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Bad Apples?

Posted on July 30, 2003 and read 7,027 times

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Steve Job’s start-up of Apple Computers in 1977 ruffled the feathers of Apple Corp, a record label that The Beatles had established two decades earlier. After years of expensive legal fights, Apple Computers paid hefty damages and an agreement was reached to co-exist in 1991.

But now Apple Computer’s creation of iTune, a music dispensing online service using the Apple name and logo has rekindled the fires. Juices are flowing, once again. And Apple Corp wants the courts to decide, once again.

Apple Corp could have easily ignored the first fight, there was no need to link its Apple music label with computers, and the fact remains that apple is a dictionary word in the public domain and is used by hundreds of companies all over the world.

Dictionary words are always a problem. In a rare case, ‘Apple’ did acquire a ‘secondary meaning’ in the world of computers. Today, it is more famous than Apple Corp.

But moving this brand into the realm of music is another story altogether. Corporations love to expand the line of products and services under their existing umbrella and it’s a good thing. It is critically important to have a globally trademarkable umbrella name so that one can enjoy this freedom. SONY, Panasonic, Rolex and MicroSoft types of names can go in any line extension but when you have a diluted name like Dynamic, Quantum, Axsys, Nexes, Orange, than you have to watch every turn and be prepared to face the oppositions from other users.

For starters, Apple’s iTune will have to cope with a lot of other similar-sounding names, like, Itune, I-tune, Itunes, Ituner, Ituners… And most of these websites do hum some tune in the music industry. High tech names around the world have a serious dilution problems as most are too similar to hundreds others. Most picked by focus groups or freelancers.

Trademark lawyers often get the bad wrap for unnecessary fights but the truth is that these battles are often created by naïve executives who ignore the rules of naming in the first place and go for a seat of the pants name and fly it in a panic often hours before the press-conference. A recent study showed that 97% names are selected on the exact day of the announcement, hours before the press conference. How about them apples?

Big branding has recently taken some big beating; mostly for poor campaigns pushing silly names that corporations would like to think are too cute to forget. Consumers are very fickle and they often have an entirely different read when it comes to naming, often in a sharp contrast to most big research findings and massive focus groups thinking. It is amazing that how the same brilliant graphic design shops have hurt themselves by not playing naming game by the rules. They have yet to discover The Proper Laws of Corporate Name Identities. There are great opportunities missed everyday by not having a powerhouse naming procedures in place. Relying on some casual freelance ad hock name suggestion approach is how disasters are incubated.

Two common naming strategies among world’s largest branding agencies

First: Names are really not that important, all you need is big money to advertise and customer will accept it. Forget the Naming Laws, spending will take care of it. Wrong. There is no longer surplus money available to buy every billboard and every TV spot in the country. Bottom less budgets are only some Utopian dreams on the agencies mind. In reality money has completely disappeared and it’s so tight for corporations that now money has become a collector’s item. Nicely framed.

Second: Creative and trendy names will win, catchy, funny, almost silly and stupid names will catch the eye, become a fad, mix with hip culture and create the branding experience. Let freelancers come up with some wacko names for a dollar each. Time to hip-hop. Wrong, again. Hit and run naming has already left a very bad taste among companies. In recent past alone, hundreds of big and very expensive new Names resulted in total failures all over the world. This clearly points to the importance of correct naming methodologies and the urgent need to fix the lost credibility of big agencies when it comes to naming.

Furthermore, customers never liked to be taken for granted and they often refuse to buy in a twisted message coming from a strange name. No amount of promotion can change it, hence the failures. Contrary to the myths, customers are not the sheep they are the wolves dressed up like sheep. So, marketers while you seek the cuddly canines you should be equally beware of the serious risk of using ‘oinga-boinga’ type of accidental names. Today, odd names like, Fat Bastard gourmet food or Goats to Roam wines, are sure success stories for a while but proper global naming is more serious than this approach. Where did the mega projects like MarchFirst, McSleep or WetNose go?

