Corporate Naming and the Power of W

The most powerful three letters in the world today are www. No further explanation is required.

There are also many other famous uses for this 23rd letter of the alphabet.

W as in WWI or WWII, and we are still working overtime on a WWIII.

Then there’s the WWF and WWF. The match between the World Wildlife Fund and the World Wrestling Federation resulted in the muscles losing to cuddly pandas, and the wrestlers became the WWE, the “E” being “entertainment.”

WE is also Women’s Entertainment, with its exclusive branding theme, “WE is smart.” Really?

Hotel W

A WC is a small water closet or washroom in Europe.

There are also the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Let’s ignore the WMDs — and go directly to this urgent issue of a lone W.

The Hotel W, as they boast on their opening page on Web sites, “starts with the name W, for warm, wonderful, witty, wired. W for welcome.”

Perhaps they mean W for Wisdom, and a serious lack thereof. This group, behind major brands like Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Worldwide, is threatening them with a legal posture, demanding from two political merchandisers that they remove the letter “W,” as in George W. Bush, from “apparel & accessories,” baseball hats and T-shirts that they are selling.

“[It] mimics the trade dress of The W Hotels, which has the effect of eroding the unique brand identity developed in the W logo,” the company says.

‘Dubya, dubya, dubya’

Legally, no one can own a letter. Period.

However, in design and logo, they exist as W of Westinghouse or any other logo depicting a lone letter W.

The Hotel W should basically watch and see how others use this letter. After all, the use of the letter W is in the public domain. At this moment, W increasingly refers to President Bush, so let it be; there is nothing wrong with this.

In the meanwhile, for those who are convinced that Al Gore invented the Internet, right on. To match this myth, the WWW is really “dubya, dubya, dubya.” Come November, we will know the real power of W-branding.

Going back to WWW, imagine if there were a PPP or VVV. Maybe XXX — after all, half the Internet is just that. KKK was definitely not available.

Compaq Struggle

When for every cognitive idea, there is word, which unfolds like an album, then this makes each single letter a small painting for our imagination. Let’s forget this romanticism or the oil paintings. Here is the reality. The use of a letter or two in corporate naming is very tricky. Outside IBM, 3M or 7UP, most initialized names struggle to stay alive but eventually die.

The branding with a single letter never works — like Compaq’s struggle with a single letter Q, or Ford’s fetish with the letter F, where all of their cars must have a name starting with this letter.

Parking the entire marketing and branding campaign on a single letter is like watching a single frame from a movie; the mind simply can’t follow the storyline: “Finally she stabs the guy,” but who, where and why — what’s going on? This is how this abbreviated branding invites a subtle rejection from exhausted customers at large. Consumers know what XXX means, but they have no idea why something is called W, Q or Fuddle-Duddle.

In a world of initials and acronyms, when there are millions of businesses using three- and four-letter words with logos depicting such initials as corporate identities, the waste and toil on the human mind to gain attention is awesome.

Pick any three or four letters, arrange them in any sequence and try them out on Google, and if you get anything less than 10,000 identical hits, then you certainly have a winner. Or do you?

Master Branding

Most initials in business come from long names that customers refuse to say in full. Hence, IBM. Corporations exhaust themselves explaining what the initials stands for. Ask the duck at AFLAC doing those cute film-noir commercials. Do you know what AFLAC stands for? Nobody does — except the duck.

At times, Master Branding, like a conspiracy theory, resorts to recommending initials as a final solution. Most often, the absence of a winning name urgently requires replacing a prehistoric, long corporate name, and it turns into adopting a few confusing letters as a great victory.

Watch out for the high risks of such master branding. Here, all other divisional names and other products are simply left dangling. Everything becomes the same set of initials, and customers are ever so confused.

Next time you want to gain attention and would like your customers to park your brand name in the corridors of their mind, give their imagination an album of paintings. Random initials are not good solutions. A single letter on its own is not a brand; it’s nothing, a lost image, a painting without a wall. It’s just another lost W.

Naseem Javed, author Naming for Power and also Domain Wars, is recognized as a world authority on global name identities and domain issues. Javed founded ABC Namebank, a consultancy he established a quarter century ago, and conducts executive workshops on image and name identity issues. Contact him at [email protected].

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