07 DEC. 2012


Branding Acronyms in Naming Development: Friend or Foe?

Huge companies such as International Business Machine, Bayerische Motoren Werke, and Kentucky Fried Chicken have come to rely on their acronyms to create a message that would transcend any cultural or language barriers (IBM, BMW, KFC respectively). But recently we have been witness to a trend in which companies are adhering to the development of acronyms to push any sort of brand message at all (I’m using an HP, and I just looked over to my phone, an LG, and my colleague to the right is drinking from a CITI mug). Brand names are pouring into the market like large helping of alphabet soup. Exactly how important is an acronym when enhancing a brand’s relevance, and does a brand really benefit from using an acronym? Despite some companies having benefitted from adapting an acronym for a name, brands that have not rivaled the relevancy and superiority of big brand acronyms are being affected negatively by this marketing strategy. Using an acronym to develop a brand differentiates the company from its competitors. When enduring any sort of brand development, a name should be as unique and customer-oriented as the company proclaims itself to be. And when the time comes, a brand that has reached brand super-stardom, then it can start being affiliated with a nickname.

Acronyms move away from the potential positive associations created by a unique word or name. Where would we be if we had to say “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle” when referring to the very strong search engine, Yahoo? Saying Yahoo is already a delight for customers. But acronym decision making can have the quite opposite effect. Take the UK retail line, French Connection United Kingdom, or as some might say FCUK. Surely there are customers that may be attracted to such a risqué idea, but there are many, including parents, who may be turned off by the imagery alone. French Connection excluded themselves from potential customers because of the negative attributes corresponding with the acronym. Acronyms like these can be harmful for a brand because customers can form negative associations, and ultimately hinder brand growth.

Besides creating negative connotations, acronym brand names can also create confusion in the customer. Evidence: WWF (World Wildlife Fund) versus WWWF (World-Wide Wrestling Federation). Using acronyms can potentially dilute the brand’s message. People will look at a WWF logo and imagine why a panda would be representative of a notoriously violent sport. Being knowledgeable of the impact of an acronym can prevent a lot of hardship for a company. And ultimately, a customer will not fully understand the brand’s message.

Up until now we have argued about the consequences of using an acronym. However, acronyms can be utilized in appropriate ways as well. In some cases, developing acronyms as a brand name can enhance brand power, not dilute it. Huge multi-national giants with adopted acronyms for names include BMW, IBM, KFC, AT&T, and AOL. Acronyms are useful for companies to employ a universal appropriateness for a brand. Ultimately, brands can evolve universally with the creation of an acronym. Besides creating a connection in a universal language, acronyms can create a connection with positive associations by creating a unique word or name with those acronyms. It is hard to believe that companies like IKEA, and YAHOO are actually acronym-oriented because their acronyms evolved into the brand. Some brands have been very successful with adapting to acronym brand name.

Brands that have been successful with acronym development are brands that have relevance and have had a lasting presence in their market. But this is not applicable to every organization and company. Using acronyms to develop a brand is a tricky task. Evaluating the relationship and loyalty between the customer and the company are vital for a brand to realize its strength. Popular brands that have acronym names were not originally developed as acronyms, but were developed by generations of customer loyalty and strong brand equity.

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