W.A.A.B.F.B?

Why are acronyms bad for brands?

The first rule of naming, don’t describe your product, company or service in your name. Why? Not only does your product, service, and company change, but it reduces your chances of trademark ownership and does not help memorability. Three strikes and your desire to describe is sitting on the bench instead of playing ball.

But what if you’ve been building some brand value in your descriptive name? And you’ve found a lack of receptivity from the USPTO.gov for ownership of your trademark? The answer in the past was go acronym or bust. This is why you see CVC (Consumer Value Stores), KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) and AARP (American Association of Retired People).

What happens when you jumble a set of letters together to form a name? What is the difference between Anakinra, Cisplatin or Idebenone (prescription drug names) and an acronym? Fewer letters, but really not much difference in the basic fact that they are both a jumble of letters that don’t form a word, but yet can form a brand name.

Here’s where acronyms and made-up words fall down in the world of building a strong brand. Memorability. If you don’t have memorability, you don’t have a brand. A jumble of letters is less memorable than a word you’ve seen or something close to a word you already know.

So, while the drug names above would require this writer to have them tattooed to the back my hands to remember, Google gets a pass. Yes, Google is a made up word, but it reminds you of other words: goble, ogle and goo. Funny, we now spend more time “googling” people and perhaps less time “ogling” them (writer humor, it’s like eating a page of cotton fibre stationary).

So what does this mean when a brand can’t own a descriptive name but has years of using it? Does it make sense to drop it and find a better option? Well, here’s the goblin living under your brand manager’s bed. Wouldn’t we lose all the equity we’ve built up in our name? Yes and no, unless you’ve stopped communicating entirely. Yes, some memories of your descriptive name will disappear into the ether. But, a majority of them will be changed and attached to a new, more memorable suggestive name. Which, if done properly, will improve recall and spread more easily to new audiences and memories.

Moving from a descriptive name to an acronym is a half measure. It is the safe choice for those who really love vanilla ice cream and believe in fairy tales. It will never be better than a new, suggestive name that starts to tell a more interesting story about your brand. An acronym is a jackass move and hence, we are renaming acronyms to be asscronyms. Perhaps with this new moniker fewer people will say in meetings, “why don’t we just change our name to an asscronym?”

For those who have already made the change and are regretting it; we’re here for you. We have some solutions that represent ideas that could work for others. IBM, let’s change your name to Watson, because let’s be honest it is one of the coolest thing being done in computing and you’re not in the International Business Machines business. KFC, Kentucky Funky Chicken or any other F word depending on your current mood: fresh, fun, festive, freaky and even that other F word if you dare. AARP, check with Kitty Hart, she has some ideas for you and my sense is you’ll need an entirely new name with the descriptor, “formerly aarp.”

This is for those of you sitting in a position looking at an acronym as a corporate brand name, product brand name or any other form and you’re pondering, “could we do this better?” Our answer is yes, emphatically, yes. For those of you who know an acronym you think needs to be changed, please send them our way or mention them in a tweet with this post, we’ll do the rest.

Let’s get out there and clean up these asscronyms and start building stronger bonds between people and brands. Send us some bad asscronyms you’ve seen recently and we’ll form a hunting party to remove them from the brand landscape.

About The Author

Aaron Keller

I am an author, strategist, researcher, cyclist, reader and consummate entrepreneur. When an interesting idea crosses my path, I find any way we can bring it to life. Earning an MBA from the Carlson School and numerous valuable credits at the school of hard knocks, I’ll sit at a boardroom conversation with anyone. Want to talk business strategy, consumer behavior and design? Oh, it’s on.


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