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Posts Tagged ‘branding’

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Noah Rucker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

It’s been quite the journey.

From Changing Lanes to Insuring the Future, the automobile – and the world we live in – seems destined for change. Details as small as the term ‘daily commute’ could shift, evolving from current connotations of negativity to ones of relaxation or even vibrancy. Something to look forward to, not dread.

This Think Tank has been about exploring these possibilities, and it should be noted that the ideas we’ve generated are not just whimsical thoughts or impossible fairytales. Even while writing these posts, notable happenings such as Ford’s Bold Announcement or Tesla’s Master Plan have sprung forth. The Battle for the Backseat is already under way, and Commoditization of the Car Exteriormay soon begin. Quite truly, the future is in motion, and the shifting automotive landscape may be a revolution in the making.

And, as with every revolution, there is the need for guidance. There will be both early adopters and late adopters, as was explored in our post Call Me Old Fashioned, and it will be a brand’s job to steer users smoothly into this new world. As visionaries in the field, Lexicon Branding hopes to give its clients – current and new – the tools to distinguish themselves in this new space.

We’ve all heard that phrase to ‘embrace change’, but we often find ourselves coming up with every excuse not to. But truth is, companies will need to come to terms with this motto, and sooner rather than later. Ownership, aesthetics, even sociability: these aspects could all soon change. And while some of these implications were explored in our posts Sharing is Caring and Sharing Interests, the ideas behind them are virtually limitless.

Before long, our landscape may very well become unrecognizable. Cities could look different, and personal habits could change. For companies, it’s important to pair these changes with brand names that capture the essence of these innovations and ideas – to truly marry the spirit of the future with the ideas of the present.

At Lexicon Branding, we’ve envisioned how this revolution could play out and how it could give rise to new and distinctive brands. With a cornerstone of our lives on the brink of change, we are at the cusp of this revolution, gazing ahead, spying handholds in the precipice to lead a brand to its peak. And we can’t wait to see what this revolution brings.

Hopefully that drives the point home.

 

*thanks to Think Tank member Sarah Schechter for the images!

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Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Eva Epker

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 9:02 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

I rode my bike everywhere this summer. A car would have made grocery trips, hill climbs, and city visits much easier than they were, but the responsibilities of gas, parking, and maintenance outweighed the benefits.

In five years, though, if I have to choose between a car and a bike once again, my decision may be completely different. An autonomous car, one that is literally around the corner, would allow me to forego the responsibilities of car ownership while keeping the convenience of having one. The autonomous capabilities of that car would also allow me to read or sleep, ride to and from work with others who share my schedule, and visit local tourist attractions with like-minded people.

Lexicon’s Think-Tank was an opportunity to explore these possibilities and to map out a world that doesn’t yet exist but soon may. For example, Ford wants autonomous cars on the road in the next five years. But getting these cars on the road is just the first step, and this project was meant to explore what could happen next. How will car interiors, exteriors, and insurance companiestransform? How will societies transition from people-driven cars to self-driven ones? Are the cars we know today destined to be only relics of the past?

The past ten weeks have given Lexicon’s summer interns an opportunity to pull on their individual experiences and the knowledge they gained this summer in order to brainstorm possible answers to these questions. This blog is the result of conversations and creative sessions, emails and edits, posts and puns.

Our vision of the future may turn out different from reality, but, by developing our own ideas, we hope to inspire others’ creativity and improve their understanding of the future of autonomous vehicles and automotive branding. That way, as autonomous cars gain popularity, as cities adapt, and as branding changes, our readers—and clients—have an improved understanding of the world around them and of the decisions they may face—even the ones as simple as choosing to store their bikes safely at home for the summer.

Automotive Think Tank Final Thoughts: Kennedy Placek

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Cars, High Technology, Naming on September 1, 2016 at 8:58 am

From our Summer 2016 Automotive Think Tank Blog

No one expected the age of globalization to start when it did. No one thought life in the 19th century would go from rural to highly interconnected and industrialized in a blink of an eye. No one expected the housing bubble in 2006 to burst and bring most of the world’s income to a crashing halt. No one fathomed that ISIS would transform into a terrorist organization that now generates more than $2 million in funds every day. The point is, it is inevitable that the world as we know it will change. And, as humans of this planet, we are mere witnesses of such changes.

We try our best to prepare and anticipate, but ultimately we cannot control every aspect of our ever-changing world. Sure, we have been able to effectively mitigate disasters and crises with today’s new technologies, but for the most part, we have just been in it for the ride, so to speak.

