TRADEMARKS ... Why are they worth their weight in solid gold?

Traffic Jams of the Mind

By the year 2000 there will be some one thousand different makes and models of the cars on the road worldwide.

If cars are the second most important--and expensive--purchase decision after buying a house, then don't you think the name of that valuable asset is crucial?

One recent morning, I was ushered into a large boardroom of a major automobile manufacturer in Detroit. The problem was quickly obvious: The final choice of a name for a vitally important new car product had not only failed to hit the public; it had just hit the fan.

The management was very upset, and everyone in the room was pacing back and forth like an investment company the day after Black Monday.

One should note here: This chaotic scene is repeated countless times a day in major corporations around the world.

A list of candidates for the bouncing baby pet car was ceremoniously brought out, from which the hopeful final name would be selected. One need not be a writer for Saturday Night Live or David Letterman to guess what was on the sheet.

The first list consisted of a row of names of the twelve zodiac signs. This was followed by a long row of all the famous mountains in North America. Then came Indian tribes. (After the controversy of the infamous, racist "Tomahawk chop" at the Atlanta Braves baseball games, and the grinning-idiot cigar-store Indian mascot of the Cleveland Indians, one wonders about that one a bit.)

Then a long list of Rivers:
NILE. NIGER. RHINE. MISSISSIPPI.
List of Deserts:
SAHARA. NAVAJO.
List of Trees:
BANYON. REDWOOD. PINE. OAK. BIRCH.
List of Mammals:
BADGER. CAMEL. CARIBOU.
List of Seashells:
CONCH. CLAM. MUSSELS. SCALLOPS.
List of Seabirds:
GULL. TERN. LOON. PIPER.
List of Reptiles:
CROCODILE. COPPERHEAD.
And so on. . .

The natural reaction of the participants was: How on earth did they forget to add the names of butterflies? Fish from both seas and oceans? Insects? Flowers? After all, the Ford Shark might prove irresistible to lawyers. And the Chrysler Praying Mantis could attract both religious types and Mafia enforcers.

The problem was clear, even to the uninspired potential car-namers: The purportedly "romantic" names of famous rivers and mountains have long been used, and not only for automobiles, but in many auto-related--and totally unrelated, and often highly dubious-- areas. (A name like the FORD MISSISSIPPI, for example, or the GM WYOMING, may not call forth any positive imagery for Japanese or British consumers.)

And off they went, moving down each long and tedious list, slashing away like the killer in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The horror here was, only the most unpronounceable, utterly obscure, and seriously confusing names were eventually left on the page.

In total desperation, only one of these many hundreds of names had survived the endless selection process--and this was after the local office (in conjunction with offices around the world) had exchanged over 600 faxes (!) in this seemingly romantic, more often than not trivial, pursuit.

The grumbling around the room was audible as the ultimate decision was being finalized in Asia. And--not surprisingly--my company was invited to "quickly come up with a name solution, preferably within a couple of days."

"A couple of days"--for a car which had cost many hundreds of millions to design and manufacture, and which would both directly as well as indirectly affect the earnings of hundreds of thousands of men and women (and the payments on their mortgages; and the education of their children), right around the globe!

In this case, unfortunately, time had run out. There was nothing I could do for this car.

The eventual name that was chosen satisfied few who sat and paced in that room that depressing afternoon. It is now on the road, true; but it has an alpha-numeric name (a few letters and a few numbers mixed together) which is lost in the crowd, and reminds me, as I pass it on the road, what a great opportunity had been missed.

And this was the car which hoped to be sold around the world to people who speak over 1,000 languages and live in over 100 countries (and counting, thanks to the collapse of communism and the rise of neo-nationalism and ethnicity).

Names of Cars on the Road Today.

ACURA
ASUNA
ALTIMA
ACHIEVA
AURORA
FESTIVA
INTEGRA
ELANTRA
PRECIDIA
MAXIMA
SONATA
SAMARA
SERENIA
SENTRA
LUMINA
CORSICA


Excerpt from: Naming for Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World. Copyright 1993


Naming For Power: Creating Successful Names for the Business World

Linkbridge Publishing, New York . Toronto
New York: 212-876-5363
Toronto: 905-794-2864
Email: naming@namingforpower.com


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