Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How To Mess With Your Brand in One Easy Lesson

I usually write about technology or the computer industry. It’s what I do. Every once in awhile though, I see such marketing idiocy in other industries that I can’t help mention it. Today was one of those days. According to the New York Times GM wants the people who work for the Chevrolet division to stop using the word “Chevy” in reference to their cars. It appears that they only want to use Chevrolet. That tips over from a simple “Huh?” to “What the…?”

Chevy is not just a nickname. It is an integral part of the brand and has been for longer than I’ve been alive. It’s not a ‘57 Chevrolet Bel-Air. It’s a ‘57 Chevy! No one calls the flagship pony car a Chevrolet Camaro. Everyone knows it as the Chevy Camaro. That is awesome branding. And Chevy rhymes with heavy as in heavy metal which makes us think of loud music and fast cars. That’s what men especially like in cars. Why mess with that?

The stated reason is (now get this) to build a stronger brand through consistency. Okay, I get it. Take away one of the most recognizable, most salient parts of your brand to make it stronger. Wait. I don’t get it because it makes no sense. Emerson was right when he said “ A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”. It doesn’t get more foolish than this.

There are several reasons why customers attach a nickname to a company, product, or brand. They are:

  • The real names is long. This is why we don’t say “International Business Machines”. IBM is easier on the eyes and tongue.
  • The official name is lame and/or stupid. Really, there is a reason Apple doesn’t make everyone say Apple iPhone. It’s a great fruit but not a great name. The logo is iconic and the Mac and “i” branding are memorable. Apple was smart enough to stop stapling their real name in front of everything back in 1984.
  • The nickname better captures the brand. Great names capture something about the brand that speaks to the audience. What says total car awesomeness better, Chevrolet or Chevy?
  • The company or brand is named after a real person or persons. Often companies named after founders sound like a law firm. That’s okay if you happen to be a law firm. Otherwise, not so much.

HP is a great example of the power of a nickname over the official name. The real name (Hewlett-Packard Company) is long and sounds like a CPA firm. If they were to insist that everyone in the company call it Hewlett-Packard and never say HP, it would look downright silly. Those two letters represent the natural brevity and tendency to toss around acronyms that is part of the computer industry. The nickname “HP” has become a big part of the brand and hopefully they would never mess with that.

This is yet another indication of a company that has lost its way. Can you imagine Ford saying “Don’t let me catch you referring to the Mustang as a “‘Stang"? No. They’re not that stupid. They realize (I hope) that that kind of identity is like free extra cheese on your pizza. Viral brand identity is a precious gift so why screw with it.

What is ironic is that this is a company that has no problems with GM instead of General Motors. So, GM, hear me now – I will never buy a Chevrolet. I might, however, buy a Chevy. Especially if it’s a Chevy Camaro. Even better if it’s free.

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