Most recently, however, new innovations and technologies have exceeded our expectations, even surpassing the capabilities of the human mind. With AI and autonomous features becoming part of today’s norm, we may actually be able to accurately predict the future (or parts of it at least).

This is where Lexicon’s Think Tank comes in. Over the past 3 months, we’ve created—based on extensive research and our own creativity—a landscape that reflects the future of the automotive industry. We began this project with our post, “The Road Ahead,” but now each member of the team is taking the time to reflect on how far we’ve come.

With a unique branding perspective, here at Lexicon we have created an entirely new landscape and representation of this space to come, incorporating our insight and expertise in the creative branding industry. Our landscape is not just limited to the changes in the automotive industry, however. Rather, we explored branding implications on several fronts—social, economic, technological, and infrastructural.

The Think Tank was not created in order to claim the automotive future. Rather, it was created in order for us—and our readers—to learn about this exciting time and help prepare our clients for what is likely to come.

We want to guide our clients—current and new—through this increasingly competitive space. We’ve applied our expertise across the board: branding the autonomous cars themselves, their ingredients, experiences, unique interiors and exteriors, and other elements that could emerge as a result. Having reached the end of the road, we are bringing the Think Tank to a temporary close as the summer ends and the interns part ways. This project is not complete, however. The following months—even years—are bound to usher in new and incredible innovations related to the automotive future.  The team at Lexicon will be sure to stay tuned for what’s to come.

Our research-based blogs, source posts, and visuals have combined to develop a broad and thoughtful vision of the future intended to stimulate your thoughts and ideas.

Our hope is that you, as curious readers, fellow creative brand name developers, and clients across all industries can take in our work and think about how you can contribute to the automotive future. While the future may not evolve into what our landscape predicts, our efforts have hopefully inspired you to think beyond the limits of today’s current landscape.

Onwards!

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

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

Next Issue Rebrands as Texture, a Name Created by Lexicon Branding

In Brand Naming on October 19, 2015 at 2:00 pm

At its inception, Next Issue – a joint venture from Conde Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp., and Time Inc. – enabled customers to access all of their favorite publications in one place. While the name fit the offering at the time, the company wanted to extend beyond the concept of just being an electronic newsstand and jettison the often-used moniker “the Netflix of magazines.”

TextureiPad

In need of a strategic name that would signal a new experience for its users, Next Issue looked to Lexicon Branding to develop a new name that fit the company’s expanded services and the company’s pivot toward providing rich and relevant content curated for customers. Eight weeks later, Lexicon had created the name Texture, conducted consumer research, and carried out linguistic and cultural evaluations – all to ensure that the name would support the new brand going forward.

Texture defines this service.

Texture, a word defined as “something composed of closely interwoven elements,” supports a carefully designed, well-thought-out collection of content. It also communicates the idea that the service adds layers to your life by bringing you substantive, engaging, pertinent information based on your interests. And most importantly, though the name cleverly contains the word “text,” there is no overt link to magazines, keeping the company agile and relevant as content consumption continues to evolve.

Getting A Brand Name Right

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Naming on March 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Once a brand name is established in the marketplace, changing it can become costly for the brand owner and confusing for the consumer – however, some changes are for the better in the long run.

There’s a select group of companies that have had the good fortune of being able to merely compress their existing name to deliver a new, distinctive idea. Federal Express simply shed three syllables to become the hipper, more modern FedEx in 1994, and Nestlé Quik made two steps forward at once when it changed its worldwide name to the shorter one already established in Europe, Nesquik, creating a unified brand. Similarly, Kentucky Fried Chicken also got a proverbial two-for-one by changing its name to KFC, since the new name was not only quicker and crisper, but also help them avoid the need to pay a licensing fee after the state of Kentucky trademarked its name.

But for companies saddled with branding issues that can’t be remedied by truncating words or carefully excising letters, the task is much more herculean. Developing a new brand name requires strategic thinking, it requires an understanding of the industry (where it is and where it might head), and it requires a well-defined positioning that will differentiate your offering and get consumers to believe in who you are and what you represent. Said another way, it’s more than just an exercise in cleverness.

Getting the perspective just right

Everyone realizes that AOL was once America Online, and IBM was once International Business Machines, but less well known is that both companies started out with very different names from the ones we recognize.

From 1985 to 1991, America Online called itself Quantum Computer Services, and the name International Business Machines was only adopted in 1924 to rename the company that since 1911 had been called the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company (or CTC for short). The 1911 name, awkward as it must have seemed even back then, was simply the natural result of the merger of three separate firms into one.

