November 30, 2001

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Naseem Javed
Naseem Javed

Can Oprah get away with it?
What do you think of Naseem Javed's assertion that one-letter names aren't good enough? Is he underestimating Oprah's branding power?
Read more comments or post your own

Dot-com or go home
August 13, 2001

What's in a name? Plenty
July 9, 2001

By Naseem Javed
Special to the Tribune
Published November 30, 2001

Let’s take a look at the letter ‘O,’ the circular, 15th letter of the alphabet and the name of a magazine owned by the first lady of television, Oprah Winfrey.

Ronald Brockmeyer, the publisher since 1988 of a German erotica publication titled O Magazine, aggressively challenged the name of Winfrey’s O, The Oprah Magazine. Both are commonly known as O – but it’s safe to assume that his stands for something very different than hers. Brockmeyer filed suit in August against publisher Hearst Corp., Winfrey’s company Harpo Print LLC and several unidentified individuals and corporations.

"O is my trademark. I built it up and protected it for years,” Brockmeyer said. “The defendants knew about my rights but went ahead anyway and they refused to stop when I asked them to.”

O, boy.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Web?

Think branding.

Let’s face it, when it comes to naming a company, a product or a Web site, O is just a hole, a zero, zilch, nil, a no-nothing. On its own, O has very little weight or much to offer – unless Placido Domingo is singing that romantic vowel in the midst of an opera.

But in commerce, O is little more than a bridge that builds goofy names for low-tech products such as the Roll-O-Matic or Bun-O-Matic.

Whoever advised Oprah to go with a one-letter name for her magazine was oh so wrong. Naming anything in the corporate world is one of the most important issues of business today. Given the global economy that’s emerging, names require far more sophisticated thinking and planning. They even require careful consideration of different cultures.

Watch out for focus groups and handholding brainstorming sessions where simplicity wins over strategy. A letter on its own cannot be a major brand. Think about it. In English, there are only 26 letters to go around. That isn’t stopping Compaq from going for “Q,” Zeller’s from angling for dibs on “Z,” Microsoft’s fascination with ‘X,’ and Kmart, well, that’s obvious. But it should.

If people got more creative, their businesses would be more effective, and I’m sure that would be OK with Mr. Brockmeyer.

Nasseem Javed, an authority on corporate nomenclature, is chief executive officer of ABC Namebank International and author of ‘Naming for Power.’

Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune

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