Saturday, 25 July 2009

What’s in a name (conclusion)

CORPORATE names count for a lot, es-pecially in today’s overcrowded marketing space.
Household brands like Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Marlboro have proved priceless for their corporate parents, and their reputations are being zealously guarded by their trademark owners, like the golden treasures of Fort Knox.

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And quite rightly so.

Who would, for example, not recognize the name Coca-Cola? From the hinterlands of the Amazon to the foothills of the Himalayas, it would probably be difficult to find somebody who would not be able to identify the unmistakably curvy bottle that embodies the brand.

And then there is the new Coke – Microsoft. It would not be a stretch to imagine that not a soul in the whole wide world would be oblivious to the name. Just in our own country, the ubiquitous Internet cafĂ© is everywhere, and even street urchins are now savvy enough to create their own Friendster and Facebook accounts on Microsoft-operated PCs.

With the age of globalization, of course, comes the age of the global brands. Spread by the increasing reach of mass media and, of course, the all-conquering worldwide web, the powerful advertising messages of these global brands have become almost impossible for anyone to escape.
The other trend that has fuelled the rise of brand empires is the advent of mega sports franchises like Manchester United and Real Madrid. With an audience estimated in the billions, and a passionate following circling the world many times over, the brands that the shirts of these teams carry is guaranteed instant name recognition.

This is what AIG experienced when in 2007, it sponsored the Manchester United name, and had its brand emblazoned across the chest of sporting gods like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. Almost instantly, the heretofore almost anonymous AIG name became synonymous with the Red Devils, and fans all overwere mouthing the brand like a mantra, from the pubs of Manchester to the beer gardens of Bangkok.

The AIG name worked like a charm for United, too. In 2007, the team won its first Premier League title in many years, and in the next year retained the title, along with winning the Champions League for only the second time in almost a decade.

Then came September 2008, and the world changed for AIG. From a name synonymous with victory, it suddenly became an object of ridicule and loathing–exemplars of the greed that people had now come to associate with corporate America, and the genesis of the global financial crisis.
Today, the name that AIG has built so painstakingly with its business success over so many years, as well as the added Manchester United boost, is about to be consigned to history.

Its component companies —including our very own Philamlife—are scrambling to rid themselves of the AIG tag, and reinventing their images behind new brands, preferably as far away from the AIG association as possible.

And little wonder that they are. Corporate brand names may be global franchises, and they may reap golden rewards for their owners when used properly. But once tarnished, they become like lead weights that only drag their companies down, if not abandoned in time.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 25, 2009.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

What is in a name?

WHAT'S in a name?

Apparently, a lot!

In the United Kingdom today, for example, the IN thing to have is what is called a double-barrelled name, or the hyphenated (or sometimes non-hyphenated) combination of one’s maiden and married names (or for males, their maternal and parental surnames or even grandmaternal and grandpaternal surnames, if the name has extended to more than one generation).
Thus, you have people like Anthony Worral-Thompson, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter standing out from the rest of their crowds, their names adding cachet to their already celebrity standing.

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Names count for a lot, too, even in the Philippines.

In my generation, it was American names for babies that were fashionable. Thus, many of my contemporaries have names like Randy, Leslie, Joy and Florence.

In my grandfather’s generation, their names tended to be Spanish-sounding ones, such as Juanito, Fernando, Vidala and Elena. Today, in the generation after us, Spanish names have become fashionable once more, usually given as combinations like Juan-Emmanuel. Likewise, “old-sounding”

English names have come back into vogue, like Jacob Anthony or Joshua Thomas.

Corporates, too, have their own favorites as far as names are concerned.

In the early part of the last century, the IN thing to have was long and rather formal sounding corporate names, just like the double-barrelled English surnames in our example. Jardine Davies, The Imperial Chemical Company, Patons & Baldwins, Procter & Gamble—these were just some of the organizations that were famous during that era, with some surviving and being even more famous today.

Organizations established in more contemporary times had shorter, and in some instances, “weirder” names than those founded before them. Sprint, Verizon, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle are probably good examples of these.

And yet for all the generational nuances, once established, names are likely to be kept for a long time by the organizations that have them. Today, for example, the turn-of-the-century Jardine organizations and Procter & Gamble stand shoulder to shoulder with more recently established ones, like Amazon and Google. Different generations with different norms on the form and structure of their company names. And yet, all of them are powerful brands, with name recognition very high among their target customers.

What this seems to show, then, is that it is not the names as such, but the positive associations that come with the name. Be they the long versions of a hundred years ago, or the abbreviated ones from the turn of the millennium, so long as the names themselves have earned the credibility and respect from their customers, the name is a winner.

But what happens to those with long-established corporate identities, that now suddenly find themselves out of favor in the name recall game?

The global financial crisis has forced this question into the open, with erstwhile “famous” names like Citicorp (Citibank), Merrill Lynch, The Royal Bank of Scotland, AIG and many others having had theirs tarnished—and some would even argue—beyond repair.

What is to be done with them?

More next week.
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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 18, 2009.