If marketing experts are correct – and the following list suggests that in many cases they certainly are – the name of a company can make or break it when it comes to marketing, and therefore sales of course. Many companies which are now household names began life under a completely different name, and sometimes logo.
When you read what some of the original names were, it doesn’t take a marketing genius to work-out why the name was changed, but picking the new, current name apparently does take a bit of know-how – judge for yourselves.
BackRub was the original name of the all-powerful search engine now called Google – est 1988 – itself a play on the phonetic word ‘googol’, meaning the number one plus 100 zeros and representing the amount of information available, really meaning infinite. Surely smart thinking?
Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web became the catchy Yahoo! Perhaps self-deprecatingly, founders David Filo and Jerry Yang coined it from Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle, when actually it is anything but, becoming one of the most utilised search engines on the internet.
Firebird wasn’t unique enough, so Mozilla changed the name to Firefox, another word for red panda and which obviously caught the eyes of the IT world as well as the all-important consumer.
The reason why the Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation, founded in 1911, changed its name from that mouthful to International Business Machines – IBM – in 1924 is pretty clear. One of the oldest IT companies is still going strong world-wide after more than 100 years.
Similarly, Quantum Computer Services changing to the simpler America Online and then AOL in 2006 is clear, and certainly worked, especially in the age of increasing use of acronyms.
Apple Computers slimmed down to Apple, Inc. in 2007 simply to describe the far wider products of the company, not only computers. Who is to say that one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world wasn’t correct in this decision?
In marketing to the world, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo was hardly appropriate, plus the move from only producing transistor radios for the Japanese market to many more products. Sony was adapted in 1958 from a combination of sonus, Latin for sonic meaning sound, and sonny, a youthful boy. The pronunciation is simple and the same in any language, again a smart marketing move.
AuctionWeb‘s change to eBay was actually a fait accompli – the media were already referring to Pierre Omidyar’s company – founded in 1995, and one of four – as ‘eBay‘, so the name was formally adopted in 1997.
Palm Pilot Payment and Cryptography Company was the original name back in 1998, then renamed to Confinity, merging the words confidence and infinity. PayPal came into being in 1999, when a Confinity engineer successfully designed the now widely-used online system allowing consumers to email payments. The company was subsequently bought by eBay for $1.5 billion in July 2002.
Another mouthful – Marafuku Company, Nintendo Playing Card Company, founded in 1889 – was slimmed down to Nintendo when it started manufacturing other games in 1963, as well as playing cards, and is now the champion of video game production.
Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spice was bought by former employee Howard Schultz in 1987, who had founded Il Giornale Coffee Company, and who simply adopted the simpler, catchier Starbucks – good move Howard!
Brad’s Drink was really a very simplistic American company name when it entered the market in 1893, hardly likely to be noticed around the world. Drink maker Caleb Bradham had the foresight to change the name to Pepsi-Cola, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Fred DeLuca opened Pete’s Super Submarines in 1965 in Connecticut, named in recognition of a $1,000 loan from family friend Dr. Peter Buck, with the aim of earning enough to pay college tuition fees, but without success. The two then became partners, and the name was changed to SUBWAY in 1969 – how tasty, and still expanding around the world!
Blue Ribbon Sports was a company marketing Onitsuka Tiger sports shoes in the USA, when Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman decided that they could do better for themselves, and invented their own company using the Greek word for ‘victory’ – Nike. That was in 1964 – now the company is one of the most profitable in the world.
DrivUrSelf was hardly a unique name, so when acquired by Jacob Hertz in 1918 he quickly changed it to Hertz DrivUrSelf, and then when bought by Omnibus corporation from General Motors, it became Hertz Rent-A-Car in 1953, developing into a worldwide known brand, and the largest US car rental company by revenue.
Stag Party may well have been a popular and appropriate name for a magazine when it was first published in 1953 by Hugh Hefner, but it was quickly changed to Playboy, far more accurately reflecting the content and targeted market, such that it is still one of the best-known magazine brands in newsagents and bookstalls around the world today.
Some famous company logos have so much emotional power that they don’t need to spell out their names, as they transcend languages and cultural borders.
Do you know of other businesses that have changed their name, and subsequently become successful? Please let us know and we will endeavour to write about them too.
“To improve is to change: to be perfect is to change often” – Winston Churchill.