Last week Taser International, maker of stun guns, body cameras, and technology for transmitting law-enforcement data, announced that it was changing its corporate name to Axon, the name of its body-cameras. As part of the rebranding, the company is offering a free body camera to every police officer in the U.S. for one year, plus a year of free data storage.
Axon pursued a popular renaming strategy for companies that are shifting their product focus: Elevate the name of the product that’s going to carry you into the future. “Axon” is not a brilliant name; its dictionary meaning is “the long process of a nerve fiber that conducts impulses away from a nerve cell,” and that’s sparked the synapses of a lot of other companies. (A sampling: a company that makes “nutraceuticals for Baby Boomers”; a kiteboard company; a bedbug-extermination company; and Dolby, for its surround-sound VOIP program, which the company shut down late last year.) And Axon pales in comparison with Taser, which has a vivid name story: The word was coined in 1974 by the device’s inventor, Jack Cover, who created an acronym from the title of one of his favorite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, originally published in 1911. Cover bestowed a middle initial on Tom, and a name was born. It couldn’t have hurt that “Taser” echoed two slightly older science-y names: maser and laser. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that Taser “threatens to escape the cage of its copyright [sic; should be “trademark”], despite the strenuous efforts of the owners, who are within their rights to fight to hold it.” Among other trademark no-nos, Taser has spawned a backformed verb, to tase.
Taser will live on as a product name, and I have no quarrel with Axon as the corporate name aside from its boring corporate-ness. I do, however, worry a little about the company’s tagline.
This is what appears on the Axon home page.
And in the presentation that accompanied the CEO’s announcement.
I can’t say for sure whether “We Are Axon” is an official tagline or just the blandest possible way to announce the new name. But if anyone at Axon is listening, I want to raise a warning flag.
Thirty-five years ago – before the Exxon Valdez disaster, before Exxon merged with Mobil to become ExxonMobil – Exxon unveiled one of the worst slogans of all time. “The only way that tagline could be worse for Exxon,” Chicago-based Killian Branding says in a white paper, “is if they mentioned oil spills, Valdez and oil-soaked seagulls.” The Tagline Guru inducted “We’re Exxon” into the Tagline Hall of Shame along with, among others, Tyson’s even more mockable “We’re Chicken.”
Here’s “We’re Exxon” in a circa 1981 ad:
Here’s how bad that slogan was: It was ridiculed in the 1980s, and the ridicule lives on in present-day Etsy merchandise.
So, Axon, don’t be like Exxon. Find your own slogan. Here’s one for free: “To Protect and to Unnerve.”