Mega-failures of such naming issues have corporations re-configuring their branding trees of naming architectures, while serious naming is slowing getting respectability, pushing lala-land free-style branding out.

A Five Star Standard Of Naming
As prescribed in the upcoming book

The Brand New Laws of Corporate Naming Javed/Linkbridge/2004

Marketers need to know if their Names are Healthy and fit to run and win the race or if they are Injured, slowing down the relay or if they are on a Life-Support and will never win. It is very easy to determine this by using tests

Corporations must know the hidden the powers of their names. These characteristics and split personalities determine the success or failure of a name. To measure the effectiveness of a name or to see how much extra luggage a name is burdened with, follow these guidelines for a general check up:

Healthy Names:

When a name is fit to play the game, it can join the race and sprint to win. Give yourself with a star for each of the following five healthy name criteria if it applies to your name.

• Easy to Use: Is the name very easy to understand? Spell, type, talk about or refer to? This name is linguistically acceptable as a transparent word-mark in the global marketplace. ROLEX, SONY

• Unique and powerful: Is the name developed with a unique alpha-structure, as a one of a kind word-mark in the world? Powerful, yet very friendly, this name works like a kind of magic while emulating sobriety. PANASONIC, TOYOTA

• Relevant: Does the name fit the personality and the type of business it’s in and quickly conveys the marketing objectives? Is it trustworthy and respectful, and fits like a glove? MicroSoft, PlayStation

• Identical dot-com: Is there a 100 per cent identical dot-com to go with the name? Are there other characters, words, dashes or initials inserted into a URL causing major distraction? Dot-com is the only gold standard.

• Ownership: Is the name globally trademarked and does it have a full intellectual property plan to stay on course as a global word-mark? Sometimes a single country registration is not enough.

A five-star ranking, however, is not necessarily a sign of indefinite health. In fact, high profile names often agonize over their confusing images, which sometimes project wrong perceptions. To determine the value of these names, a more complex form of auditing and testing is required.

Injured Names:
When a name appears to be injured. It can stay in the race but may not win. If yes, then the name loses a star for each of the following:

• Diluted: Are there far too many identical or similar names in the marketplace? Can this name easily get lost in e-commerce, trade directories or in the huge global marketplace? Allied, Quantum, Dynamic, Prism, NEXIS, AXSYS

• Confusing: Is money being spent correcting various perceptions of the name in the marketplace? Are there constant struggles with the positioning of the image? Did the business style change but not the name?

• Descriptive: Is the name simply a description of what the company does? Does it resemble words on a string rather than a properly formatted name? Was it a very long name that got initialised and is now a strange acronym? Cable & Wireless, General Electric, General Mills

• Geographic: Was the name borrowed from the atlas? Does the name tie to a locale while the national and global opportunities are seriously missed? Business is only global. E-commerce has no nationalities or passports. Worldwide, geographic names are very cumbersome. Pacific, Eastern, American Airlines

• Surnames: How is the founder doing? Unless legendary and dead, the use of a founder’s surname is always a high risk when it comes to media exposure as it ties the company to a single personality and his or her sometimes-exotic behaviours. Surnames are being changed at a very fast rate.

Life Support Names:

When names have obvious problems, they struggle and wait to be changed. If yes, then the name loses a star for each of the following:

• Spelling Problems: Do customers spell this name four different ways? Is it also splitting the customer traffic in four different directions? Is it resulting in a quarter of your total profits? Is the name caught in translation issues, sending strange messages to our highly cosmopolitan societies, and scaring potential customers away? Exphert, Protivity

• Split Personalities: Is this name transmitting different and weird personalities to different groups at different times? Is it costing a lot of extra money to maintain its course? Take, for example, GoldShares. Is it stockbrokers, gamblers, jewellers or miners? SoftStream, Is it a river? An adult dating site, piped music, water softener or a software.

