My three-word review of Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, in case you don't feel like reading much further today:
Yeah, yeah, whatever.
That's right. I don't care what Microsoft names its search engine or any of its other products.
Why? Well, for starters, no one expects creative nomenclature from Microsoft. Microsoft product names (Office, Word, Search) are known for being generic; they're stripped down to pabulum blandness in endless strata of committees and teams. I experienced this firsthand when I was brought in by a branding agency to work with a large and talented team on a Microsoft naming project. We spent about 500 person-hours and came up with hundreds of interesting metaphorical names, all of which were scrapped in favor of a boringly descriptive choice. You want novelty, you look elsewhere. Given Microsoft's track record, Bing is actually a dramatic breakthrough.
Of course, as the naming blog Snark Hunting pointed out, Bing is "ping" with a B, just as Microsoft's MP3 player, Zune, is "tune" with a Z.
Numero two-o, it simply doesn't matter what Microsoft chooses to name anything. Microsoft may not be too big to fail (many of its users will attest to the contrary), but it's too big for a naming mistake to matter much.
And numero three-o, I'm not convinced Bing is a terrible name. Yes, the word has multiple associations: cherries, an energy drink, the Metropolitan Opera, Fortune magazine, The Sopranos, German typewriters, Friends, a certain crooner. But multiple associations aren't a bad thing. In this case, no single association predominates; none is negative; none represents a trademark conflict.
True, the financial columnist Stanley Bing—a pseudonym, by the way—did feign "moderate outrage" at this "unprecedented case of brand intrusion by one of the most powerful and wealthy corporations in the world." Read Mr. Bing's press release on his blog, where he claims to have been "cultivating the Bing brand since 1983." Microsoft responded in good humor on its Bing blog.)
Yes, TechCrunch reproduced a fortune-cookie fortune that defined bing as "disease" in Mandarin. (Depending on the intonation, to be sure.) Like that's going to change anyone's mind. Do you remember when it was revealed that Hulu meant "cease and desist" in Swahili? Of course you don't. You just want to watch free TV and movies.
Likewise, it was lots of fun when PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak asked his Twitter followers to offer their interpretations of Bing. Everyone saw it as an acronym: Bing Is Not Groovy, Bill, It's No Good!, Brought in New Garbage, and the one that flew around the Intertubes: But It's Not Google.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer probably had a good laugh, too—all the way to the bank. No definition's a bad definition when you're spreading the news.
For the record, Steve Ballmer's own explanation of the Bing name, leaked to me by Someone Who Knows, was this:
A new search product requires a name that clearly signals the arrival of something unique. We chose Bing because it’s short, memorable, and symbolic of the moment when information and opportunity come together and a simple search becomes an engine for taking action. *
I have absolutely no idea how "Bing" is "symbolic of the moment when yadda yadda yadda." And you know what? That doesn't matter, either. Microsoft doesn't have to make sense. It's Microsoft. Ballmer wants a name that can "verb up," in defiance of trademark lawyers who say a trademark is an adjective only? Give him the verb, fer cryin' out loud. He's Microsoft.
What do I think of "Bing"? It's short, it's pronounceable, and Microsoft probably paid a gazillion dollars for the domain. Big whoop. Let's move along. Let's focus on names that are really bad and really damage a company's image and prospects. Just search this blog for Bad Brand Names. Plenty of fodder there.
As for the Bing search engine: pretty cool, actually, especially the real-time answers. But yeah, it's not Google.
Photo of Bing Crosby: sourced on Bing, of course.