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Posts Tagged ‘Lexicon Branding’

Burning Candy

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, High Technology, Naming, Trademark Law, Trademarks on February 20, 2014 at 3:00 am

A little over a month ago, the Skittles hit the fan when the Internet discovered that King.com Limited had trademarked the word CANDY. Reaction ranged from “all other games with candy in their titles were in trouble” to “no one on Earth could ever utter the word candy again.”

candy-crush-logoThis action was to protect the game developer’s white-hot title Candy Crush Saga, a game downloaded by more than 500 million people since its release in 2012.

One of the first to break the news was inc.com, in a short piece by Jeremy Quittner, on January 15th – the very day that King won trademark approval from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. “You already know how ridiculously litigious the entire area around intellectual property rights is right now, but this brings things to a whole new level. And small business owners should be wary, as the potential to run up against a law suit seems all-too-likely these days,” wrote Quittner.

The fuse was lit…and the news soon exploded all over Twitter, the sounding board where people often display more passion than knowledge. @feliciaday, actress and creator of the popular web series The Guild tweeted: “I’m confused, how is it legal to trademark ENGLISH WORDS and then harass small game companies about it?!” And @BasicallyIDoWrk followed with “Who is the idiot that let Candy Crush trademark the word candy?!”

To address Ms. Day’s point, most registered trademarks in the USPTO are made up of English words or are names created by putting one or more English words together to form a new word (like PowerBook or OnStar, two names developed by Lexicon and subsequently registered for trademarks by our clients). As for the second comment, the idiot in question is the aforementioned USPTO, the governmental body tasked with issuing patents and trademarks dating back to 1871.

On its surface, the registration makes all kinds of sense, particularly to protect King’s intellectual property from infringement by the legion of me-too type games that have sprung up in the wake of the success of Candy Crush, trading on either its name, its play style, or both – such as Candy Crash and Super Candy Cruncher.

Fortunately, for those who are outraged at the gumption shown by King in registering CANDY, there are checks and balances in place in an effort to keep things fair and equitable.

Upon issuance, trademarks are published for opposition in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. Anyone opposing a trademark in the belief that they may be damaged by its issuance has 30 days to either file an opposition to the mark or a request to extend the time to oppose.

And there is, potentially, a lot to oppose in the case of King’s trademark application since they’ve tried to more than cover their bases. Not only have they registered CANDY in three of the 44 international classes of trademarks, but what the name covers – the Goods and Services – within those three classes seems overly extensive. Ranging from blank usb flash drives and exposed photographic film to beach shoes and baby monitors, this is an application just begging to be opposed by those with trademarks that use the word candy and that pre-date King’s registration.

That’s not to say that opponents won’t have a pitched battle on their hands.

One recent example shows that King is playing for keeps.

CandySwipe is a game developed by Albert Ransom in 2010, two years before King’s Candy Crush hit the scene. Ransom trademarked his CandySwipe name and, when he saw elements of similarity between the two games, he opposed King’s initial trademark application of Candy Crush Saga. Ransom was trumped when King subsequently purchased a trademark for CandyCrusher that had been issued for game software and mobile apps way back in 2004 and used it, in turn, to counter-oppose the CandySwipe trademark.

Ransom just recently published an open letter online to King, sarcastically congratulating the company on successfully crushing any chance he had of making CandySwipe a success (the Internet is full of people ignorantly calling Ransom’s game a “ripoff” of Candy Crush), as well as now cease-and-desisting him from being able to use the CandySwipe name.

Protecting oneself against trademark infringement is one thing. Intellectual property is often the most valuable asset a company has in its coffers. More difficult to defend are the actions of an entity that follows the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. One could argue that King’s actions might be construed as a restraint of trade for other game developers. And who knows — what would happen if Hasbro, Inc., which took over Milton Bradley’s Candy Land trademark first issued in 1951, were to step forward and argue that King’s trademark is precluding them from issuing an electronic version of the popular board game?

The outrage against King continues, with opponents asking folks to delete the game from their devices, and tweets continuing to be posted about the trademark filing. (From @jgasteiz: “If only I had the guts to uninstall an app every time its company is evil. I’ll do it this time. Bye bye #candycrush”)

Undaunted, King continues to attempt to crush both opposition and competition. And on February 18th, they filed for an Initial Public Offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reportedly, they are attempting to raise $500 million.

That’s a lot of candy.

