Easy Money: Creative Names Mean ... Everything
In this merger-crazy dot-com age, many companies' answer to "What's in a name?" is "Everything."
Maybe they're just running out of stalwart options like General Motors (GM) and General Electric (GE), but companies now cram together whatever comes out of this morning's bowl of Alpha-Bits -- capital letters and all -- to come up with a moniker. It's sort of like a ransom note ... with probably about as much possibility of collecting revenue.
The all-in-one approach was previously the domain of German companies and merged entities (DaimlerChrysler (DCX) and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers). Now America has produced the likes of Homestore.com (HOMS), Net.B@nk (NTBK) and Qualcomm (QCOM), whose all-caps approach on its Web site makes it seem a bellow at a tractor pull. All together now: QUALCOMM!
"At least it's a respite from the trend of naming a company 'something.com,' which is terrible," says Steve Manning, managing director of A Hundred Monkeys, a San Francisco-based naming company that's given the world Jawbreaker and Apples+Oranges. "It's not the job of a company name to give you the address."It's true that a lot of these companies have fused a normally two-word name to promote their Web sites. (Yeah, we know -- TheStreet.com boasts caps and the dot-com.) But to the companies, there's another darn good reason for the creative writing -- it's eye-catching! It's freaky! It's ... got a real long, convoluted explanation. "The idea is representing e-commerce, or e-retailing, and [the e] has become the convention for the industry," says Kevin Pursglove, senior director for communications at eBay (EBAY). (Pursglove does point out that on letterhead and the Web site eBay is styled with a lowercase b.) Since it was named in 1995, the company was "conforming to the idea that we're nonconforming so others can conform," which is at least a point you can groove on. PeopleSoft (PSFT), named in the Internet's Pre-Cambrian Era (1987), has a similar Dr. Seussian logic. "The overall theory was that we build software for people to use," says Heidi Melin, vice president in marketing. "SoftPeople doesn't work; Software for People is too long, so we came up with PeopleSoft." Great. And those capital letters? "We felt it was unique, and more visually entertaining," she says. "But there was no bigger intent behind it." In other words, it was hip. Of course, funky spellings will eventually be as embarrassing as other "modern" developments like clear plastic furniture and mood rings. "Design trends come and go," says Manning. "After Nike (NKE) had the swoosh logo, everybody had a fraction of a circle or a swoosh for a while." Going by that, a change may already be underway. WorldTalk (WTLK), which once boasted capital letters, a circle and a swoosh all in one logo, was recently sold to the humbly named Tumbleweed Communications (TMWD). Now that's a name you can ride the information superhighway to.
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