It’s worthwhile to consider the reasoning behind the switch from the ComputingTabulatingRecording Company to International Business Machines. Probably, brevity was not the goal, since CTC is just as short as IBM. What really went on is that the name change announced a completely new perspective, from three distinct operations into a single one that encompassed not only equipment for all business needs but also on a worldwide basis.

Speaking to the right audience

Quantum Computer Services was probably a very good brand name in 1985. In that era, the company provided online service for a handful of personal computer models using modems called Quantum-Link, or Q-Link. The word quantum was the perfect choice if the desire was to convey the fast transfer of bits of data. But, as the market for Internet access mushroomed, the company’s mission expanded quickly to providing online access to all consumers. At the same time, there was a need to distinguish the company from its major competitor, CompuServe. The new name, America Online, achieved both goals brilliantly, re-orienting the message toward the everyday consumer and replacing a technical reference with the much simpler online. AOL’s strategy succeeded, so much so that in the end AOL was able to purchase CompuServe’s online service.

Righting a wrong

Sometimes brand names become tainted, as was the case with Philip Morris, which changed its name to Altria Group in 2003, helping to jettison baggage. The airline brand ValuJet also suffered a devastating hit in 1996 when one of its planes crashed and investigations revealed practices that seriously compromised safety on the flight that crashed and on many others. Sales plummeted, and a year later ValuJet merged with a much smaller airline, taking on that airline’s name, AirTran.

The right outlook

Some brand name changes can be avoided by thinking ahead. Who are you talking to now, who would you like to be talking to, and what would you like to be saying to them a few years from now? A famous example is Diet Deluxe, which changed its name to Healthy Choice. The earlier name fell down in two respects: it addressed a smaller public, and its message was not as upbeat as it should have been. The new name Healthy Choice solved both problems: it speaks to everyone concerned about his or her well-being, and instead of a diet, it offers them an alternative that makes immediate sense.

A similar problem came up with a cereal marketed with the name Elijah’s Manna in 1904. The biblical reference made U.S. consumers wary. It also caused Great Britain to refuse to register the trademark. As a result, the name was changed in 1907 to Post Toasties, which at the time described a unique aspect of the product—without alienating anyone. The brand lasted nearly a hundred years before the product was removed from the shelves in 2005.

Creating a vessel that connects consumers to the right brand story

We know the challenges of developing an expansive and meaningful brand name that will serve not only as the entry point, but ultimately the platform for a larger brand experience. When WiMP, the Hi-Fi music streaming service out of Norway, came to Lexicon in search of a new name for their expansion into the UK, US, and beyond, we knew their current moniker would not take them far. It fared alright in Scandinavia, where the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of WiMP carried a level of cool. However, we found it hard to imagine them being a dominant global player in the music space with that name – not to mention that it did nothing to support the lossless-quality music, curated editorial content, and premium user experience that differentiated their offering. Through working with their team in Europe, we landed on Tidal. It has that perfect consonant-vowel-consonant structure, and it carries consumers, through imagery and semantics, to the unparalleled and deeply immersive music experience – which happens to be an experience so compelling that Jay-Z, in partnership with the biggest stars in the industry, recently purchased Tidal for $56 million.

– Will Leben and Michael Quinn

Defy Description

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

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

Two lessons, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lexicon Branding

The Unbearable Lightness of Meaning

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming, Trademark Research, Trademarks on January 3, 2013 at 3:00 am

When developing a brand name, how important is the meaning of the name? It depends. Sometimes a descriptive or highly suggestive name is appropriate. In those instances, finding a name with the right meaning can be critical to success. However, when establishing a brand that is intended to be a platform for a host of offerings or one that introduces a new idea to the marketplace, a word’s meaning may matter less than its connotations.

gazelle

Gazelle

Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word; connotation refers to the set of associations a word carries with it. Take the example gazelle. The denotation, or definition, of gazelle is “any of many antelope species in the genus Gazella”; people’s specific associations with the word will vary, but for most it will connote something swift and graceful.

Denotation is accessed via the left-brain, connotation via the right-brain. The difference is important. Just as music has more impact and immediacy than words, so too do the connotations of words in the right-brain have more enduring resonance than the definitions of the left-brain*.

Another example: the word silly meant “holy” hundreds of years ago. Now, it means “foolish.” But these are dictionary meanings. Over time, as contexts changed, the original denotation changed as well. But consider silly and holy: one strong connotation both words share is “innocent.”