— Lexicon Branding

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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

Web of Intrigue: Online Shopping Meets Storytelling

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, High Technology, Naming, Trademarks on April 22, 2013 at 3:00 am

When companies name an online enterprise, the right name can transcend the notion of a mere store and describe an entire shopping experience. This is the kind of thinking that wins over consumers while giving a competitive advantage in the overall landscape of business.

Amazon is a sterling example of this. Although books were the first products associated with Amazon, the name has come to describe a full platform based around shopping and variety.

online-shopping-keyboardWhen you visit Amazon’s homepage, you see a vast array of options and opportunities, from media to housewares to fashion and beyond. If the company had gone merely with a descriptive name like Allbooks or Bookmart, it would never have had the capacity to encompass all of these different but inviting departments. (Apple’s iTunes is an obvious counter-example, but the Apple halo and focused i-initiating architecture more than make up for the narrow scope of tunes.)

Indeed, the easily identifiable, compelling name of an immense river proved more effective than any regular department store moniker. Over the years, “Amazon” has become something else entirely: a community, a platform, a social movement, a whole world of feeling.

We see an illustrative example even if we look at two bricks-and-mortar titans – Wal-Mart and Target. If you ask a typical consumer which name is more fashionable, Target will likely be the clear winner. As a real word with many effective associations – hitting a mark accurately, getting what you want, a “bull’s eye” – Target is a name that captures an emotion and efficiency, not merely a “mart” where many different things are sold.

Now compare the online sites of both of these brands, the air of innovation that Target has is immediately apparent. The name clearly sets the company’s tone, sets its identity in the marketplace.

A key example of effective online naming in Lexicon’s history involves the retailer originally known as Internet Diamonds. As the name clearly implies, the company once specialized in efficient and reliable ways for customers to buy diamonds online; in most cases, the typical customer was a man shopping for an engagement ring. But as time passed, obvious questions arose:

What if a customer wanted to buy something other than a diamond?

What if a woman were shopping for herself and wanted a little bit of intrigue and allure incorporated into the process?

How could the experience put a stake in the ground that would remain compelling as competition swelled?

Naturally, the company needed a new name. So Lexicon worked with the client to create a new identity that opened up an entirely different world of possibility.

Blue Nile.

Like Amazon, Blue Nile conjures up a feeling – an air of potential, beauty, vastness, and enticement. Blue Nile is now a multibillion-dollar business. A similar example is Piperlime, which Lexicon named in partnership with Gap, Inc. Again, in adopting this name, Gap, Inc., chose to evoke a certain emotion in the customer, not simply define a narrow window of opportunity. Due to its bright sounds, the zesty images of both piper and lime, and the enticing lime logo paired with the name, the word implies fun, variety, and satisfaction, and Piperlime now rivals Bluefly as one of the most recognized shopping sites in the world. (It even figured prominently in the hit reality competition series Project Runway, where host/supermodel Heidi Klum clearly took pleasure in pronouncing it.)

What’s more, if Gap ever wants to branch out further and build upon Piperlime’s potential as a full-on social media hub or community, the name has the capacity for that type of expansion.

Names like Amazon, Blue Nile, and Piperlime allow for storytelling with an edge, a customer base with an extra bit of panache, and that is why creating a name that has a broader appeal than simply selling one type of thing or describing one kind of store is so important. Stores come and go, but a store’s style — the sentiment that it instills in a customer — endures.

— Lexicon Branding

The Brief In Brief

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming on April 15, 2013 at 3:00 am

Developing An Effective Creative Brief

Every year for the past thirty years Lexicon has received dozens of creative briefs usually prepared by a client, sometimes by the advertising agency. Most recently, “brand strategists” either inside or outside the client have been preparing them. No matter the source, they are usually not very good. What is most striking is that they all sound and look alike even across distinctly different categories. You have to wonder “Why?”

This piece is not a “how to” article. It has just a few observations that may help to improve the process.

Most clients have a standardized approach to writing the brief. These briefs have sections. “Brand vision”, “tone”, and “brand voice” are phrases we often see. Because they are so formulaic we often find these documents way too logical and static.

True, some look and sound impressive. The various sections are often filled with popular but generally meaningless expressions like “empowering”, “enabling” and most recently, “curating”. If you are on the creative side of this, it’s not very helpful. In fact, it is usually constraining. A brief should be a launch pad for discussion and thinking and investigation, and not a prescription.

So why are so many briefs prescriptive in nature?

It stems from an assumption that the creative process and creative people must be managed. You can’t really manage a creative process. You can lead it, encourage it, push it, even cajole it. Design your briefs with those ideas in mind and you’ll be ahead of the game. Expecting a brief to manage a process is both wishful and naïve.

