The ABC Family network, stigmatized by that F-word in its name, now calls itself Freeform. Network president Tom Ascheim told the Television Critics Association that the new name “not only elicits the moment of transition in the medium and a sense of ‘creativity’ and ‘spontaneity’ but also evokes [a] younger 14 to 34-year-old audience, whom he’s dubbed ‘becomers’.” So much to ponder in that single sentence. (Hollywood Reporter)
As for the Freeform logo, Brand New dismisses it as “atrocious in either its stacked or horizontal form.”
On September 30, the Fisker Automotive and Technology Group of Costa Mesa, California, announced a new corporate name and logo: Karma Automotive. The name reincarnates – sorry, couldn’t help myself – the name of Fisker’s only product, a plug-in hybrid that sold for more than $100,000 … when it sold at all. The model lasted only two years; just over 2,000 units were sold before production was suspended in November 2012. The company filed for bankruptcy and was eventually sold to a huge Chinese automotive-parts company, Wanxiang Group.
New logo. Application for trademark registration filed September 30, 2015.
Fisker Automotive had been named for its founder, the Danish car designer Henrik Fisker, who had previously worked for BMW and Ford and who resigned from Fisker Automative in March 2013 because of “disagreements with management.” At the time of his resignation, the New York Times noted that the Fisker Karma had received “mixed critical reviews” as well as “business setbacks and technical problems, including two recalls. In addition, the Karma’s federal fuel-economy ratings were disappointing and its all-electric range proved limited.”
This “Charlotte’s Web” isn’t the beloved children’s book by E.B. White. But it does have a connection to childhood.
Some background first:
The five Stanley brothers of Wray, Colorado, grow medicinal marijuana in greenhouses and—now that medical and recreational cannabis are legal in Colorado—outdoors. Federal law prohibits them from shipping their product across state lines. But they’re hoping to circumvent that ban through what reporter Dave Phillips, writing in the New York Timeslast week, calls “a simple semantic swap: They now call their crop industrial hemp, based on its low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot.”
That isn’t the only name the Stanleys have changed in their drive to “serve thousands of people instead of hundreds,” in the words of 27-year-old Jared Stanley, one of the brothers.
Here’s how Phillips tells the story:
The brothers, who had a Christian upbringing in conservative Colorado Springs, started a small medical marijuana business in 2008 after seeing the relief it brought to a relative sick with cancer. At first, they grew mostly marijuana high in THC that packed a serious psychoactive punch. On the side, they experimented with breeding plants low in THC but high in another cannabinoid known as cannabidiol, or CBD, which scientific studies suggested was a powerful anti-inflammatory that a handful of small studies showed might have potential as a treatment for certain neurological conditions, including seizures and Huntington’s disease.
For years, this variety languished unused in a corner of their greenhouse. “No one wanted it because it couldn’t get you high,” said Joel Stanley, 34, the oldest brother and head of the family business. They named the plant “Hippie’s Disappointment.”
Then, in 2012, a Colorado mother named Paige Figi came seeking CBD-rich marijuana oil for her 5-year-old daughter Charlotte, who has a genetic disorder called Dravet syndrome, which caused hundreds of seizures per week.
After a few doses of oil made from Hippie’s Disappointment, Charlotte’s seizures all but stopped, and two years later, daily drops of oil keep her nearly free of seizures, Ms. Figi says. The Stanleys renamed the plant Charlotte’s Web.
“Industrial hemp” is a smart repositioning tactic. And “Charlotte’s Web” is ingenious and poetic: allusive rather than descriptive; out of the 1960s and into the future of cannabis branding. But although the state of Colorado has accepted “industrial hemp,” and although some 200 families now rely on oil from Charlotte’s Web for their children’s health, the federal government—which during the George W. Bush administration tried to ban all hemp products with even a trace of THC—remains unconvinced. “In the last four months,” writes Phillips, “the [Drug Enforcement Administration] has seized thousands of pounds of nonintoxicating industrial hemp seeds, including a shipment bound for a research project at the University of Kentucky.”
For more of my posts on marijuana branding, start here.
The leaves of Citrus hystrix are used in many South and Southeast Asian cuisines; they’re sometimes called by their Thai name, makrut, but in many English-speaking countries they’ve long been called kaffir lime.That’s changing thanks to a protest “against the racial and religious slur of ‘kaffir’,” writes Tiffany Do in SF Weekly(“Citrus-Based Racism Leads Market to Change Product Names”). “Kaffir,” which comes from an Arabic word meaning “unbeliever,” was appropriated by English colonizers in South Africa, where it was used as a slur and a term of abuse against blacks. “What’s most surprising in this whole controversy is that the issue hasn't been addressed – and remedied – before now,” writes SF Weekly’s Do. Most markets are switching to the neutral “lime leaves.”
