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Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

Paving the Road with Good Intentions

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on August 3, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Paving

The Roaring Twenties were an iconic time in American history. A time of economic and social change, they quite literally paved the way for the age of the automobile. Between the Federal Road Act of 1916 and the Federal Highway Act of 1921, opportunities abounded for cities to embrace the change and grow alongside the booming auto industry. One city in particular did just that: Los Angeles set out to brand itself as the city of the automobile.

At the turn of the century, Los Angeles was much younger than the centuries-old cities of the east coast. Towns like Boston had been built around horse-drawn carriages and pedestrian traffic and thus could not adapt their streets for cars easily or efficiently. Los Angeles, however, could expand alongside—and in conjunction with—the automobile. The rapid incorporation of the car into LA’s identity allowed for car-centric retailing to explode in the area. Not surprisingly, LA soon became the city of angels, drive-ins, and roadsters.

The 2010s may be like the 1920s in terms of automotive revolution. Autonomous cars are just around the corner, ride-sharing is booming, and many individuals are moving away from car ownership altogether. Will the city and state governments of today take advantage of this change in the same way LA did nearly a century ago?

Many places are doing just that.  In 2011 Nevada became the first state to grant licenses to autonomous vehicles. As a result, Google began testing their self-driving cars there, and other companies soon followed. Even European agencies are bringing business to the state in order to test autonomous prototypes. With this accommodating regulatory structure, Nevada has shown its willingness to welcome innovation and change and, by doing so, has attracted companies and stimulated economic growth.

In contrast, Detroit spent the first decade of the 21st century in economic decline. Both General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy during the recession, and unemployment soared. The same companies that laid off workers a decade ago, though, are now developing self-driving cars and launching ride-sharing apps like GM’s Maven. Similarly, Amazon has opened a new corporate office in downtown Detroit: a symbol of the company’s commitment to Detroit’s rapid growth, in and outside of the automotive industry. The city is promoting its base of well-educated residents alongside low residential and operation costs. Recent reports have shown that Detroit is on par with Silicon Valley in tech job growth, and it’s branding itself as such.

Unlike Nevada and Michigan, certain places in Europe are moving in the opposite direction and distancing themselves from the automotive industry. Cars are viewed as detrimental to society because of their high carbon emissions and congestion of city streets. As a result, many envision the cities of the future to be completely car-less. Such cars were never necessary, and some cities never adopted them in the first place. Venice, Italy, for example, has always thrived without them.

Oslo, Norway, is leaning into this idea and has recently announced that cars will be banned from the city center by 2019. The city plans to promote walking, cycling, and taking public transport to enhance local businesses. Lanes once reserved for cars can be turned into public spaces which would knit the city together and contribute to Oslo’s brand image: green, safe, and community-centered.

Autonomous vehicles, however, will introduce new challenges. How will cities fund themselves to keep abreast of this changing cityscape? How will they pay for public safety programs without the steady income of parking and speeding tickets? How will public transportation fare? As the price of autonomous ride-sharing drops, the middle class may abandon public transportation, resulting in a struggle to fund the bus or rail routes still needed by lower income households. In order to transition seamlessly into the future and to improve both their image and brand, cities will have to understand and solve these issues before they even happen.

Efficient and forward-thinking transportation will forever be the hallmark of a thriving city, and cities that capitalize on these ideas will be the ones that pave the way into the future. If successful, they will set up potentials for economic growth, social reform, and citizen safety. The question is: which city will come out on top?

 

– Sarah Schechter

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Call Me Old Fashioned

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Naming on July 21, 2016 at 8:30 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

Old-Fashioned

Poor Jackie. She had so much going for her. But as an individual who held onto traditional automotive values, she seems to have been left in the dust.

She considered car ownership to be a representation of freedom, but fast forward to the near future and the automotive industry has shifted to a shared driving experience rather than an individual one.

But is Jackie’s idea of automotive freedom really gone?

Last week’s post touched on Maven, a car-sharing app from GM that’s branded itself a “mobility service.” However, what interests Jackie is the GM mother brand itself as the supplier of tangible products rather than just services. In other words, the GM brand has split its automotive demographic into two groups: those who embrace the changing landscape and those who retain traditional values. Jackie’s a holdout for these traditional values, and so falls in this second category. Will other companies begin adopting this kind of model when they realize they have split fan bases, or can a single brand name hold sway over both tangible ownership and service?

