consumer (and government) desires for greener autos. With each successive introduction, Prius’ green appeal becomes a less distinctive selling point.

•          •          •

By now most manufacturers are offering a hybrid model. Chevy’s plug-in hybrid Volt is due to appear shortly. Buick’s plug-in hybrid SUV is coming in 2012. New plug-in hybrids are also expected between now and 2011 from Ford, Volkswagen, and Volvo. But Prius remains the first commercially successful hybrid, as its name will always remind us.

Today’s car names reflect ongoing changes in auto technologies and in global marketing. Thankfully, rather than everyone jumping on the same naming bandwagon, the newest crop of names reflect a variety of creative guesses about what values will count most to the consumer. Of course the nuts and bolts of the cars themselves will have the most to say about which new models succeed or fail. But, as in the gasoline-only era, the names themselves are sure to play a key role in which models attract the most attention, and for how long.

— Will Leben, Director of Linguistics