Bad brand names: don’t “Hav-a-Nap” at the switch

Would you want this place on your Visa bill?

Over the next weeks, viagra 40mg Beg to Differ will be presenting some examples of brand names that are just bad – for a number of reasons. Today’s example is something we spotted over the weekend…

The Hav-A-Nap Motel

This bad brand – which, sales yes, view also has a web site – is one that a friend pointed out to me in the Eastern part of metro Toronto, and it’s a classic. It’s one of those unintentional landmarks that everyone seems to know about (but no one will admit being a customer of).

And actually, while I usually criticize brand names that are un-helpful, this bad name is actually a customer service because it’s so bad. That is, because the name is so tone-deaf and slimy sounding, most respectable consumers will know better than to stay there.

This review from an Italian visitor on Trip Advisor pretty well  sums up the experience I’d expect to have from any motel called the “Hav A Nap”:

Sorry for my english… It was a very terrible experience… the room was very dirty, the bedsheets were full of spots (I think there were spots of previous sexual performances…), the bedcover had holes by cigarette… I left my cup of coffee in the room and when I came back I have found also mouse’s excrements… It was very very cheap, but I slept all dressed because of the disgust…

Funny, but when you don’t have enough energy to spell “HAVE” correctly, it’s not surprising that you don’t sweat little details like laundry, customer satisfaction, or human health for that matter.

Enough said.

I’d love to get more of your favourite bad brand names, so please leave them in the comments!

Favourite blog posts of 2009: October & November

Part 3 of our series on our favourite posts of 2009″

October and November held a few more pleasant surprises for us here at Beg to Differ – from our Chicken Sandwich series to our first Slideshare cross-over hit, cure to  a Seussian Twitter phenomena, viagra we continue to be surprised by the enthuisiastic response of our readers – but almosrt never in ways we expect.


What if restaurants charged like creative agencies? The other side

October 9, 2009

The branding business: we haven’t have a lot of posts about this topic area… yet. But we felt we needed to respond to a viral video which lampooned clients for not “getting” the value of the work creative agencies do. After all, it takes two to tango – or quibble over a giant invoice.

More on the biz: when branding, look outside;

Big Fresh

How to name a chicken sandwich: thoughts for branders

October 19, 2009

Brand naming: When KFC launched a new chicken sandwich with a name developed by Brandvelope, we took the opportunity to toot our own horn a bit and talk about the process of naming a brand. And the results: our biggest single day tally of visitors as branders came by for a taste of what we do.

More on names:Sorry Shakespeare: names matter;  brandscape – a chicken or egg?

Fail Plane

American Airlines meets Mr. X – a tragic tale of brand failure

November 9, 2009

“Whole brand” thinking: This short post on the failure of a giant corporation to understand  effective customer engagement in the social media era marked the first time a SlideShare deck  of ours reached 2000 hits – and climbing (in response to a tip from  Alison Gresik).

More on this:Toronto Web site fail; Human in five steps; the perils of too much choice; one immutable law

goat2[1]Green eggs & spam: a Twitter poem

November 19th, 2009

Social media: Funny to talk about this one as a greatest hit – because we wrote it in the middle of the current “faves” series – and it’s really still going with more than 100 RTs to date. Basically, we wondered a) what @SamEyeEm would be like on Twitter, and b) what Dr. Seuss might think about the new “ReTweet” feature on Twitter.

More on this topic: Twiterloo; branding explained in Twitterese; “Social Media” needs a new name.

More in this series:

Oh, and another reminder: please sign up for e-mail updates (on the right) or our RSS feed, so you keep track of our future posts.

Brand builders: how to be human in five easy steps

Humans beat dinosaurs every time.

Yesterday, rx our post about how American Airlines fired Mr. X – an employee who had the gall to (gasp) engage with a customer – generated a fair bit of engagement of its own. We were also shocked and pleased that our accompanying PowerPoint deck was chosen as one of the features on the SlideShare home page, cure with more than 950 views and climbing. “Wow, for sale ” we thought: “People are actually paying attention! Crap!”

How not to do it: the American Airlines approach to humanzing communications (image from

Why I said “Crap”

Because even though I’d spent an hour and a half yesterday morning putting the deck together, there were a few things I left off at the end – some important stuff about the difference between a) treating people and social media like a lumbering corporate dinosaur (American Airlines, that’s you), or b) like human beings (the un-American Airlines approach).

So we added a few thoughts to the deck, along with 5 simple steps you can follow to make your brand more friendly to humans. Please read on.

Surprised when corporations don’t act human? Don’t be!

Sadly, rumours of mass extinction have been greatly exaggerated: American Airlines isn’t the last dinosaur.

Thousands of others are lurking out there, hiding in hierarchical “Lost Valleys” around the corporate landscape. They’re scary, and they still have big teeth if you get close to them. And they roar, stomp, intimidate, and generally pretend with their pea-sized brains that they can throttle and control communications the same way they did (or thought they could) in the Jurassic era.