It was mentioned last week that brand loyalty may shift with the advent of ride-sharing services. However, for this group of traditional users, brand loyalty might actually increase due to users associating this dearly held value of ownership with the very brand of the car itself. From here it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the very existence of such users paving the way for a kind of revival of the retro. But wait, does this become a kind of I, Robot thing, now? Is Will Smith going to drag out his dusty old motorcycle that runs on – gasp – gasoline and give it a spin for its money?

Well, perhaps this line of thinking isn’t too far off.

Inspired by this very group of individuals, a return of the classic or the retro may be in order.  In an age where autonomous transportation has become king and few have even operated a car, teenagers may hear stories from their grandparents and get curious. What must life had been like back then, with these “old-fashioned” machines you could control yourself and take anywhere you wanted? How must things have been when you had to remember your car keys, pump your own gas, and physically take your car to shop whenever it broke down?

A fascination with this way of life may excite a younger generation into learning about and even driving some of these now-antiques. The empty parking lots of yesteryear, if there are any still around, may once again see teenagers driving about, trying their best not to stall out. Parallel parking? How did their grandparents manage that? And drifting? Wasn’t that a made up thing from old Mario Kart games? Antique shows may begin catering to younger audiences, and motor clubs themselves may be revived in order to cater to this spectrum of interested attendees.

At the end of the day, what are the automotive companies to make of this revival? Most of their resources will likely be devoted to either car sharing or autonomous markets in order to adapt to the modern automotive landscape. A renewed interest in past models, however, is surely an opportunity. Cars of our modern era may very well be refurbished or emulated in the future: an antique from the past brought back to life. Such models could even be branded a Rebirth, a Revive, a Comeback.

Jackie may not be as out of luck as we first thought.

 

– Noah Rucker

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

When the Language is the Message: Premium Skin Care Products in the Brazilian Market

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Linguistics, Naming on July 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm

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People often fall into the trap of thinking that a message’s utility is a simple function of its contents. However, in his now famous aphorism, Marshall McLuhan first asserted that the medium is the message. In other words, the mode of expression used to transmit an idea is a contextual lens through which we interpret and understand the idea, thus influencing our perception. This holds true for the brand naming work we do here at Lexicon Branding, and is key in reaching the most strategic and efficient linguistic form for a given project. This point becomes especially important for products competing in today’s global economy.

In some cases, the medium can actually trump the content of the name, particularly when it comes to the language of expression. I was taken aback when I first noticed that many premium skin care products in Brazilian drugstores are not named in the country’s official language of Portuguese. At first pass this made sense because many of the products in this category are imported. But to my surprise, even country of origin could not account for the names’ language of origin. So where are these names coming from?

To answer this question, I took to the shelves of local drug stores to survey the selection of premium skin care products in Brazil. I found that English forms like Skin, Care and Age appeared in some skin care brand names, but French-sounding ones were much more prevalent, especially if the product had a clear cosmetic use (e.g., Dermage, Avène, Vichy, L’Oréal, L’Occitane). Brands that had a French or French-like name, such as Dermage or Vichy, were generally followed by supporting nomenclature in Portuguese to describe the product’s use. This is in keeping with the traditional notion in Brazil, and many other countries worldwide: that the French are leading cosmetics experts. This is found in the USA as well, where premium American brands include Estée Lauder and Clinique. Across the globe, many people who use these products speak little or no French and are completely unaware that Estée Lauder was an enterprising American business woman in the early 20th century, or that a clinique is a private hospital (hardly where I would look for beautification). It seems these surface level references to French culture are enough to convince plenty of consumers of the brands’ authenticity.

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Indeed, some manufacturers go so far as to hide the names of parent companies if they are not consistent with the desired product image. For instance, German-sounding names like Bayer, Stiefel, Beiersdorf, and Daudt, tend not to feature prominently on packaging. Instead, the parent companies’ names are generally placed inconspicuously on the back of the bottle in fine print. Take, for example, the world-famous NIVEA skin care brand, owned by the German company Beiersdorf. As the company explains, the word NIVEA is derived from the Latin word nix, nivis meaning “snow.” So NIVEA means “snow white.” Thus, its German identity is completely effaced. Likewise, their popular Q10 Plus line of skin care creams give the consumer no hint at all that its original maker is German: Beiersdorf is buried on the back of the packaging in tiny, barely-legible print while the brand NIVEA is center-stage on every surface.

This pattern emerges in other lines and sub-brands as well, where French and English are used to sell anti-wrinkle facial cream. This time, they combine the French word Visage with an English descriptor, Expert Lift, followed by detailed information in Portuguese.

