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Sci Fi to Syfy: A Name Change of Not-So-Epic Proportions

By Mark Skoultchi

March 17, 2009

2000px-Syfy.svgSo I know my partner already blogged this subject, but it is just too meaty to pass up. For those of you who missed it (I know — hard to imagine someone missing *naming* news), the Sci Fi Channel has decided to rebrand. I read about it in Stuart Elliot’s column in the New York Times.

Oh Landor. Must we continue to charge such exorbitant fees for such mediocre work? First KFC, and now “Syfy”? Where does it end?

The company says it changed the name for two reasons: 1) because their former name was too generic and 2) because they felt their former name was too limiting.

On the first point, I understand completely the desire to switch to a more ownable brand name. However, in this case I’m not sure it really matters. Usually, companies seek names they can trademark in order to prevent other companies from encroaching on their intellectual property. For the Sci Fi Channel, even though their name is somewhat generic, it is still highly likely that they would be able to protect it against, say, another channel launching under a similar name. I think their lawyers are being overly cautious in this instance.

On the second point, if it’s true that they made the shift because “the Sci Fi name is too limiting,” I fail to see how this new name helps them in the slightest. The whole point of the new name is to mimic the old name in every way except its generic form. Semantically, the name is identical. I suspect that in both the short term AND the long term, people will continue to carry the exact same associations with the new name as they did with the old. (Of course, those of us who know science fiction as a genre have no issue with the Sci Fi Channel offering fantasy/super-hero/paranormal programming along with the aliens and space travel. It all fits under the heading, and it’s all good.)

All in all, I think this is a bad move for Sci Fi. They are giving up their pole position (a familiar name that fits their programming to a tee and is remarkably easy to pronounce) for a move to the middle of the pack (a “naming company name” that could be pronounced five different ways and is even harder to spell). As Laurel says, “Thanks for nothing, Landor.”

Remember, this is the same company that got paid to “re-brand” Kentucky Fried Chicken as “KFC” (duh!) and Federal Express as “FedEx” (duh again). Seems to me they should either leave well-enough alone, or come up with something a bit more creative. At the very least, the folks at SyFy should ask for their money back.

Name Grade: C-

Grade:
C-
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