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In this season of awards and voting, I thought it would be interesting to share the original names for television, films and movies on view in a 1931 NBC letter on display in the lobby of Rockefeller Center.


At that time, the industry word for television was “radio vision,” and “telepictures” was being used by AT&T. NBC wanted a name they could trademark, so they needed a coined name not in use (always a good strategy). They thought “tele” was associated with telegraphs and wire service so not a good choice. Here were the choices proffered:

  • – Kinemaradio
  • – Radioptics
  • – RadioKinemo/a
  • – Radiocinemat
  • – NBC Cinemacasts
  • – Ravisio
  • – Radiovision

The logical reasoning behind these mouthfuls was based on the Greek word for motion, kinetikos and also kinēma, meaning “movement.” These gave birth to the French word cinématographe and the English word cinematograph, which was the reigning word for movies at the time. NBC’s goal, stated by letter writer O.B. Hanson was to:


“Let us try and prevent the public from using an expression [for television] which will cheapen the art such as they do to the cinematograph by calling it “moving pictures” which is an infantile description.”


Wow. What a classic example of cerebral overthinking and not enough poetry and emotion — reason without rhyme! Another example is the word photoplay, also used for films:


“Movie… is unpardonable slang, emanating from the gutter, and its use is deplored by everyone who wishes to see the photoplay occupy the dignified position which it deserves,” stated one theater management team in their local newspaper in 1910.


As we all know, the very literal and “dignified” words photoplay and cinematograph are “in the gutter” today — and it is the word movies that won the “consumer’s choice” award.


While these examples are extreme, overly cerebral, descriptive names are one of the most common mistakes I see in naming. They have much marketing data to support their use — but no rhythm or rhyme to carry them into consumer’s hearts and stay there — it’s like big data without a pulse!


Simplicity is not infantile or simplistic, it’s sublime, and we all gravitate toward it in the Gigabyte Age. With conversation as the new interface, pronounceability, poetry and rhythm are the top naming criteria, along with being memorable, spell-able, and available for use.


It’s not just brevity:


Great names are typically 2–4 syllables long. But it’s not just brevity that makes a winning name. “The Shack” was proposed by Radio Shack, but consumers did not embrace it, maybe they felt it was too awkward or contrived. It just doesn’t “sing.”


As marketing guru@Michael Troiano defines it, a brand IS “the world’s collective emotional response.”


The “popular” vote is more important than your HQ vote:


In the broadcast age, corporations dictated messages and tried to tightly control the use of their name, branding, image and more. Today, marketers welcome the input and even control of consumers in the evolution of their names and brands. Naming is one of the most interactive of branding steps. Federal Express changed it’s name legally to FedEx 20 years after launch, because that was the people’s choice. And “Tarjay” became so popular that Target trademarked it as well and adopted it as part of their brand.


Start with strategy, then blink:


Of course, it is key to have a strategic Naming Brief with a well articulated connection to your brand mission and positioning, based on data and research, before you start brainstorming names . Everyone needs a sound bite on their brand name origin. However:


… the “blink” association and gut emotional response we feel to a name is more important than its definition or reasoning, as it will have more determination on the success of your branding.


As Simon Sinek so brilliantly explains, it is here in our blink, emotional responses that we make decisions about liking, investigating or purchasing brands that no amount of reasoning can manipulate or change. A name that resonates with your consumer emotionally is always the #1 criteria in my Naming Brief.


Add rhyme to reason:


Any teacher knows if you want to get kids to memorize something, sing it. Get kids to clean up? Sing the clean up song! We love rhythm and we love rhyme. It’s in our blood and in our bones. Names like Google, Uber, Flare, Instar, and Nespresso are a delight to say, hear and envision, so they stick. Other brand names like Alphabet are more reason-able than poetic.


We hear and speak language years before we learn to read and write, so we “hear” a word even when we are reading it. The way a name rolls off or ties our tongue — is key too. We can’t resist words, phrases and songs that are a delight to say or ponder. This is why professional namers often have skills in poetry, creative writing, linguistics and/or music.


Jeff Bezos summed it up when he said, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you are not in the room”… Just make sure to listen!


What brand names do you think are the winning names of 2016?

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