But the world has changed.

The new boss has arrived (and it’s us).

And the new masters of the planet have opposable thumbs. And emotions. And big brains. They talk to each other; they form families and tribes.

And they don’t even try to control the message.

Instead, they listen, and build the conversation in ways that are real, helpful, and yes human. Want evidence? You’re reading this aren’t you?

How to humanize your brand in five easy steps:

1) Don’t pretend to be perfect.

You’re lying. We know, because we’re human too. So don’t even bother faking it.

2) Listen (critically) to critics.

They usually see you better than you do. Then conscript the helpful critics as team-mates, or call them out if they’re just snipers.

3) Speak Human.

Because here’s a secret: nobody ever understood “Corporate-ese” in the first place. Just use normal people-friendly words, a helpful tone, and don’t brag about your big accomplishments / hard drives / pointy teeth. If it’s true, other people will say it. If it’s not, you’re just a roaring fossil.

4) Encourage your people to speak Human

But remember that many of your employees think that roaring and stomping is the only way to behave. Gently work with them to show a better way. Give them access to the right tools to speak to customers, and teach them to find the opportunities and boundaries for themselves (oh, and share that learning with everyone).

5) To clobber your competitors, be more human

And this is the great part: all this touchy-feely human stuff is the best way to win in the battle of the brands! So go on big guy: listen harder; be more lethally generous (thanks again Shel Israel); earn some Whuffie (thanks Tara Hunt) and build real human relationships with your customers, influencers, staff, and yes, even the competition.

And if you’re an airline but you’re not American Airlines, congratulations: you’re already ahead!

Click here to see the whole PowerPoint deck on SlideShare

Mortal peril: the unholy temptation of descriptive names

My family and I walk by this tiny church on our way to the grocery store all the time. And while I’d always noticed the odd architecture of the place, advice it was only recently that I took a second look and was struck by the name.


Big promise + tiny package = big let-down

Now I know that a “cathedral” is technically where the bishop has his headquarters, viagra so in the case of a little splinter denomination like this, this really is their cathedral. But for the neighbours, calling this a “cathedral” stretches the bounds of credibility. As a matter of fact, in referring to this building, I’d never use the term “cathedral” unless I wanted to make someone laugh. Cathedrals are massive, ornate, and architecturally significant features in a cityscape; this is just a little local church on a quiet side street.

But that’s just an example where the descriptive name doesn’t fit…

Why would you choose a descriptive name?

On the plus side, when such a name really does describe your product, you can expend less effort explaining it. So if your company is called “International Ball Bearings” and your competitors are “MMT Inc.” and “ACME Inc.” and your target happens to be in the market for ball bearings, you have a quick leg up on the others, even if they make the same product.

A descriptive name can also convey corporate seriousness and solidity. A company named “American Apparel” will have to go a long way to damage that respectable first impression: although give them credit for trying.

The downside

The problem is: what if all three companies mentioned above also made carriage bolts, and that’s what a customer was looking for? They’d probably assume International Ball Bearings wasn’t for them, right? So while a descriptive name communicates more information faster, it’s also much less flexible. You can’t sell toothpaste if your name is Canada Shipping Lines.

“Purely descriptive” is also a bad word in Trademark law, as it essentially means “cannot be protected”.

But there’s a time and a place for descriptiveness

In my naming work, I have often recommended descriptive names: Canada Business for example as a name for a government service for business. Descriptive product names are also appropriate for companies using a corporate  “master brand” model. Recently, Bell very wisely dumped its Sympatico and ExpressVU names in favour of “Bell Internet” and “Bell TV”. And the world breathed a sigh of relief.

The trick as always, is balance. So how do you achieve this? The easy answer is hire Brandvelope Consulting. But whatever you do, look at the brand in its complete context, and particularly how it fits into the bigger “brandscape” that your customers are facing.

10 Highlights from the 2009 Best Global Brands list

Ten days ago, shop I wrote  10 days to Interbrand top 100 brands & 10 reasons to care. Well Friday (three days earlier than adverstised), the results came in. And if you have time, you can read full results and commentary at two sites: 1) Interbrand and 2) Business Week.

But I’ll warn you, it’s a lot of information, and you’ll have to wade through some sections knee-deep in self-congratulatory hype. So as a public service, I’ve distilled 10 aspects of the list that jump out for me (below).

Symbol of an industry? This year, ING crashed right off the list, along with a few other financial industry stalwartsn The past year for the financial industry in one concise picture.
This year, ING crashed right off the list, along with a few other financial industry stalwarts.
(Image from the Dutch-language blog

(But first, a slightly bitchy side note to Interbrand: guys, if you’re going to release these three days early, please 1) skip the giant countdown clock , and 2) actually send notices to people that signed up. Okay, my chest is clear, on to…)

10 Highlights of the 2009 Best Global Brands

1) Coke is still it: Top five brands are unchanged

2009 top 10 list

The top five brands on the list are exactly the same brands in the same order as last year, and although Microsoft and GE lost more value than most brands ever have, with the spread in value between the top four, those mega-brands don’t look likely to change anytime soon.

