I spent the last 25 years of my working life naming things. My team named hundreds of products and companies – from NationsBank to a paint color for an airline. We had a good run. We never named a car. I never pitched an automaker. Their process is a bog. But I watched with interest from the sidelines. The word “précis” is a real word in English. Properly pronounced, it rhymes with “Tracy.”
Well, Mitsubishi came out with a Precis coupe in 1985 (they dropped the acute accent). I remember reading at the time that focus groups couldn’t pronounce it. It seems the last box to be checked was how to say the name! They asked the focus groups how they would pronounce it, and so it was that Precis went to market as “PREE-sus.” I grieved in print when Cadillac assassinated their iconic Eldorado and DeVille in favor of a letter-string system (ATS, CTS, XTS).
Now I notice they’ve gone to an alphanumeric system, mostly starting with X. I wait for cooler heads to bring back the icons. Even in retirement, comfy on my mountain, I’ll mutter, “Nice,” to a new name on TV, or, more commonly, “How much did they pay for that dog?”
The Nissan Armada, for example. Armada? Top of mind, the Armada was a fleet of clunky Spanish warships that set out in 1588 to invade Britain. They had a terrible plan, and when they retreated, storms sank most of the ships. The car looks like a galleon, but why call attention to it? Cressida was an unfaithful wife during the Trojan War. Students of Shakespeare and the classics sighed with relief when Toyota laid her to rest.
In the late 1980s, a journalist asked me to rate the names given to four new luxury cars: Acura (from Honda), Infiniti (from Nissan), Lexus (from Toyota) and Sterling (from Britain’s Rover). I quickly applied the naming rules my team lived by. Is the name easy to pronounce? Lexus whacked Acura on that one. Consumers know “accurate,” but they stumble over unfamiliar coinings. Infiniti’s cute spelling took away the immediate recognition of “infinity.” My team liked natural words – we did Workforce tools for Home Depot, for example – but tired old buzzwords like Sterling, no thanks. Lexus understood the power of infrequent letters. They used X and gained a hint of “sex.” We were big users of high-value Scrabble letters. We named the Vyvx subsidiary of Williams Communications, Fazoli’s for Long John Silver’s and Sheenique for Sally Beauty. I rated the four names, in order: Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Sterling. And that’s pretty much how they prospered. Sterling only lasted a few model years, and Lexus sales are twice both Acura and Infiniti.
Those of you who follow this space regularly in the Daily Planet might be wondering what’s happened to the leftish exposition on politics that I usually serve up. Truth is, this column started as branding advice for Republicans. Their party’s name is in trouble. It no longer carries the strong conservative connotation it did from Barry Goldwater, through the Reagan era, to 2016. Now it’s just a shell where politicians cower and cringe, fearing the next tweet from the president.
These elected Republicans don’t really have a choice. The voters at home love Trump. Non-politician Republicans who disapprove of Trump, are lost in space right now. They want to re-Republican the Republican Party. While some have switched party affiliations, most are just waiting to see what happens over the next two years. If Trump is still president leading up to the 2020 election, he will own the party and its name. The re-Repubs stay in space. If, on the other hand, Trump is not in office, then the fight for the Republican shell will be brutal. Trumpists will try to keep the party and name for themselves. If they succeed, the re-Repubs must consider forming a new party, and that means a new name.
I’m watching with interest from the sidelines.
Asheville Daily Planet, February 2019