BlueTriton may sound like the name of Aquaman’s new superfoe, but it’s not (though there is a Marvel character called Triton).
It’s the new moniker of Nestlé Waters North America. The company’s products can be found in break rooms the nation over, among other places, with popular brands such as Arrowhead, Poland Spring, Deer Park, and Pure Life. This reinvention aims to highlight Nestlé Waters’s environmental bona fides, including new water sourcing methods and sustainable packaging.
Why do brands change names?
It takes tremendous amounts of time, energy, and money to change an established name. So why do it? Most often, a business renames because owners change, the company merged with another, or management wants to refresh an older brand.
But sometimes the switch is an attempt to erase a brand’s bad PR or cultural insensitivity. When ValuJet became synonymous with “plane crash,” the name could no longer fly. More recently, Aunt Jemima, Eskimo Pie, and the Cleveland Indians all recognized the bigotry underlying their names and made the change. Brands have also tried to flee a deadly past (Philip Morris became Altria), or simply an unseemly one (Time Warner Cable, accused by some of having the worst customer service in the world, became Spectrum).
First off, there’s the new management angle. One Rock Capital Partners, LLC in partnership with Metropoulos & Co., recently acquired Nestlé Waters. The new team made the call to rebrand as BlueTriton.
Second, and equally important, the company is likely also trying to flee from its past. For some, Nestlé is one of the most reviled consumer brands in the world. Back in the 1970s, the company received horrendous press and became the target of a boycott when it promoted its baby formula as better than breastfeeding to poor women in developing nations (which groups like Save the Children say had led to widespread infant malnourishment and deaths). More recently, Nestle and other chocolate makers were accused of abetting child slave labor in Africa. And Nestlé
Waters North America found itself in the crosshairs for siphoning away huge amounts of water for free from drought-stricken California, other states, and First Nations lands in Canada.
Does the name work?
We can’t predict whether this name change will help rehabilitate the brand (changing the way they do business is the only way to do that), but we can say that as a company name it’s on message but meh.
Blue is calm and clean, azure pools and clear skies, and in Greek lore, Triton is a guardian of sea creatures and the son of Poseidon, ruler of the ocean. The name clearly conjures images of water, purity, and power to protect the natural world. Plus, the name has great graphic potential with blue colors and Triton’s iconic trident.
The company release makes clear that these are the messages it wants front and center: “Triton is a god of the sea in classical Greek mythology. Combined with the color blue, representing water, the new name reflects the Company’s role as a guardian of sustainable resources and a provider of fresh water. Moreover, BlueTriton signifies the Company’s continued commitment as an independent business to sustainability and high-quality products and services.” One might quibble about the fresh water aspect given that Triton is always associated with saltwater, but on balance the name’s messages are spot on.
However, the pairing is boring. It feels mechanical, lazy, like they took a column of vocabulary for fresh and one for water and mixed and matched for half an hour, then chose the one for which trademark was available. Using blue to suggest water is about as tired a trope as you can find, and Greek god names are only slightly less hackneyed.
This lack of creativity reinforces the idea that this brand is inauthentic, superficial, that it prioritizes the expedient over engagement with the community—the very position you’d think the company was trying to distance itself from.
Will the average (non-namer) person pick up on these subtle brand disconnects? Probably not consciously, but on some level, they’ll sense something’s missing.
Naming a company is hard. Even when a name checks all the semantic and availability boxes, it can still fail. Strategically BlueTriton makes sense, but creatively it fails to inspire. Creativity is how you connect with your audience, and connection is the only way a customer will look past your flaws.