By: Al Ries
Published: September 10, 2013
When I was a senior in college, my best friend introduced me to a fellow student. “Al,” he said, “this is Joe Clap.”
At the time, “clap” was a common name for a social disease, so I blurted out, “That’s not your real name, is it?”
Well, you know the rest of the story. I was deeply embarrassed.
“Shouldn’t news show more than one side?”
That’s the headline of a full-page four-color newspaper advertisement introducing a new cable-news channel.
The new channel promises to “change the way you look at news.” It also promises you’ll “get more depth, more perspectives, every day.” And ends with the tagline, “There’s more to it.”
As you probably know, the new channel is “Al Jazeera America.” After reading the ad, I felt like saying, “That’s not your real name, is it?”
It can never walk away from a name that shouts to potential American viewers that the channel is the “Voice of the Middle East.”
Why didn’t Al Jazeera launch its American channel with a different name?
The four Ps of marketing — and the fifth
Product, place, price and promotion. Apparently the framers of the marketing constitution forgot about the power of the name. So let me suggest adding a fifth P. “Proper name.” Isn’t that what a registered trademark is? A proper name for a company. Kleenex is a proper name for the tissue company. Red Bull is a proper name for the energy-drink company. And Al Jazeera is a proper name for the cable-news-channel company.
Can you image a group of American marketing people sitting around a conference table trying to come up with a name for a news channel hoping to provide more depth and more perspectives to American consumers.
“Let’s call it Al Jazeera,” suggests one marketing expert.
We have worked with hundreds of startups looking for marketing help in all the usual places.
Product? Should we bundle everything together or sell the parts separately?
Place? Should we try to get distribution in supermarket chains or high-end food outlets like Whole Foods?
Price? Should our product be low-priced, premium-priced or somewhere in the middle?
Promotion? What position should the brand occupy? And what media should we use to try to establish that position?
Seldom do we get asked about the most-important issue in marketing. The proper name. That’s an issue we usually have to drag into the discussions.
Every name comes with baggage
There is no such thing as a perfect brand name. Some names are hard to pronounce. Some names are hard to spell. Some names are too long. Some names are unusable because the website is not available.
And many brand names have built-in perceptions that may conflict with the position the brand wants to occupy.
Take Diet Coke. Over the past 30 years, the Coca-Cola Co. has spent millions of dollars advertising the brand with such slogans as:
- 1982: “Just for the taste of it.”
- 1984: “The one of a kind.”
- 1994: “This is refreshment.”
- 1998: “You are what you drink.”
- 2002: “Do what feels good.”
- 2004: “It’s a Diet Coke thing.”
- 2010: “Stay extraordinary.”
Why bother? Most consumers think Diet Coke is regular Coca-Cola without the sugar.
Pepsi-Cola is following a similar strategy. “Live for now” is why you should drink regular Pepsi and “Love every sip” is why you should drink Diet Pepsi. (Or is it the reverse?)
Two slogans are not more memorable than one. How about bringing back “The Pepsi Generation?”
Bud Light and Budweiser
Most consumers think light beer is watered-down regular beer.
How do we know that? Because invariably the first brand into a new category becomes the market leader.
Miller Lite was introduced in 1973. Coors Light in 1978 and Bud Light in 1982. How come Miller Lite, the first brand in the category, isn’t the light-beer leader?
Because consumers prefer the No.1 beer, regular or watered-down. Light beer is not a new category.
Then why does Anheuser-Busch run two campaigns? “Grab some Buds” for regular Budweiser and “Here we go” for Bud Light.
The history of diet colas also demonstrates the same phenomenon. In spite of the fact that Diet Pepsi was introduced in 1964 and Diet Coke 18 years later in 1982, Diet Pepsi never became the market leader.
Diet cola is not a new category.
The problem with initials
The latest marketing trend is the use of initials to make a brand seem “hip.”
- JCP instead of JCPenney.
- DQ instead of Dairy Queen.
- RH instead of Restoration Hardware.
But just like diet and regular cola, an “initials” name is forever locked with a “name” name.
When consumers see initials, their first thought is, “What do those initials stand for?” JCP only had meaning because consumers associated the initials with JCPenney.
There are many successful brands known by their initials. “AT&T” for American Telephone & Telegraph. “IBM” for International Business Machines. “HP” for Hewlett-Packard. “AARP” for American Association of Retired Persons. “KFC” for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
But name one brand created from scratch with initials only that eventually became a big, successful brand? I can’t think of any.
Then why in the world would Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey, three of the most successful entrepreneurs in America, launch a Silicon Valley advocacy group called “FWD.us.”
- Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook.com. Not FB.com.
- Bill Gates founded Microsoft. Not MS.
- Jack Dorsey founded Twitter.com. Not TW.com.
Sure, “FWD” is slang for “Forward.” But think about this: That’s true for every set of initials. They stand for something else. Why not use that “something else” as your brand name?
I suspect that sooner or later, the marketing folks at Al Jazeera America will try to solve their positioning problem by call the channel “AJA.”
By the way, the first spot for FWD.us was created by SS+K