Why is it that the German identity is practically erased? One possibility is Brazilians’ lack of familiarity with the German language itself. More likely, though, it’s the prestige that French carries in Brazil. In the past, the upper classes would often study French, especially the daughters of well-to-do Brazilians; it was considered the language of “civilization,” and as such, it was often used for the branding of sophisticated personal items for women and of stores that sold them. German, on the other hand, has often been associated with heavy industry, precision tools, pharmaceutical products, and musical instruments. It also doesn’t help that Brazilians tend to think of German as sounding a little harsh, partially due to certain consonants produced farther back in the mouth, and the sheer length of the words. These cultural biases, together with the legitimate heritage of French expertise in cosmetics, help to explain the preference for French or French-sounding monikers for premium skin care products in Brazil. It’s the language itself that conjures up these images in the minds of regular consumers, even if they don’t actually speak a word of the language at all.

– Aurora Neiva, A member of Lexicon’s World Brand® Team

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

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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

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

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

Uncanny Similarity

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on March 4, 2016 at 9:24 am

Robots-Blog-Piece

Life imitates art. It is a foregone conclusion for futurologists that much of the technology that lies ahead will have been somehow imagined in the past. Yes, futurology – it’s an actual thing. Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter, was inspired by Jules Verne’s 1886 sci-fi novel, Clipper of the Clouds. The Smithsonian catalogs ten inventions inspired by science fiction, including the rocket, the submarine, and the cell phone. Much of the technology we live with today had once been just a dream in the mind of novelists and stargazers.

Robots certainly fall into this category. A question we had at Lexicon was whether real robot names reflect the nomenclature of fictional robots. A brief analysis of about 300 robot names from science fiction revealed a few major themes.

One theme was a reliance on individual letters and/or numbers, often in the form of alphanumerics and acronyms. Some classic examples – R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 – hail from one of the most famous sci-fi franchises, Star Wars. Others include SI-9 from the 2011 film Eva, EDI from Stealth, or even further back, L-76 from the 1964 novel The Rest of the Robots. In this context, the alphanumerics seem to represent a sort of model or ID number, highlighting the robots’ systematic industrial production; they’re consumer products.

Interestingly, another major theme we found was human names. Lenny, Jessica, Ava, Helen, Louie… the list goes on. This makes sense since many robots are androids (a word coined from Greek parts roughly meaning “human-like”), and in some imaginations, they’re virtually indistinguishable from actual people – think the Replicants from Blade Runner. Some names even combine the human and industrial elements. A few examples: Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit films, MARK13 from the 1990 film Hardware, D.A.R.Y.L. which stands for “Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform” from the film of the same name, and R.A.L.F. “Robotic Assistant Labor Facilitator” from Flight of the Navigator.

Possibly because of these two opposing domains, some authors opt for ambiguous “futuristic” coinages, neither readily recognizable as a human or product name. These run the gamut from sleek and smooth to just plain uncomfortable in the mouth: Aniel, Alsatia Zevo, Zhora, Zat, Weebo, Trurl, Dorfl.

It’s not hard at all to find some of these same naming tropes in the real world: Apple’s Siri is actually an acronym that stands for “Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface”; Alexa is Amazon’s take on the concept. An even more explicit fictional borrowing is Microsoft’s Cortana, named after an AI character from the Halo games. The full categorization of these voice interface platforms as robots is up for debate, but there’s no question the naming conventions are a matter of life imitating art.

KATIA, which stands for “Kick Ass Trainable Intelligent Arm” is an example of a real robot whose name takes a cue from sci-fi. The same is true for LS3, which stands for “Legged Squad Support Systems.” On the other end of the spectrum – human names – are Jimmy, Buddy, and Lucy.

Meanwhile, the names Jibo, Rokid, Bolide, RHex, and Erigo easily fit the image of strange inventions of the future.

A final theme to note is the use of classical languages and figures. This seems to have been more common in earlier (pre-1980s) sci-fi, with names such as Rex, Colossus, Kronos, Talos, and Proteus IV. And this is yet another domain exploited by real world robots: Alpha 2, Atlas, da Vinci.

So it seems that real robot names do tend to resemble those of their sci-fi predecessors. But what do these themes mean?

On the one hand, we logically understand robots as products; but the more human-like qualities they take on, the more we feel the need to humanize them. Strange coinages are a way for us to process the sheer weirdness of robots and AI. And references to the classics may stand for the dawning of a new era, one that is uncannily similar to the beginnings of our own modern world.

Greg Alger, Director of Linguistics