Who decides what makes a word “real”? Anne Curzan, a language historian and member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel, explains why she finds language change “not worrisome but fun and fascinating.” (TEDxUofM talk; video and transcript.)
We say: meet (not ‘meet with’),consult (not ‘consult with’), talk to (not ‘talk with’), protest against a decision (not ‘protest a decision’), appeal against a verdict (not ‘appeal a verdict’).
And, n.b., the BBC does not punctuate the abbreviations i.e. or e.g.
In the early to mid-1960s, Mad magazine carried on a “glorious” and “fearless” anti-smoking campaign through parody ads that “closely resembled the real ones that ran on television and in magazines,” writes David Margolick in the New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog. The ads attacked tobacco companies, ad agencies, and smokers with equal-opportunity opprobrium. Mad has always been ad-free, and—unusual for the 1960s—its offices were “largely smoke free” as well: the magazine’s publisher, William Gaines, “was fanatically opposed to the habit,” writes Margolick.
It’s not every day that a name developer has the chance to name a radically new technology. Anthony Shore had such a chance when the makers of a “cinematic virtual reality” device hired him. Read about how Jaunt got its name.
“Machines don't need names, but we feel the need to name them,” writes Adrienne LaFrance in The Atlantic (“Why People Give Human Names to Machines”). The urge has long been with us, or at least some of us: a siege engine was named “Domina Gunilda” (“Lady Gunild”) in an Anglo-Norman document of 1330-1.
(My favorite submission comes from Erica Friedman, who once worked for an ad agency whose conference rooms were named Ideation, Creation, Dream, Coopetition [sic], and Resonate. “It was horrible and miserable and it still makes me shudder,” she writes. Erica and I are not related, but we are definitely soulmates.)
A name change begins with questions—what do we need to communicate? how do we want to express it?–and it ends not merely with the new name but with the story that accompanies it. In the best of outcomes—if the renaming process was guided by a clear and comprehensive naming brief—company executives can tell a cogent story about how the new name came to be. Other times, perhaps because they are a little muddled about what just happened and why, they spin their wheels and generate a not-very-convincing or useful word cloud.
This post is about one of those other times.
Zeebox, a London-based “social networking and social TV platform,” was founded in early 2011. In April of this year, the company announced it was changing its name to Beamly.
The name change, according to an April report in Digital TV Europe, represents the company’s “bid to ‘capture the zeitgeist’ of its core target audience of 16 to 24 year-old millennials and to break away from its ‘geeky male audience’.”
What made Zeebox geeky? What makes Beamly zeitgeist-y? I certainly wanted to know. Instead, here’s how Simon Miller, the company’s chief of product and content development, attempted to explain the name change:
Naming an app is tough. You’re looking for a memorable, distinctive name with an available an [sic] web URL and preferably with a connection with the purpose of your app. zeebox was by no means perfect, but it worked for our original focus. However, as our users asked us for more than just second screen features, we began to evolve beyond second screen experiences into what you might call a social network for TV, and our original name just didn’t match that evolution. We needed a new brand.
The explanation, such as it is, left me wanting more: Why was Zeebox “by no means perfect”? What about this imperfect name made it nevertheless a good fit for the “original focus”? Why was it a poor fit for the new, social-network focus? Why is it only “preferable” that the new name have “a connection with the purpose of your app”?
(And by the way: Don’t tell me that naming is “tough.” Cry me a river.)
As a social network for TV, we wanted a friendly, all-inclusive name to brand a community of TV lovers whilst retaining our second screen beginnings plus, of course, it needed to be memorable, distinctive and available. We considered hundreds of names, hunted high and low and eventually the name that put a smile on our faces (and everyone’s when you say it) was “Beamly”.
(Wondering about that “whilst” in Miller’s copy? Beamly is still a UK company, and “whilst” is a marker of British English. In American English, “while” is preferred unless the writer is aiming for an antiquated or humorous tone. However, Ben Yagoda observes in his Not One-Off Britishisms blog that “whilst” has been on the rise in the U.S. since about 2008. But I digress.)
Beamly’s corporate communication machine runs a little more smoothly when the controls are turned over to the art director and the creative director, who talk about Pantone colors, fonts, and navigation. Still, I’d rather not hear that “designing a logo is never a short process”—as with the “tough” naming job, who cares? And while (or whilst) there’s some lip service given to form, function, and simplicity, there’s also too much of this sort of thing:
In the end we opted to use Beamly Coral at the top level of the app (My TV, Discover, Guide, Notifications, Me), but when navigating to a TV Room or TV show the colour of those pages would be calculated by analysing the colours within the image representing the show.
Hmm? Oh, sorry—I just switched channels.
As for the Beamly name—well, you already know what I think about -ly names. Still, “beam” is a valid starting point, and even a mediocre name can be strengthened by clear and effective storytelling. It’s disappointing to see this company miss the opportunity to tell a meaningful name story in language its customers can understand and value.