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Posts Tagged ‘Will Leben’

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

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

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.

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.”

Conveying Personality While Conveying People

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on February 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

An old friend recently asked for advice on a project to find an attractive name for the neighborhood that is the heart of his hometown. This got us to thinking about names in the urban landscape. Do these reflect similar thinking to the brand names we develop at Lexicon for products, companies, and services? For answers we focused on some transit and shuttle services in our region.

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The San Francisco Bay Area’s rapid transit system, BART, was a natural choice, standing as it does for Bay Area Rapid Transit. However utilitarian, though, it is anything but prosaic. In fact, it may be the most attractive name for a rapid transit system in the U.S. Like MTA (Los Angeles and New York), MBTA (Boston), CTA (Boston), and RTD  (Denver), BART is an acronym. Yet of these, it’s the only one pronounced as a word rather than as a set of letters. This is also true of MARTA (Atlanta), but BART has the advantage of being just one syllable long, and brevity is a great way to symbolize the rapid in rapid transit – even if that promise isn’t carried out 100% of the time.

BART’s brevity also gives it a one-syllable advantage over the cute name for San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation System, the Muni. Like Rapid (Cleveland), BART is already an English word – but the word BART works better than Rapid not just because it’s shorter but also because it’s a familiar first name. This adds a human element to the wheels that move people around the region.

How convenient, too, that the sounds of BART express the system’s mission so effectively, as shown by our studies of sound symbolism at Lexicon. The a literally exudes power – it’s the most powerful sounding vowel of English, simply because it’s pronounced with the mouth wide open. The b at the beginning ranks high in Lexicon’s studies for boldness and comfort; the r is also high in comfort, and the crisp final t correlates with speed and efficiency. As a result of all these linguistic properties, BART’s name achieves what many names try for without seeming the least bit contrived.

The tiny town of Emeryville, directly across the bay from San Francisco, has for many years operated a free shuttle that circles the town. The shuttle’s name: Emery Go Round. Its playfulness offsets the dullness of its routine and the blandness of the vans, the same type of lumbering, lunging wagons that take airport passengers to rental car agencies. Related to this is the vans’ color scheme: white with lively blue and yellow trim, a cheery addition to Emeryville’s mostly dreary streets.

Occupying a different position on the cleverness spectrum is the shuttle that connected the UC Berkeley campus to the nearest BART station in the 1970’s, the Humphrey Go-Bart. The play on the name of the actor was overly cute, on the one hand, and puzzling on the other, since there was no apparent connection between the service and either Bogart the actor or the name Humphrey. The name didn’t last long. It was phased out after a challenge from the Bogart estate and replaced by the lackluster Bear Transit.

Stanford University’s shuttle, which began to operate a shuttle around the same time as UC Berkeley, carries the name Marguerite. The name seems odd at first but the explanation – it is named after the favorite horse of Jane Stanford, one of the university’s founders – connects with the past, when the university campus was the Stanford family’s “farm.” The French origin of the name Marguerite adds a touch of class – not to say overt elitism. How clever, too, to use the name of a horse to conjure nimbleness in a shuttle bus.

BART, Emery Go Round, and Marguerite reflect wildly different naming strategies, yet all add to the scenery of the Bay Area in a way that good architecture does. Mindless names, like cookie-cutter buildings, merely clutter the landscape. The same goes for brands. Bland, generic names like Easy-Pro and Reddi-Swift huddle in the shadows of creative, evocative names such as Dasani, Febreze, and Scion. Brands which instead strike a blow against the ordinary for our popular culture.

Understanding The “X” Factor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the main trends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Will Leben, Lexicon Director of Linguistics

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

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

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

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

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

How could this be?

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

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

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

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

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

Will Leben, Director of Linguistics

Do You Want to Drive a Leaf?

In Branding, Business, Cars, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on October 13, 2010 at 1:18 pm

U.S. car culture never stands still. We’re used to a rapid succession of styling changes–fins, racing stripes, pin stripes, hatchbacks, SUV’s, crossovers. Just as constant are the shifting patterns of car names — luxurious place names (Riviera, Malibu), names about racing (Torino, Grand Prix), energetic animal names (Mustang, Bronco), weird names (Elantra, Amanti).

The naming landscape is changing…less muscle, more tone…

Nowadays some of the loudest buzz in the auto industry goes to quiet electric and hybrid brands like Leaf. Who ever thought a major auto manufacturer would put out a Leaf?

 

Nissan's all-electric Leaf

 

If nothing else, this name choice for a highly anticipated new car model suggests that the auto industry has turned a page. So much attention has shifted to low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicles that anyone not acquainted with Dodge’s muscular, gas-guzzling Charger might be forgiven for thinking it was an electric-powered car.

The world weighs in…

Another big factor in the newest car names is the global shift in production and marketing. Car names are becoming more uniform around the world.

For several years Buick marketed its LaCrosse brand in Canada as the Allure in order to avoid associations with la crosse, Québecois slang for ‘masturbate’ and ‘swindle.’ GM had also planned to market the Allure brand in China. But in 2009 the Allure brand was dropped and LaCrosse was adopted across the board, even in Canada and China. That worked well for GM in China, where the beloved, hot-selling LaCrosse was named Car of the Year for 2009.

New Technologies, Old and New Brands

Thanks to growing global exposure to once-local brands, car names exhibit more linguistic diversity than ever before.

Among today’s prominent electrics and hybrids are China’s F3DM, first marketed in 2008. India’s REVAi, the world’s best selling battery-powered electric to date, is being sold in a number of countries in Europe and Asia. Tata, also in India, has plans to add a hybrid version of its super-economical Nano. Chery, one of China’s best-selling cars, added a plug-in electric model in 2009, the same year that China became the world’s biggest market for autos.

Electrics and hybrids have been gaining steam for several years, and they’ve become the surprise new focus of the auto industry. The excitement is everywhere. England’s Daily Telegraph even reported on a study suggesting that preference for hybrid cars is genetic. Little wonder that we’re seeing so many new brands marking a break with the gasoline-only past. First in line was Toyota’s Prius a decade ago, followed recently by contenders with new technological twists.

Let’s see how three of the newest brands — Fusion, Leaf, and Volt — communicate their new competitive advantages alongside the well-established Prius.

To Be Continued…Click back on Friday for our overview!

— Will Leben, Director of Linguistics