A lot of shuffling has taken place with Yahoo recently. In February of this year, the terms were finalized in a deal by which Yahoo would be bought over by Verizon. A lot of Yahoo’s value comes from the fact that it owns a 15% stake in the Chinese e-commerce/tech giant and world’s largest retailer, Alibaba.
After Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo, the search function is living on as Yahoo, and the rest of it — essentially the Alibaba holdings — has been renamed Altaba.
That caused a few namers and laypeople to scratch their heads.
And then more recently, Verizon revealed that Yahoo and a few more of Verizon’s subsidiaries like AOL and the Huffington Post would all operate under the umbrella name Oath.
And that announcement verily turned those selfsame heads.
Let’s start with Altaba. It is said to be a portmanteau of Alternative and Alibaba, to show investors that if they buy in to Altaba, they are essentially buying in to Alibaba.
It’s a shame, really, that a company as iconic as Yahoo would be chopped up and become something as empty as Altaba. Then again, it is very hard to clear a name internationally, so that surely contributed to the choice. Further, if Altaba houses none of Yahoo’s old functions, and has no more ambition than being a vehicle for investing in Alibaba as they claim, so be it. I understand that choice. (Grade: B)
The real outcry came after Oath was announced. And, I would argue, for good reason. For one, Oath is tough to say and it sounds boring — almost legalistic. And, there’s the other meaning of the word… #%*&!
Compounding all of this is that Oath simply feels off-brand. It contains none of the levity or presence of Yahoo or even AOL, none of the punchiness of Verizon. Which raises the age-old question, why? What are they driving at?
One answer is that they want to suggest trust. Of being able to uphold their end of the company-customer bargain. After all, all of the major brands associated with it – AOL, Yahoo, and Verizon, have suffered trust issues, whether it be from hacks, questionable business practices, or simply notoriously bad customer service.
My suggestion is always, if you have a PR problem, tread carefully in trying to speak directly to that with your branding choices. Consumers have a nose for BS, pandering, and doublespeak… like, say, the Pepsi commercial that tried to play off the Black Lives Matter movement. Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” thing was okay as an internal corporate motto (albeit widely and publicly disseminated) with an organic origin story (by that I mean, not created by a marketing team), but would not have worked as their actual tagline crafted by marketers.
I think a good example of a name that suggests trust is Oscar, the health insurance company. Health insurance companies are notoriously parsimonious in payouts and maddeningly bureaucratic (not to mention the fact that if you ever have to deal with them, you’re not in a good place to begin with). But instead of calling their company something that overtly said “Friendly” or “Your Ally,” they chose the simple first name Oscar. Subtle, and trustworthy.
Lastly… what’s up with the prominent colon in Oath’s logo? If anyone has a guess, please, let me know. The eyes in a sideways smile? An homage to the AOL logo’s final period and the Yahoo exclamation mark? As is, it unnecessarily (the line break is sufficient) punctuates the phrase “Oath: a Verizon company.” Worse, it suggests that you fill in the blank as to what the company is swearing to do. Or worst, suggests they are promising nothing.
Oath misses the mark.
For one, Oath is tough to say and it sounds boring — almost legalistic. And, there’s the other meaning of the word… #%*&!
We all remember the California Milk Processor Board’s famous question. But before we can ask ourselves if we’ve got milk, we need to agree on what milk is.
A fellowship of US Congresspeople is pushing a bill (the DAIRY Pride Act) that would ban non animal-based drinks from being called “milk,” “yogurt,” or “cheese.” Are you ready to drink almond juice?
The legislators involved all hail from big dairy states, and their intent is obvious. Traditional milk consumption is quickly giving way to consumption of plant milks made from soy, rice, and nuts. Dairy producers know that consumers would be less likely to dunk cookies in soy milk if it were called “soy juice.” So instead of crying, they are trying to stop the plant-based milk from being called “milk” at all.
Before we talk about food naming protocol, here’s some history about the word milk. The term soy milk has been around for at least 100 years. Coconut milk for 120. Almond milk has actually been around since the middle ages — it was commonly used because cow’s milk spoiled faster. Additionally, milk as a word is also broader than a mere ingredient. It’s a verb, it’s part of numerous colloquialisms (milk money, cry over spilt milk, land of milk and honey), and carries connotative, metaphorical, and even mythic meaning.
So the first logical question is, where does the literal definition stop and the metaphorical definition begin? The word milk in Silk Soymilk leans on milk’s connotations in a way that the milk in Muscle Milk does not. A literalist could argue that many food product names are misleading. Does Smartfood Popcorn increase IQ? Are Swedish Fish caught in Scandinavia? You get the idea.
Consumers often assume, and rightfully so, that what’s in the brand name is what’s in the jar. But where do we draw the line? Why are these lawmakers concerned that milk in plant-based brand names will confuse consumers, but not worried the public will think Muscle Milk is the product of squeezed deltoids, or be confused by the use of the word butter in the name I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? The Can’t Believe brand has not been challenged as misleading, even though the size of the word butter is much bigger than all the other words in the logo. If the bill passes, it follows that this product would need to be renamed along with the soy and almond beverages.
Note, this bill isn’t just about brand names. Food product labels include the brand name, such as Muscle Milk, Silk, Almond Breeze, and Rice Dream, as well as the food identity name (the type of food or beverage the product is), such as soy milk (or soymillk, as the Soyfoods Association of North America prefers), non-dairy beverage, almond milk, and rice drink. Current FDA regulations require that food labels include a statement of identity:
“The name established by law or regulation, or in the absence thereof, the common or usual name of the food, if the food has one, should be used as the statement of identity. If there is none, then an appropriate descriptive name, that is not misleading, should be used.”
