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Branding – How to Avoid Deadly Mistakes

Kim Brebach - Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Find out how millions can result in a branding failure

The bigger they are, the bigger their mistakes. 

We all see brand names or logos that make us shake our heads and ask: what were they thinking? Or smoking? Some make us cringe: Nissan
Tiida and BenQ Joybook. Some make us laugh: Wii. Some make us frown and ask: they spent how many million on a that new logo and brand? A case in question was the  London 2012 Olympic logo. It looked like smashed pottery and the supporting mascots Wenlock and Mandeville were attracted deserved ridicule.

The eyebrow test

It’s a simple a reality check creative agencies used to apply to their ideas. It works like this: Tell people your brand name and watch their eyebrows. If they drop, they’re perplexed. That’s not good since brand names need to speak to people in an instant. If they rise, they’re intrigued. That’s good because you want to arouse curiosity. If your brand name makes people smile, you’ve hit a bullseye.

1. Silly brand names make you look stupid

You don’t want people laughing at your brand name. Many brand names fail this test, often because their owners don't think about meanings in other languages. We’ve mentioned Nissan TIIDA, BenQ Joybook and Wii (pronounced Wee). How could no one in a large company know what ‘wee’ means in English?

Not all is lost in translation. BearingPoint is the name of a consulting business hived off from KPMG. Cringe. Innogy, the new brand for the old National Power of the UK. Laugh out loud. Agilent Technologies is the brand created for HP’s hived off measurement products division. Cringe or laugh? Maybe we should cry – the Agilent moniker cost a million dollars to create.

2. Names with no meaning are meaningless

Novartis. Aventis. These are brand names of merged drug companies. Accenture, the replacement name for Andersen Consulting of shredding Enron files fame, is about as meaningless as it gets. Scient, Viant, Navient, Sapient, Aquent and Cerent are some more.they sound like they've come from some automated name-generating program with no human taking care of quality control.

Would you have guessed that Constellation brands is a conglomerate in the drinks business? Or that Treasury Wine Estates is Penfolds, Leo Buring, Lindemans and Wynns?

3. If you have to explain your brand name, change it

Avenade is another brand name that tells us absolutely nothing. It sounds like an energy drink even when you read the tagline. Would you have guessed that Avenade is a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft? No? You don’t see how Avenade encapsulates the synergy of this business? No? Here’s the official explanation: ‘Avanade is derived from two words that collectively convey the company’s future-oriented and proactive approach to driving customer value: avan-, advance, advantage, avenue + -ade, action, act.’ Does anyone have Philip Nitschke's phone number?

4. Clever is good, too clever is not

Aventail sounds very similar to Avenade but it’s not a made up name. Aventail is a curtain of chain mail on a helmet that extends to cover a medieval soldier’s neck and shoulders. It’s clever; Aventail is in the business of IT security software, but it's too obscure. if your brand name sends people to the dictionary, it’s no good. Names that need explanation lead to confusion and irritation. Neither is good if you want your brand to be clear.

5. Insist on a Reality Check

Whether it’s the eyebrow test or not, a reality check is essential before you commit to a brand name or a rebranding exercise. Your brand should

  • Reflect the special attributes of your company and its value
  • Define products, their quality, characteristics and usability
  • Give your marketing and sales campaigns a clear focus
  • Make a promise to customers that your staff will deliver on

Cautionary Note

Here’s a true story that underscores the need for the reality check: In a brand­ing cam­paign designed to rein­force Mini’s ‘cool brand’ sta­tus, BMW recently spon­sored a cold front in Ger­many. The front named ‘Cooper’ soon turned into a storm cell that ended up killing more than 70 peo­ple and put another 500 in hospital. Britain’s Independent wrote that the deaths lent a “sin­is­ter” aspect to Germany’s prac­tice of allow­ing com­pa­nies to spon­sor weather sys­tems. What BMW said to its advertising agency isn’t known.


Kim Brebach
Content Chief

I've always loved people and words. As long as I can remember, I've been a story-teller and the team here says I'm pretty good at it. That's probably why I head up the Content Team: I create the arc of the story and others add their magic. 

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Comments Posted

Maria Han commented on 20-Jul-2016 01:45 AM
This is a lovely post. Especially the point "Clever is good, too clever is not" or we can it like "Confidence is good but over confident is not good.

Thanks for sharing

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