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What a Shortened Name Says About a Brand

August 6th, 2009 · 4 Comments

By Tom Parrette

Radio Shack New NameTwo name changes-or more correctly, modifications-have received attention in the media and branding worlds recently.

Pizza Hut has announced that its boxes and select locations will carry the name “The Hut,” and RadioShack plans to unveil new creative for “The Shack,” its shorter, catchier moniker.

These name shortenings are proof of what professional namers already know: names acquire meaning, they don’t create meaning. Once meaning is established, the brand name can be reduced to a shorthand version of itself, signaling its secure place in the realm of consumer awareness.

In the case of Pizza Hut and RadioShack, there’s also a more tactical motivation. As brands move away from their legacy offerings and expand product assortments, they outgrow their descriptive names. Today, Pizza Hut sells more than pizza, and RadioShack has more than radios on its shelves. The two brands are larger than their original products; their names stand for tangible and intangible experiences.

There’s also a familiarity expressed in a shorter name, akin to a nickname. The shorter handles inject the brands with a first-name-basis ease that everyone can participate in, but that ultimately acknowledges a loyal clientele. “The Hut” isn’t just any hut, it’s the hut. The only hut.

Name shortenings are nothing new. For decades, brands have abbreviated their names to reflect vernacular speech or to protect equity. In many cases, the brand adopted and claimed ownership of a nickname, a testament to the reverse influence consumers can have on brands. Here are a few notable examples.

Kentucky Fried Chicken: In 1990, the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked the name “Kentucky,” forcing businesses to pay a licensing fee to use it. KFC was able to sidestep the issue by changing its brand name to the commonly used nickname. The fast-food restaurant has recently expanded its brand nomenclature to include KGC (the “G” standing for “grilled”).

Jack In The Box: The brand’s new logo positions “Jack” as the primary name by demoting “In The Box” to a visually subordinate level. Whether “Jack” becomes the official name has yet to be seen.

Charles Schwab: Not a name change, but noteworthy nonetheless-the brokerage’s most recent ad campaign employs the headline “Ask Chuck,” conveying a trusted familiarity.

America Online: The company officially changed its name to AOL in 2006, stating: “Our new corporate identity better reflects our expanded mission-to make everyone’s online experience better. Plus, consumers in the U.S. and around the world already know us by our initials.”

American Express: Amex, the abbreviated form of the name, is a company trademark.

Federal Express: Global market research revealed that “federal” connoted something bureaucratic and slow, and the full name was difficult to pronounce in certain foreign markets. In 1994, Fedex was adopted as the official brand name. The company’s new name also proved much easier to use in visual applications where space was limited.

Coca-Cola: The company behind the legendary drink registered the name Coke in 1945, but it has since become a genericized trademark.

As for The Hut and The Shack, time will tell what market reception of the shorter names will be. In the latter’s case, there’s clearly an intent to inject a youthful hipness into the brand. Advertising invites customers to “Crash the Party” at The Shack’s dedicated web page, where an urban palette and social media define a more progressive brand experience.

Is this a fresh new chapter for the dated electronics catchall? Does the literal meaning of “shack,” a crudely built structure, unwittingly reinforce the brand’s slipshod merchandising strategy? Like all brand names, new or modified, The Shack will acquire the meaning that consumers give it.

Editor’s Note: Tom Parrette is Director of Verbal Branding at Addis Creson, a Berkley, California-based strategic branding firm dedicated to creating positive change for clients and communities. Learn more about his work at www.addiscreson.com

More branding stories of interest:

Richmond's Greatest Brand Names
BrandlandUSA’s 100 Dead Brands To Bring Back
Don't Kill off A.G. Edwards!
Keep A.G. Edwards, Bring Back Wheat
Eight Stupidest Branding Practices
Eight Reasons Radio Shack Has Some Value

Tags: Advertising · Electronics · Retail

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark Gallagher // Aug 7, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    You make some great points here. I didn’t know “Kentucky” was trademarked, nor that “Coke” is now a genericized trademark. Great stuff.

    I agree that many brands shorten their names in an attempt to be more familiar. However, names function both specifically (they equate to a specific brand) and categorically (they imply quality, culture, or other categorical value). When the name is shortened, the brand runs the risk of juxtaposing their original meaning. In other words, a sophisticated brand can come off sounding… well unsophisticated.

    I don’t believe that Radio Shack’s issue is its name or even its brand. Its underlying business strategy is fallow. The new name, “The Shack” won’t overcome these issues, but it is reflective of the lack of quality the chain has become know for.

    Mark Gallagher
    Brand Expressionist®
    BLACKCOFFEE

  • 2 Twitted by brandexpression // Aug 7, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    […] This post was Twitted by brandexpression […]

  • 3 Idoia // Aug 20, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I also think of banks — B of A for Bank of America, and the unfortunately nicknamed WaMu for Washington Mutual (which, in my opinion, sounds too goofy for a bank nickname and I’m shocked it’s caught on at all).

  • 4 What a Shortened Name Says About a Brand | Tom Parrette // Aug 5, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    […] the article on Brandland USA and Ads Of the […]

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