• Structural Issues: Is it a too-short alphanumeric combination or a foot long name? Customers may be clicking onto the next page with big sales missed in seconds. Were dingbat symbols inserted or were weird formations created? Is this creative overkill hurting the business? PNCFSG or ING Direct

• No Dot-com: This name lacks an identical dot-com. Instead, we see a twisted URL with excessive luggage or a series of forgettable weird suffixes such as dot-biz, dot-net, dot-info and so on. Some corporations have their identical dot-com redirected to a dot-ca site to appear domestic. This is practiced by a lot of multinationals. However, it works best when there is an original dot-com in the first place.

• No Proper Trademark: No proper trademarks? Why join the race? No matter how big the celebrations for the name launch, the real parties happen at the law firms that later enjoys the legal entanglements in perpetuity. Corporations should allocate legal resources upfront to globally secure great names, rather than fight losing battles over weak names later.

Names with anything less than 5 Stars will have a very hard time building any significant Name Brand value and will eventually be changed, sooner or later. Injured Names will seriously hurt the business growth and sometimes even kill the project. If you do not have a 5 Star Name than you’re entire branding and advertising budgets are going in a drain.


First Step. Corporations must determine whether a name is healthy, injured, or on life support. It makes no difference whether these names are of products, services, divisions, or the main corporate name. To a customer, a name is a name, no matter how it is offered.


The second step, after a detailed proper general checkups is to get a mandate to formally audit and analyse the name so management can take specific steps to change or modify them. Most corporations have dozens of different names, and hundreds of domain names, clashing with each other. It’s always better to have a few strong and protected names and a powerful e-commerce domain name architecture based on a dotcom system. No dotnets or dotinfo etc. This is the only way for long-term brand values to be established.

The third step, it is very easy to re-evaluate, reposition and rebuild the name identity of a product or service if you do so using the Laws of Naming. There is a big difference between general branding and specialized naming expertise. Healthy names are always fit to run the race, so they cost less to promote, and promoting them builds huge brand value.

Injured names cost 10 times more.

Every industry sector is facing this new name-economy; the issue of visibility on the web is critical. Today, it’s all about instant accessibility on the net, quick search-ability on the web, distinct memorability of names by overly strained populace, easy typability by tired fingers, and pleasant vocalization of such names and brand experiences by the customers all over the world.

Executives all over the world are faced with new challenges, e-commerce visibility demands powerful URLs and DotComs. dotnets, dotinfos, dotbizes are all easily forgotten and marketing suffers. Now, that global trademark with a DotCom has become the only gold standard, naming of a banking product is not a simple creative exercise, rather a serious discipline where Rules of Naming and Laws of Corporate Nomenclatures must be applied.

The old ideas of building brands using expansive billboards, color schemes and logos with bottomless ad budgets are all now mostly replaced by ever changing fluid web pages. URLs and domain names are now controlling access to the entire corporations. In conclusion, there are major naming issues that banking executives must tackle in order to cope with the new challenges and the branding executives to think for this new name-economy.

So. Can Apple computers go into the music business without upsetting The Beatles? The courts will make the final decision, most likely in favor of Apple Corp. After all Apple Record label is clearly associated with music for the last few decades and here Apple Computers may have swallow the pride for picking up a name from the dictionary. Furthermore iTune is too diluted to work as a global icon…another example of accidental naming at work.

It is amazing that how the world’s top branding agencies are all but mum about the hundreds of new name fiascos and have no thoughts or strategies on how to solve these issues and it seems to most of them the answer is simple. If apple name is gone than go for pineapple or a banana and if itune is gone than how about etune. This method of naming got to stop.

Naseem Javed author of Naming for Power and also Domain Wars, is recognized as a world authority on Name Identities and Domain Issues…He founded ABC Namebank, a consultancy he established in New York & Toronto about a quarter century ago.




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