Since it’s called a “creative brief”, why not involve creative people to help write it? Start with a blank sheet of paper and just start talking. Forget about filling out a form. Write it as a story. Together. Keep it open. Let it evolve.

Not only will the end product be better – much better – but an essential ingredient of innovation and breakthrough creativity will be created. That ingredient is trust. Trust engaging your creative resources rather than taking sole responsibility for creating the brief next time.

Chances are you’ll be delighted – and rewarded – with the results.

– J. David Placek, President & Founder

Beating the Drum for Metaphor

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on January 30, 2013 at 3:00 am

An engaging recent New Yorker article* describes the constructed language Ithkuil, which aims to be “maximally precise” by “eliminating the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that [are] seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language.”

ninjaOur first response was that the creator of this constructed language had likely not seen our recent blog post about connotation vs. denotation in brand names. The post notes that connotation is often more important than denotation in brand names. An example is gazelle. For the many who have never actually seen one of these animals, the literal meaning may be a bit blurry, yet to them the gazelle is still likely to connote swiftness and grace.

Our second reaction to Ithkuil was to ask why, as its creator noted, overall arbitrariness is so widespread in human language. The answer’s pretty easy if we picture what occurs in ordinary conversation: as communicators, we incline more toward verbal artistry than toward explicit programming. We launch plans as if they were rockets, face problems as if they were adversaries, and target opportunities as if–well, no need to flog a metaphorical horse.

Consider what language would be like without metaphor. Rather than launching plans, we’d simply make them, or start them. Metaphor is so intrinsic to the way we use words, it’s even difficult to find literal verbs to substitute for face in “face problems” or target in “target opportunities.” It’s much easier to find other metaphors: attack problems, meet problems head on, embrace change, aim for opportunities

That gives good reason to suppose that even if a precise language–be it Ithkuil or C++–should ever be spoken, it wouldn’t take a day for a ninja band of metaphors to start creeping in.

No wonder, then, that metaphor should be a staple of brand names. Metaphor helps us to see something new in everyday objects. It enables brands like Tide, BlackBerry, and Volt to stand out from the competition by endowing them with a unique, attractive message.

Metaphors do lose their force over time. Our verb reveal goes back to a Latin verb meaning ‘pull back the veil,’ yet that image no longer pops up when we encounter the word. Metaphor weakening explains how we get unwitting blends of metaphor like:

Over all, many experts conclude, advanced climate research in the United States is fragmented among an alphabet soup of agencies, strained by inadequate computing power and starved for the basic measurements of real-world conditions that are needed to improve simulations.

New York Times, June 11, 2001

The images in brand names subside over time as well. While the newcomer Volt immediately brings to mind an electric charge, the BlackBerry, introduced in 1999, now offers models–the Porsche and the Pearl–in colors other than black. Tide, introduced in 1946, hardly conjures the image of waves in the sea anymore.

But in branding, that’s OK, because a brand name’s heaviest lifting happens up front, when the name is new. A colorful name attracts attention, ties a unique message to a product, and is more likely to spread virally (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) when it’s first introduced.

Therefore, for those – like the inventor of Ithkuil – that wish to make language more efficient, we recommend metaphor, which in a single word can turn a caterpillar into a butterfly.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

* Joshua Foer, “Utopian for Beginners: An Amateur Linguist Loses Control of the Language He Invented.” The New Yorker, December 24 & 31, 2012.

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.

Forever Socks

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming, Trademark Research on July 2, 2012 at 9:48 am

How brand names are not at all but almost exactly like a pair of socks

The joke about things being analogous to socks is that “you change them every day.” Brand names should not be seen that way at all, of course. When you settle on a trademark — after having gone through all the convolutions to create it, research it, register it, and then promote it — the last thing you want to do is change it.

In fact, whether your mark is newly minted or a legacy in need of refreshing, your focus should be on nurturing, protecting, and evangelizing it.

Even so, I realized I have a pair of socks that are, in a lot of ways, very much like a brand name.

When I was 12 years old, my father, who owned his own floor-covering shop, came home from work one day with a half-dozen pairs of socks. They were a green that was almost Army olive drab in color, lightly ribbed and had no packaging at all. He told me that a man had come into his business that day, peddling socks from out of the trunk of his car.

“These socks will never need mending.” That’s what the man told my father. “They’ll never unravel and they’ll never wear out.” Never wear out? What a crock. All socks wear out eventually. It’s what socks do. But the man was so convincing, and the price was so reasonable, my father figured it would be worth it just to have a story to tell. My dad’s story was so intriguing that I wanted some of those magical green socks, too. So he gave me a pair.

