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Name games

Released at: 04:48, 17/06/2014

Name games

You should never tamper with a good brand name.

by Hoang Tung, Founder and Manager of Pizza Home Hanoi

From a branding point of view an interesting merger and acquisition (M&A) took place recently, when the South Korean-based CGV Corp took over the Megastar cinema chain and decided to change its name to CGV.

Megastar was the first international-standard cinema group in Vietnam and is high in the minds of Vietnamese movie-goers. Why, then, change its name? A representative from CGV explained that CGV is a meaningful name, with C standing for Culture, G for Great, and V for Vital. It can also stand for “Cai gi vay?” (What’s up?, in Vietnamese). But it’s simply less memorable and even more complicated. CGV is not a good brand name compared with Megastar. So, again, why the change?

Maybe it’s the Asian marketing mindset. After an M&A, the first thing Asian companies seem to do is change the name. IBM used to have ThinkPad, a strong personal computer (PC) brand. They decided to get out of the PC business, and sold ThinkPad’s development group to Lenovo. And guess what Lenovo did? They changed the ThinkPad brand to the mother-brand, Lenovo. In the minds of the customers, ThinkPad is a US brand, and US brands have credibility in the IT industry. Lenovo is a Chinese brand. Not a good branding move! Why didn’t Lenovo keep both brands for different market segments and different target customers?

After an M&A with the Vietnamese P/S toothpaste brand, should Unilever have changed P/S to Close Up (a Unilever brand), or called it Unilever Toothpaste? Should they have killed the P/S name? No, Unilever retained the P/S brand and now have both Close Up and P/S for different market segments. After buying YouTube, did Google change the name to GoogleVideo? No, it kept the YouTube brand. Did Amazon change Zappos to AmazonShoes? No!

From condoms to instant noodles

Last year the Masan Group introduced a new instant noodles brand: Sagami. But guess what? Sagami is also a famous Japanese condom brand. “We conducted research and Sagami was selected by our customers,” a representative from the Masan Group said. “Even though Sagami is also the name of a condom, we don’t think it will have a negative effect on our product. What’s important is product quality, not the name!”

But is it true that it’s product quality that matters, not the name?

There are many good products out there suffering from bad names. An electric fan company won a “Plant Engineering Product of the Year” award but revenue has been poor. What’s the problem, then? “Big Ass Fan” is not a good name and destroys all the efforts of the technical team. A bad name can give customers a bad feeling. Would you drink “Sex Vodka”? Or try “Cat Crap” lens cleaner? Or “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Sauvignon Blanc” or “Old Fart’s Wife’s Wine”?

You cannot create a good brand based on a bad name. Now, you may say that Sagami is not a bad name, which is true and also false.

4P and 1N

A good product with a good brand name will have advantages in the market. Good products with poor names can still succeed if (1) there is no strong competition, and (2) the brand is leading its category. Schlitz used to be the Number 1 beer in the US, but then Budweiser took its place as “The King of Beer”. Where is Schlitz these days? Why did it lose its place to Budweiser? The product? No! Advertising? No! The name? Yes! You must be very careful when you say “S-ch-lit-z” after a few cans of beer. Compare that to “Give me a Bud!” Easy to understand and not at all confusing!

Local marketers sometimes focus on the marketing mix known as 4P: Place, Product, People and Promotion. But there is a one more important letter: N - Name. A bad name can become a dead weight when a strong competitor emerges.

There was once a talented designer named Ralph Lifshitz. But fame never came his way. Until he changed his name to Ralph Lauren and became one the most famous designers in the world. Do you know who Marion Morrison is? But you’ve heard of John Wayne, right? Marion Morrison and John Wayne are the same person, but it’s hard to build a manly screen image when your name is Marion. Now can you see the power of a good name?

Luckily, Sagami saw good sales of its instant noodles because Sagami - the condom - is not yet famous in Vietnam. But when Sagami condoms become more familiar in Vietnam, what will people think about as they munch on Sagami noodles? Is it true that names don’t matter?

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