Friday, May 23, 2008

Good and Bad Brand Names

According to Duncan (2005, p. 80-81) the key characteristics of a good brand name are 1.) It incorporates the benefits in the name; 2.) Has a positive association to some cultural touchstone; 3.) It is distinctive; 4.) And it is easy to spell and say. These will be the criteria used to evaluate the brand names I consider to be appropriate and those that are not.

Two good brand names

Microsoft has the world’s second most valuable brand and its brand name is a part of that value. It ranks only behind Coca Cola, and has a brand valued at nearly $60B, according to InterBrand (August 1, 2005, P 94). Here is a link to the top 100 brands: Top 100 Brands .

Microsoft’s brand name incorporates the benefits or services that are gained: this company’s products are for people who need software to do tasks on a microcomputer device. Additionally, the brand name is easy to say and spell. Finally, I think is has had a positive association with smallness. Kearns describes how Microsoft does not understand big enterprises and its primary customer base is small businesses. A geek's Small is Beautiful

I would also add to small businesses, small departments in large organizations. I have been in both situations in the mid-to-late 1980s and there was a large grass roots movement of small organizations that looked at Microsoft as providing information technology we could afford and use. It turned out to be true. The momentum from its successes in small organizations propelled Microsoft to its position today.

Duncan (2005, p 147) says: “Aspiration, status, and luxury are themes frequently used in marketing communications.” The Polo brand expresses that in my thinking. Polo is the sport of aristocrats. So I associate it with class, and since I have airs above my station it appeals to me. It is also simple – easy to say and spell.

In Time magazine, Koepp (September 1986) quotes NY Times fashion critic Bernadine Morris referring to Ralph Lauren and Polo: "He's acquired a certain reputation for clothes that are, you know, with it. But not too with it. Not enough to shock the boys at the bank." That is the sense I get from the brand name also, stylish rather than formal but acceptable anywhere. An appeal to upper-middle class aspirations. Bernadine on Ralph.

Two bad brand names

Old Crow
One brand name that seems inappropriate to me is Old Crow. This is the brand name for a bourbon whiskey originally distilled by Dr. James Crow, the inventor of the sour mash process for manufacturing bourbon. The name is simple, but has depressing connotations. I associate the name with dereliction. It says to me that the benefit of using this product is I end up with a sign around my neck, “Will work for alcohol.”

Breen (2007, p 87) discusses a fortress brand and I think the point can be extended as a fortress brand name also. He says “the successful brands stumble: They fail to evolve. Bangle calls them ‘fortress brands.’ Deeply rooted in their heritage and values, they are inflexible, unmovable, and ultimately stuck in time.” Who do you love.

This happened to the Old Crow while its rival Jim Beam made early and profitable forays into premium and superpremium bourbons. America changed significantly from the 1950s through the 1980s and Old Crow had not kept up. Old Crow had gone into receivership in the 1980s and was acquired by its rival, Jim Beam. The 1980s saw an accelerating change in American drinking habits. Single malts and premium whiskies had captured the attention of affluent drinkers while vodka and rum appealed to the younger generation. Asimov (2007, p 1-2) gives a capsule summary of this trend during that time period. The Rise of Premiums.

In prior times, it had appealed to its colonial origins, which explained its brand name, as in this advertisement typical of its campaigns in the late 1950s and 1960s. Example Crow Ad. The historical appeal of its brand name no longer seemed relevant to the new America. In any case, with its losses from the shift in drinking taste, it could no longer publish effective advertisements to explain the funny name.

Today, some 30 years on, the name alone, without the advertising, projects it as a train-yard favorite. It rather suggests the use of industrial strength chemical extractants in its processing, with kool-aid like substances added afterward to hide the clorox aftertaste. Today, Jim Beam and its holding company, American Brands relegate the Old Crow brand name to its low-end offering.

Beam offers an interesting contrast in its advertising during that tumultuous time. Example Beam ad. Sean Connery was featured in its ads during the 60s and 70s. He seemed to me, at that time, to be considered cool to all age groups. American Brands seemed to have the pulse of its target segment in terms of both product innovation and brand image. Today, very few people understand the Old Crow Brand Name and by its lonesome it sends negative vibes.

The Washington Redskins football team has a great history on the gridiron. However, this is another case of America changing and a brand name that is stuck in the past. Today there is a rising level of complaints that the brand name is a racist slur, insensitive and insulting to a significant group of Americans. I think as this movement (to change the name) becomes more prominent, the brand name will be increasingly associated with base and backward prejudice. Time to rethink.

The coalition against the name is not relying merely on moral suasion. It has filed action with the trademark section of the US Patent and Trademark Office. According to AP (August 2006), three trademark judges agreed with the complaint and were ready to revoke trademark status. A successful appeal has stopped this action for now but has not stopped the determination of the groups organizing to oppose the name. Redskins Name Problems

Duncan, Tom (2005). Principles of Advertising and IMC. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.

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