Tesla just announced that it is dropping “Motors” from its name to signal that it’s moving into businesses other than cars. They will, at least in the foreseeable future, be an unparalleled sustainable energy company. However, at the pace they are moving, one can only imagine what businesses they might ultimately be in. Will that name hold?
Apple did this several years ago by changing its name from Apple Computer to Apple. Obviously, this was a smart move that helped them broaden their portfolio of products and services.
There are many reason why a company might move to change its name —an obvious one being a legal issue. Beyond that, changes can be driven by consumer trends, broadening portfolios, over-coming negative perceptions, or just trying to stay relevant. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC to avoid healthy consumers thinking about fried food. Or Philip Morris created new name, Altria, to be known as more than just a cigarette manufacturer, but a portfolio of businesses.
So, for fun, below are a list of several companies that completely changed their names. Can you identify who they are today?
Blue Ribbon Sports
Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation
Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web
Lucky and Goldstar Co.
Pete’s Super Submarines
Quantum Computer Services
Sound of Music
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo
If you think about these things and are considering a business transformation, step back and look at your name.
There are interesting stories behind how these names became the ones we know today. How many did you know?
AuctionWeb, the first on-line marketplace, became eBay
BackRub was the original name for Google, based on the mathematical term “googol”,1 followed by 100 zeros
Blue Ribbon Sports was the business that became Nike
Brad’s Drink was the original name of a soft drink developed by a pharmacist that became Pepsi-Cola
Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation evolved into IBM, the name of its Canadian subsidiary
Confinity, started as a Palm Pilot payment company, renamed itself to become PayPal
Datsun today is Nissan based on the strategy to unify many products one-der one brand
Firebird is the original name for Firefox, changed for legal reasons
Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web became Yahoo, standing for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle”
Lucky and Goldstar Co. is today LG Electronics
Pete’s Super Submarines is known today as Subway
Quantum Computer Services is today AOL, a shortening of America Online
Sound of Music became Best Buy, based on a successful fire sale after a tornado hit the company’s main store promising “best buys” on everything
Stag Party was the original name for Playboy after a law suit was threatened by Stag Magazine
Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo was a radio repair shop that is known for making the first transistor radio, and today is known as SONY
ValuJet became AirTran after a well-publicized plane crash. Today it is part of Southwest.
Wards Company adopted the name of a retail format they owned to become Circuit City
February 6, 2017 No Comments
I was asked by a friend about the Washington Redskins name issue, which was so eloquently written about in the New York Times Opinion Pages on June 24 by Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath.
Here is essentially what I wrote as a reply….
This is an interesting branding question on many levels. I am in complete agreement with the Michael Lewis and Manish Tripath conclusion.
1. Money aside, (changing the name) is the right thing to do.
2. The “model” they used (have not seen it) indicates no significant loss in revenue. My experience with name changes would bear this out. In fact, the opposite is often the case. I understand the argument about existing brand equity, but there are other important factors.
3. We would advise that the team owners look at a new name as an opportunity to re-energize the fan base. What if it attracted more fans and advertisers? Looking at the upside might help all involved think about a different and better brand and future for the franchise.
4. Lewis’s idea of involving the Native American community leaders is a brilliant way to move forward in a positive manner. It could result in an even larger upside, albeit the process might be complex so as not to disenfranchise anyone.
Change is scary for many, but, in this case, necessary. Not only has the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office voted to strip the team of trademark protections, but changing the name is the right thing to do.
June 26, 2014 2 Comments
Most people today, especially those in marketing, understand the tremendous value of a great brand name. A distinctive name will get an audience’s attention, help position and distinguish a company in the marketplace, take the company into the future, offer good ROI, and galvanize employees. Many do not, however, realize just how difficult creating a unique, “ownable” brand name has become.
Name styles seem to change every decade or so. Years ago, most companies preferred – and were able to own – generic, descriptive names like International Business Machines, American Airlines, and Radio Corporation of America. Now, the trend seems to be a desire for names that are arbitrary, i.e., they have nothing to do with the business, service or product they represent. Think Apple, Java, Yahoo and Uber. (Although if you dig into the etymology of these names, you often discover they actually do have meaning to the company founders, be it an emotional connection or a favorite fruit or drink).
June 17, 2012 1 Comment
Kraft’s decision to name its soon-to-be-stand-alone snack division, “Mondelez” is a very smart move in more ways than one. “Monde” is derived from the Latin word for “world” and “delez” means “delicious”. By separating the snack division from the North America focused grocery division and giving it a name that is clearly not America centric, Kraft is establishing a business that will have global appeal.
March 26, 2012 1 Comment
General Motors recently announced that it was dropping Mr. Goodwrench, their ubiquitous brand for service across all their products. They are now moving to brand-focused service for their remaining four car lines; Buick Certified Service, Cadillac Certified Service, Chevrolet Certified Service, and GMC Certified Service. This is, finally, the right direction for them to be taking.
November 11, 2010 5 Comments
In an interesting feature in CNET News, Tom Krazit raises an interesting point that the Google brand has come to mean search, but their business is becoming much more than that. He speculates that Google will have to redefine its brand. I think there is another way to skin that cat.
April 23, 2010 74 Comments
I have loved Japanese edamame for some time. Today I found out they were soy beans. Ouch! Names can really reframe perceptions and gain new levels of acceptance. Before I continue let me lace up my “running shoes.” I don’t wear “sneakers” any more.
Here is what set me thinking about name evolution. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof writes about one of the world’s leading specialists studying wild dogs in Africa. In his drive to change the negative stereotype of the words “wild dogs”, he has rebranded them “painted dogs.” What he has been able to do is transform the perception of a reviled varmint into an exotic animal that should be preserved. Very clever. [Read more →]
April 19, 2010 39 Comments