They even permit more fanciful names, as long as consumers won’t be confused:
“When the nature of the food is obvious, a fanciful name commonly used and understood by the public may be used.”
These regulations still leave a lot up to interpretation by the government. (It’s a lot like trademark law in that way.) What it all boils down to, though, is these questions: Is the content obvious to a consumer? Will consumers be misled by the name?
The dairy lobby has argued that consumers
“have been misled into believing that the plant-based ‘milk’ was nutritionally equivalent to or better than cow milk when the products actually lack many of the essential nutrients and vitamins provided by cow’s milk” (FDA Law Blog 3/8/17)
If that misunderstanding is proven to be the result of the use of the word milk, then the dairy producers concerns about the labeling are justified. However, consumer misunderstanding about the nutritional value of almond, soy, coconut, and rice beverages may have nothing to do with use of the word milk, and so would only be remedied by a clear listing of nutritional content, rather than a change in the descriptor.
The current FDA definition of milk is
“the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
If this description were strictly enforced, goat, sheep, and human milk would no more be “milk” than soy, almond, or coconut. How shall we label chevre, then – cultured goat lacteal secretion?
As with the application of most regulations, common sense should prevail over the letter of the law. The FDA’s treatment of eggless mayonnaise shows such a common-sense path. The FDA’s legal definition of mayonnaise states that it must contain eggs. However, in 2015, the FDA decided that Hampton Creek could keep the brand name Just Mayo for its eggless spread but must change the label to ensure “products are labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading.” Hampton Creek added the words Spread & Dressing as the food identity and the phrase Egg Free to the front of its labels.
Catchword recommends a similar solution to the milk shakeup. (And since the real issue seems to be lost revenue for dairy farmers, we also recommend lawmakers and the dairy lobby find productive ways to help these farmers. After all, trying to restrict the livelihood of another set of farmers doesn’t help the community as a whole.)
The milk bill seems unlikely to pass, and it shouldn’t, but we’ll see how the cookie crumbles in Washington.
Until then, if you have any questions about what is misleading and what is not in food and beverage naming, let us know! We’re here to help.
If Samsung has its way, we’ll all be bellowing voice commands to “Bixby,” the company’s new voice assistant. Yet Bixby could be hard for some users to call upon because of the placement of one letter: the “x.”
The “x” in Bixby sounds essentially like a “k” and an “s” combined, which is difficult for many people around the world to say, according to linguists, including for those in Samsung’s native South Korea.
“Lots of languages do not allow for certain kinds of consonant clusters,” William Idsardi, head of the linguistics department at the University of Maryland, said in an email. …
Bixby can also be a good brand for Samsung because it doesn’t have many preexisting associations with it, said Laurel Sutton, co-founder of the naming firm Catchword, linguist and information officer for the American Name Society. Sutton said that some may remember “Incredible Hulk” actor Bill Bixby, or know another person with that name, but it’s not a particularly common word. …
Read the full story here: Why Samsung’s name for its personal assistant may twist quite a few tongues
Catchword’s very own Laurel Sutton was consulted by WaPo reporter Hayley Tsukayama on Samsung’s selection of “Bixby” for its new AI assistant.
Thanks to Werner Brandl, our German partner, for the heads up about this German copycat for Skinnygirl brand cocktails. Pretty edgy and aggressive, but perhaps the word doesn’t have the same connotation abroad.
(Photo courtesy Werner Brandl c. 2017)
If you are what you eat, then everyone is surely part Mondelez. Mondelez is a food conglomerate that owns many notables, from Chips Ahoy to Philadelphia Cream Cheese to Triscuits and Wheat Thins.
Yes, that’s right. The two most polar opposites on the cracker spectrum, Triscuits and Wheat Thins, are actually siblings. And now you can add another cracker to the Mondelez cracker family: Véa.
This is what Véa is all about, straight from the horse’s mouth:
“Designed to drive growth in the savory cracker segment, Véa is a key pillar of our goal to be the global leader in well-being snacks…With a name symbolizing the brand’s purpose of “savoring the journey,” we developed Véa for the on-the-go, well-being-focused millennial consumer – open to discovery, adventure and authenticity.”
And does Véa deliver the goods? Crunch yeah. With a vague romance language tone to it, Véa both links to Mondelez, and to the ideas of discovery, adventure, and authenticity. (After all, don’t European sounding names sound more authentic and more adventurous? Compare, say, Frappucino and Coolata.) And, Véa gets one easily to “via,” suggesting an avenue, a journey, and movement, and those that remember their Spanish conjugations “vea” is the third person imperative conjugation of the verb for to look. “Look!” Commands the name.
And as for sound and mouthfeel, the name is light and airy, making the crackers seem healthy as can be. Some might go so far as to say that the V name even brings to mind vegetables! (If they were actually vegetables, they would be the ultimate double agents. But they aren’t. So I guess that makes them triple agents?)
Anyhow, here at Catchword we dig the name Véa. It totally hits the spot.
Véa gets one easily to “via,” suggesting an avenue, a journey, and movement, and those that remember their Spanish conjugations “vea” is the third person imperative conjugation of the verb for to look. “Look!” Commands the name.