The promise of a brand name is much the same. It should never need mending, never unravel, and never wear out.

Even the best brand struggles to live up to that promise. The longer it’s around, chances are it’s going to snag on something. Or start to come apart. Or begin to look a little threadbare.

In the 1950s, Ford Motor Company was staggered when their new Edsel automobile bombed in the marketplace. Coca-Cola suffered when they introduced New Coke in 1985. And Intel shuddered when the first Pentium chips in 1993 proved to be less accurate and not as fast as promised.

In each of those cases, the parent brands soldiered on, backed by companies savvy enough to respond to the negative reactions in the marketplace. All three brands are still strong today. But for every case where a brand keeps it together, there are many that fail, unable to keep the equity strong enough to stay in business, let alone popular.

It’s not enough to simply create and launch a new brand name. Care must be taken to sustain and grow those names, as if they were hothouse flowers exposed to the elements. Constant supervision and maintenance helps to save your company from costly reboots that may turn out to be futile. And it doesn’t hurt to do a little research now and then with people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to make sure your brand name is being seen in a way that makes sense.

In short, take care of your trademark and it will take care of you.

Oh, and those magical green socks? Turns out that they’re a lot easier to care for than a brand name. I still have them after 40 years. I’m wearing them as I write this. They have, as promised, never been mended, never unraveled and they have yet to wear out. I’d love to order some more. Irony of ironies: I couldn’t get another pair of these if my life depended on it. Nowhere on my “forever socks” is there a brand name.

– David Placek

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

Mondelez: A Rough Maiden Voyage?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming on May 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

We have seen an enormous amount of press for Mondelez, the name planned for Kraft’s new snack division, to be spun off from Kraft’s grocery business. If in the marketing business any publicity is a good thing, then this is a good thing.

But the reaction has generally ranged from negative to mocking. The name, chosen from 1,700 candidates submitted by Kraft employees, blends mond (the root for “world” in some major European languages) with delez, stressed on the last syllable and intended to suggest delicious.

Some object to the new brand’s perceived clunkiness. Forbes.com jokes that we can recall the name better by associating it with a former Secretary of State, as in “Mondeleza Rice.”  A few commentators class this name with fabrications like Accenture and Altria. And rightly so. If a company is going to adopt a name whose message is obscure, why take three whole syllables to do so?

More ominously, in commissioning focus groups to judge Mondelez, Kraft apparently omitted Russians, even though the name needs to work globally. A number of Web sources note the name’s potentially vulgar connotations in Russian, where it can be broken down into something sounding like “monda-LEEZ.” We verified this with our Russian linguist, Fedor Rozhanskiy. To many Russians, manda is a slang word for “vagina.” Compounding the problem, “LEEZ” sounds like the Russian verb root for “lick.” The association is—unfortunately again—by far the strongest when, as Kraft intends, the last syllable is stressed.

Kraft’s official response has been a tad defensive. “The intention is for Mondelez to be a corporate name,” Kraft spokesperson Michael Mitchell is quoted as saying on several news sites, including nj.com. “It won’t be a consumer-facing name.” But given the reactions so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kraft ordered further testing before putting it to shareholders for official adoption.

That’s what we’d recommend, though we do wonder about the dust this case has stirred up. In what it seems to regard as a similar situation, the Huffington Post, citing the BBC, claims that “General Motors had to change the name of its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Canada after it found that the word LaCrosse is slang for masturbation in Quebec.” That’s not quite accurate. After learning that crosse was a slang term in Quebec, GM chose to introduce the car in Canada as the Allure. But in 2009 a new management canned the Allure brand and began to use LaCrosse in Canada as it does everywhere else in the world. The brand is doing well in Canada as elsewhere.

Navigating the globe with a brand name is a complex journey where language, culture, and marketing intersect. Very precise attention must go to details of pronunciation and to linguistic and social contexts that foster or temper disruptive associations. We’ve been navigating these waters for practically twenty years at Lexicon, where our GeoLinguistics service includes an international network of Ph.D. linguists that now numbers 77.

— Will Leben and The Lexicon Team

UPDATE: The London Times published an interview (6/5/2012) they held with Lexicon CEO David Placek. He remarked on the Mondelez name:

Mr Placek dismisses the name like a medieval guild member inspecting the craft of an amateur. “Mondelez…you hear ‘eaze’ like ‘sleaze’. I’m getting nothing from it. Maybe it would work for a restaurant.”

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