– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

I sometimes get asked by prospective clients if they should change their name, and I help them evaluate if a change is necessary. But sometimes there are stubborn companies who persist in marketing a name that is not right. Overstock.com is a prime example of this behavior.

In early 1999, Dr. Patrick M. Byrne recognized the potential in liquidating excess inventory through the Internet. He started Overstock.com as a way for consumers to gain easy access to closeout merchandise. Overstock.com is a pretty good name for that business model.

In January 2011, Overstock.com acquired the O.co URL and began incorporating it into its marketing. CEO Dr. Patrick M. Byrne said, “When we first started our business in 1999, we only sold surplus inventory. We are no longer just an online liquidator. Our current offerings span from furniture and home decor to cars. We want an identity that more accurately reflects our company as it has evolved: hence ‘O.co’.”

I’ll admit I’m biased, but the strategy shift provided the prime opportunity to change their name.

However, Overstock.com doubled down and tried to leverage its name through a sexy sell with a campaign about “It’s All About The ‘O’ “(wink, wink added for emphasis). While the Overstock.com name faded into the background it was still the official name of the company.

Fast forward to today. Overstock.com continues to use the name that the CEO admitted didn’t fit six years ago. But now, instead of hiding their name embarrassment, they want to draw attention to it. Their latest campaign uses offensive “name shaming” language to point out that people also look at Overstock.com and think they only sell closeout items.

Dear Overstock.com CEO:

WILL YOU PLEASE JUST CHANGE YOUR NAME ALREADY?????

Signed,

Mark Prus
Principal @NameFlash

Overstock.com has spent years explaining their business model because they continue to use a name that does not fit it. How much further ahead would the company have been if they had just changed their name when given the right opportunity years ago?

We all get attached to things and letting go is hard. But there are times when you need to suck it up and change your name rather than continue to use a name that does not fit your current or future strategy!

Laurel Sutton, Principal at Catchword Brand Name Development

You may be aware that there is a large sports arena located in Oakland, California, wherein both the Oakland A’s and the Oakland Raiders play their respective sports. You may further be aware that this edifice is commonly known as “the Oakland Coliseum”, a practical name which tells you both where it’s located and also what kind of aspirations the original owners had. (As far as I know there have never been any gladiator fights there. Not officially, anyway.)

What you may not know is that the Coliseum has also had sponsor names. Starting in 1998, Network Associates agreed to pay $5.8 million over five years for the naming rights and the stadium became known as Network Associates Coliseum. They tried to get people to call it “the Net”, trying to emulate the familiarity of “the ‘Stick” (as Candlestick Park is often known).  I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years and I never once heard anyone say “Meet me at the Net”, despite the huge sign that hung at the entrance for years encouraging people to do so.

Network Associates renewed their naming rights for another 5 years, and in mid-2004, when they were renamed McAfee, the stadium was also renamed McAfee Coliseum accordingly. This name, too, was pretty well ignored by everyone but sports announcers, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when McAfee chose not to renew their naming rights in 2008, and we could all go back to calling it the Coliseum.

But on April 27, 2011, the naming rights were purchased by online retailer Overstock.com, which apparently will result in yet another renaming to the Overstock.com Coliseum, or, perhaps later the O.co Coliseum, as Overstock.com is trying to rebrand itself to this ridiculous palindrome. How do you pronounce that? Oh-ko? Ock-o? Oh-dot-co?

In the end it probably doesn’t matter. No one in the Bay Area will adopt the new name. You won’t be hearing it on BART. Local newspapers will use the new name in first reference but never thereafter, and sports radio talk shows will studiously ignore it, except when they have to use it in advertisements.

So what is Overstock.com getting for their 1.2 million dollars a year? It seems pretty clear that they’re going for national exposure, not local. The name will show up in televised sporting events every time the camera cuts to the scoreboard or shows the outside of the stadium. The network announcers will say it before every commercial break. It will boost their SEO, since the name will show up in links via Ticketmaster, LiveNation, etc. And if the A’s or the Raiders somehow magically win their divisions, the Overstock.com name will be in the national news outlets every day.

But even with that kind of exposure, they may be getting a lot less than they bargained for. The A’s have been making noise about leaving the Coliseum since 2005, although they are nowhere near having a new home. If they do, however, it will leave the loved and hated (in equal parts) Raiders as sole occupants. The current naming rights deal lasts for 6 years, and it might take that long for the A’s to find a new place to play. In the meantime, speaking the words “Overstock.com Coliseum” will be a surefire way to out yourself as a tourist, just as surely as if you referred to the City By the Bay as “Frisco”.