While we can’t know with certainty what connotations silly had six hundred years ago, one of them was likely “innocent” and that connotation remains, despite the change in meaning.

But what does this all mean for brand names?

Two things.

First, when considering a brand name candidate, it makes sense to focus more on connotations and less on definitions. The fusion of a brand name to a product or service creates a new context for the word, and in this crucible connotations will stick. Definitions won’t. If you are considering Gazelle as a brand name, it pays to focus less on that particular animal and more on whether you want consumers to associate your product or service with something graceful and swift.

What’s more, sub-parts of words also have enduring connotations. When Lexicon developed Pentium for Intel, our research showed that pent connoted strength and power (think Pentagon), and the -ium ending connoted something scientific. It was a completely made-up word at the time, but it already had inherent connotations that would (and did) resonate in the market.

Second, we are learning more and more that we aren’t as rational as we would like to think and that our decisions are guided as much by our unconscious mind as they are by our rational mind†.

These right-brain connotations have more resonance with the unconscious than literal meanings. It’s a tough exercise: when confronted with a word, we immediately reference its literal meaning. You see it sometimes when a new brand is announced. When the iPad came out, everyone said it sounded like a women’s hygiene product.

Two years later, all that remains is the elegant simplicity of the name.

— Alan Clark, Director of Trademark, and The Lexicon Team

* Richard F. Taflinger, Taking Advantage: Consumer Psychology and Advertising (Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2011)

† University of Rochester. “Our Unconscious Brain Makes The Best Decisions Possible.” Science Daily, 29 Dec. 2008. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

A History of Blends in Brands, from Early Hominids to Exencial

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Business, corporate naming, Naming on June 4, 2012 at 3:06 am

What’s the strategy behind new corporate names like Advizent, Aspiriant, Exencial, and Fortigent? Is this a return to the wonkish, Latin-clad constructions of the era that begat Accenture, Agilent, and Altria? And if so, why?

Names like these have their share of detractors. But some defenders welcome them as empty vessels ready to be filled with content through advertising. We question, though, whether emptiness is enough if the vessel is clunky and misshapen. The real problem with these names, as I pointed out to RIABiz last month, is that they’re far from ideal if they’re intended to engender trust:

Completely made-up names are harder for people to get their heads around, as opposed to words they may know in another context, Placek says. An example would be the HighMark Funds, a set of mutual funds that Lexicon helped name. Both “High” and ‘Mark” are words that people already know and have well-established meanings.

Linguistic analysis sheds further light. Advizent and Aspiriant can be broken down into a verb stem, advise and aspire, followed by an ending common in nouns and adjectives that go back to Latin: -ent and -iant. Exencial fuses executive and financial. Fortigent must be the offspring of fortitude or fortify and intelligent. However you regard these creations, compare them to Grafik and StapleGun, the far more engaging names of the branding firms that developed a couple of them. Nothing awkward about Grafik and StapleGun. They burst with energy and imagery!

Blending two existing words into one as Excencial and Fortigent do is a lively part of today’s idiom, as we see from examples like staycation, fauxhawk, podcast, webinar, and fanzine. Blending reached a peak of sorts with the recent rise of New York Knicks phenomenon Jeremy Lin, whose name figured in coinages like linsanity, linfected, and over 400 others. A mainstay of the trend to blend is Stephen Colbert, whose nightly cable program is known for outrageous concoctions including a supposed Internet dating service for survivalists named Arma-get-it-on.

Despite a tendency to feel light or humorous when first coined, blends can make for very effective brand names. Groupon, Whispernet, and Pinterest are fairly recent yet widely recognized examples. Newer but far from humorous in intent is Udacity, which recently began offering some university-level courses on the Web, with plans for a vast expansion. The Web seems to offer an excellent tonal fit for blended names like these.

Foods are another category in which blends have made for successful brands. Rice-A-Roni, Count Chocula, and Croissan’wich are probably the most widely known, and the first goes all the way back to 1958. As linguistic entities blends in fact go back much further.

Scholars find them in Old English, and some even speculate that early hominids blended their grunts and calls as a way to expand their vocal repertoires. Blends are so much a part of English that – as with electrocute, from electric and execute; and ice capades, from ice and escapades – we may not even recognize them as blends after they have been in the language for a while.

Time may also take the edge off Advizent and Exencial, but if a new name is intended to initiate a conversation with the public, the developers of these artless, unwieldy names could have done a lot better.

— David Placek