I’m not talking about brands that say one thing and do another. I’m not talking about brands that don’t live up to their promise. I’m literally talking about brands with two faces. One face may be confident, complicated, technical, professional, and/or formal. Let’s call him, Stephen. The other face might be friendly, simple, approachable, engaging, and/or informal — perhaps, identified by a nickname or some other form of truncation. Meet Steve.

A couple of months ago I blogged about the clear trend toward truncation and informality in branding (Coca-Cola and Coke, Gatorade and G, Bubblicious and B, Stride and SFederal Express and Fedex, Radio Shack and The Shack, Pizza Hut and The Hut, Vanderbilt and Vandy, Villanova and Nova), with at least one exception being General Motors, ahem, GM and its apparent interest in bucking that trend by moving away from the less formal two-syllable Chevy name and brand in favor of the more formal three-syllable Chevrolet name and brand.

Similarly, McDonalds’ current billboard ad campaign confirms that the fast food giant prefers formality, i.e., Joseph over Joe, at least when it comes to selling its premium roast coffee in competition with the likes of Starbucks and Caribou Coffee:

 

And, while I can’t specifically recall the name of the advertiser and educational institution, moving in a similar direction, I do recall a recent billboard ad campaign in the Twin Cities metro area, where the college or university in question seemed to suggest that an entering student named Kate will acquire the tools to transform herself into Katherine upon graduation. So, I guess that’s an improvement and worth the investment of time and money?

Meanwhile, Charles Schwab is now a.k.a Chuck:

Just wondering, had Charles Schwab started business as Chuck Schwab, would the financial giant be what it is today? Seems to me, at least in the financial services sector, starting formal and moving informal is an easier branding path than traveling in the opposite direction.

As I recall, and on a somewhat related note, earlier this year, Guest Blogger Anthony Shore of Operative Words, wrote about the naming pendulum swinging away from arbitrary names and back toward brand names having an honest, straightforward, and even humble quality, in Truth is Stronger Than Fiction. Might those principles be at work here too?

In the end, I suppose that brands, like people, may exhibit either or both faces, formal and informal, depending on their surroundings and the circumstances they encounter at any given point in time. It seems to me, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive faces, as evidenced by the fact that nearly all of the branding truncation examples above did not completely replace the more formal brand name from use, they simply introduced a fresh new second face of the brand. 

My guess, as a trademark type, is that the less formal face of a brand creates an opportunity for creating a stronger emotional connection with consumers, but I’m happy to be corrected by someone who thinks about such things for a living.

  • I tend to prefer formality in brand names. I’m pleased that McDonald’s has resisted the urge to go by “McD’s”. Coca-Cola has mixed in formality and informality in their marketing communications over the years with slogans like “Always Coca-Cola” and “Have a Coke and a Smile”. I think it works for them.
    I agree that Charles Schwab would not have been successful as Chuck Schwab. However, “Talk to Chuck” under Charles Schwab is a quality communications device. The name “Chuck” is more likely to conjure up friendly one-on-one feelings whereas Charles is more staid and formal. Financial services/wealth advisory has a one-on-one relationship component.
    The thing about marketing that can be confusing to many is that the answer to a lot of questions is “It depends”. Truncation has been more effective for some brands than others. Federal Express and Coca-Cola have done better with “FedEx and Coke” than Gatorade, Pizza Hut and Radio Shack have done with G, The Hut and The Shack.

  • Steve Baird

    David, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
    I guess our respective professions have the “it depends” caveat in common.
    Regards, Steve

  • PhilDuncan

    Hello All,

    I concur that “it depends.”

    Brand memorableness in consumer minds may depend on whatever resonates with the target consumer “at the moment” (i.e. a truncated trademark today, but not necessarily next week)

    I see commercials all the time that I can later recall details of the commercial, but not the brand they were touting. Fail. If a truncated trademark integrated in those messages would help me remember who the message was about, then as a consumer I would appreciate it, recall it and probably repeat it.

    Truncated marks or formal marks may be best evaluated by consumer response to them, adoption of them -or the lack thereof- and/or the viral use of them -or lack thereof- in social media.

    Today’s technology empowers individuals with a voice more far-reaching and powerful than some publishing empires of yesteryear and I observe that “tinkering” with trademarks may actually be a valid type of A-B testing very commonly employed by internet marketers on websites where a website is programmed to present different landing pages to a site visitor based on a sequence or based on how the visitor arrived at the site, etc. A single website might present one of a dozen different landing pages to visitors and over time the statistics gathered confirm the design with the most consumer appeal. Long trademark or short trademark, let em pick as long as the brands story does not get detached from either like in the commercials I mentioned above.

    I also observe that social media and the viral-ness of any message (long trademark or short trademark) may almost instantly reveal demographic insight and identify a prospective niche (or mass) market in ways previously not possible.

    I bet after the viral consumer campaign at the link below, United Airlines was wishing it could have gone by another name till the heat blew over. :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YGc4zOqozo

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/24/united-breaks-guitars-did_n_244357.html

    This creative solution to a problem was far more effective and rewarding for the wronged party than any legal remedy ever could have been.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=_Hd8XI42i2M

    Phil D