Creating proximity: the new era of acronyms
When rebranding in 2019, AccorHotels became Accor and created a new brand for its loyalty program: ALL, “Accor Live Limitless”. This acronym reflects the mission statement made by the group: to offer discovery and experiences, the chance to “live the extraordinary”. The saying “Live Limitless”, proprietary to Accor, expresses this ambition through a conversational name, an eloquent acronym that captures a specific attitude.
This example shows the potential created by the renaissance of a type of name that can be seen as outdated: the acronym. With ALL, Accor owns an evocative phrase that allows the brand to be personified, to create a link with consumer. But is it an isolated case or an underlying trend?
Before we analyse these types of names, a small definition of the vocabulary: formally, initialisms are names that are pronounced letter by letter, like the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), while acronyms are pronounced like an ordinary word: NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations).
Traditionally, initialisms and acronyms have an institutional dimension. The world of institutions and companies has a plethora of examples whose meaning has been forgotten: UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), in France, the URSSAF (Union de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales), IBM (International Business Machines), etc.
These initialisms and acronyms, often descriptive, tend to use professional lingo. They can be distributed into different categories:
1. Initialisms that describe the company and its activities, expressing broadly what the company does, its line of business, like GE (General Electric), the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority), or more specifically in the field, like FNAC (Fédération Nationale des Achats des Cadres).
2. The “location” initialisms, that mention the origin/territory, such as HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) or BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke).
3. The “historical” initialisms, often from surnames such as LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) or GSK (GlaxoSmithKlein), which, unlike the others, are often “shortened” following mergers and acquisitions. They often create a link to the past, integrate different entities by listing them.
Regardless of the category, these initialisms or acronyms mostly speak of the company, the emitter, rationally and objectively, making them cold and serious. They are explanatory but not very accessible or geared towards the consumer. In their condensed versions, the juxtaposition of letters can make the whole name seem arbitrary and distant, creating little emotion, and little proximity to the public.
However, there are some exceptions that can be observed: when the acronyms are thought of as a word, a form of language, with particular attention to phonetics. It is the case with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), which, with a soft sound and the prefix “UN”, carries notions of attention, peace, harmony, and unity.
The evolution of initialisms: from institutional to human, serious to conversational
YTTP, GHD, WGACA, LG, Jott… Many recent brand names continue to use initialisms and acronyms today. Under a cold and mysterious appearance, these names have a common basis as they are made from phrases. The idioms, sayings, and expressions are made by renewing the genre because they convey real messages, and create an invitation to discussion and a strong image.
Among the messages conveyed, we can find two big families:
1. The “slogan” initialisms or acronyms, that express a point of view, a vision, or a commitment. They can come from idioms, everyday conversations, songs, movie titles, and sayings, such as WGACA, a vintage store, which means “What Goes Around Comes Around”, ASICS, “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano” (healthy mind, healthy body). It can also be a twist on existing sayings, or one created specifically, like JOTT, “Just Over the Top” and YTTP, “Youth to the People”.
2. Sayings or nouns that mix descriptors and benefits in conversational language. For example, GHD, a brand of hair styling tools, means “Good Hair Day”, signifying that its products can better everyday life, like TIPS, a brand of nail polishes, which means “The Incredible Protection System”, or ASOS, “As Seen on Screen”.
These names are often in English, which makes them more universal, and these two families use human, simple, accessible language.
Furthermore, these new types of acronyms can be thought of as arbitrary, autonomous words that will frequently slip into conversations, as FOMO did. The “Fear of Missing Out”, of missing an important event, has become a part of our vocabulary, the same as YOLO, “You Only Live Once”. These names feel like a rallying sound and are telling of a state of mind. Other acronyms have become a part of our everyday language, like ASAP (“As Soon as Possible”) or, in French, OVNI (Objet Volant Non-Identifié, a UFO), which is now used to talk about an unidentified flying object but also every phenomenon, character, etc. that is out of the ordinary, unexpected.
Certain acronyms are approached in a multi-dimensional way, with multiple levels of comprehension. These “origami” names can bend to make us discover new interpretations and new meanings. It is the case of the Accor loyalty program, mentioned earlier in this article, which adopts at the first level an existing word, All, understood by everyone to unify the public, and enhance the value of the offer and variety of experiences, but integrates a slogan, carries a vision as well as the group brand. Another example is Eos, a lip balm brand that means “Evolution of Smooth”. Eos is, in Greek mythology, the goddess of dawn and evokes a new beginning. This message is told in the unfolding of the name to show the brand’s willingness to bring a fresh take to the lip/body care industry while accentuating one of its benefits – smoothness. Therefore, while very short, these names tell big stories.
Conversational names – reinventing initialisms
This evolution represents for historical initialisms the opportunity to renew themselves, as LG did with its name, which formerly meant “Lucky-GoldStar” and was later changed to a new slogan, “Life’s Good”, or the Korean company Halla (automotive parts), that changed its name to HL for “Higher Life”. When changing their names’ meaning towards a poem, brands’ stories are fortified.
This storytelling is not new. SOS was used as a mnemonic device for the distress signal defined in 1906 in Morse code, • • • — — — • • •. The meaning was later attributed to the signal, like “save our souls”, “save our ship”, or “send out succour”.
Therefore, initialisms and acronyms can be reinvented by borrowing from our references and discussions, becoming a part of everyday vocabulary, and describing new aspects of the brands. They illustrate the mutation companies are going through, towards a new model centred around the consumer, with a proper personality, sense of humour, and state of mind. They create a link that differentiates them.
The creation of a name is the time to start building verbal branding. Using a “next-gen” acronym allows showcasing aspirations – lifestyle, consumer-centric… while building unicity. Because beyond dictionary words, it opens possibilities to accurately reflect the positioning and connect with the public.