Nokia’s brand is losing steam however, while gaining ground behind it is Google (in a big way) and McDonald’s (growing, but more modestly).

2) Google is the big disruptor

The Google brand shouldered ahead of Toyota, Intel, and Disney, and now is very close to overtaking McDonalds. As a matter of fact, its brand value has almost doubled since 2007, when it was 20th in the rankings.

Think about that for a moment: “Google” has grown from geek-niche-buzzword to #7 brand in the world in just 10 years – growth rates we haven’t seen since, well, Microsoft pulled the same trick for the ten-odd years before that.

But now that Google is starting to look more and more like a big, aggressive company (because they are), can their brand sustain its quirky garage-band appeal? Already their “don’t be evil” internal mantra is attracting more cynicism than praise. And while Googlers are still innovating, and making a lot of feel-good noise with their open source projects, one wonders when critical mass and inertia kick in (see Microsoft?).

3) Other big winners this year

By dollar value gained, H&M, Ikea, and Amazon gained a solid amount of value this year.

But apart from the indominatable Google, Apple grew the most, adding an incredible $1.7 Billion in brand value. Apple is the darling of the branding industry of course and a favourite of mine (see my Steve Jobs tribute), with its creative energy and  focus on human-friendly products and messaging, so it’s heartening to see that doing it right by your customers still pays off during a recession.

4) Surprise! Financial institutions are the biggest losers

Have you heard about this recession thing? Well, if you have, then it should come as no surprise that the industry hardest hit in the brand value bottom line was the same industry that imploded and begged for (and received) massive government  bailouts.

American Express, Morgan Stanley, and HSBC all lost billions of dollars of brand value, while Citi and embattled Swiss giant UBS both lost half of their brand value in one year.  Several others dropped right off the list, including Merryl Lynch, AIG, and ING. Could it be a coincidence that many of these losers also have meaningless nomonyms for names (see my definition here)? Probably just a coincidence, but their names certainly didn’t help them.

5) Automobile brands: losing value

Also not surprising, every automotive or motorized equipment manufacturer on the list except Ferrari lost a significant amount of brand value this year.  Harley Davidson and Lexus lost the largest percentages.

But despite losses, a few brands managed to hold their own or gain ground. Apart from Ferrari, Audi managed to gain, while Ford kept its ranking – the only one of the “Big Three” American manufacturers to have a substantial corporate brand seems to have benefited from its perceived stability as well. Another star: Hyundai:

Hyundai boosted ad spending and aggressively promoted its Assurance program, which allows buyers who lose their jobs to return cars. Hyundai’s brand value slipped 5%, but it moved up three places to No. 69.  – Business Week.

6) Food and clothing: the basics still sell when times are bad

You can download the whole Interbrand report here.
You can download the whole Interbrand report here.
Comfort food standards Campbells soup and Burger King appeared for the first time, while all the other Big Food brands gained in the rankings – Nestlé, Heinz, Pepsi, Kellogg’s, and Danone. Restaurants KFC and Pizza Hut creeped ahead a few positions, while Starbucks lost 16% of its brand value and fell five spots.

The same pattern held true for clothing brands – although it must be said that the list is incredibly top-heavy with luxury brands – so Gucci, not GAP; Rolex over Timex. I suspect that this is because of a) the weighting given to “brand premium”, that is, the amount consumers are willing to spend over and above competitors, and b) the fact that lower-priced clothing brands for us mere mortals tend to be less global.

7) Adobe: New kids on the branding block

Abode finally made the list after it “recorded record revenue and double-digit growth for the sixth consecutive year. They weren’t immune to the downturn (they lost money overall), but importantly from a brand perspective, they grew strongly in the consumer preference category. And their brand awareness continues to grow through the ubiquity of their consumer-facing products Flash, and the Acrobat / PDF line.

8 ) Brand USA – still the biggest brand builder

We were watching to see if the recession would dent the US dominance in global brands. With 52 brands on the 2o08 global 100, the Yanks are the uncontested branding champs, but those of us who were hoping for a moment of guilty schadenfreude were mostly disappointed that the US claims 51 – still a majority – of the 100.

Note to the rest of the planet: keep working.

9) No new countries

The names of countries in the Global branding club stayed exactly the same this year with only 9 brands coming from outside Europe and North America (Japan 7, Korea 2). Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the world have yet to break in. But of course, it’s only a matter of time.

10) Brand Canada: maintaining numbers, but losing ground

Both of our two Canadian contender brands Thomson Reuters and Blackberry grew this year, and both made gains in the rankings with Blackberry jumping 10 spots to number 63. But they weren’t joined by any other brands, and what’s worse, we slipped a rank in number of brands-per-capita when the UK added a brand and vaulted ahead of us. On that list, we were 10th; now we’re llth.