Today, acronyms and meaningless letters surround us. Every business and industry has its acronyms and initials. We all need a decoder ring to make sense of all the abbreviations and acronyms. As a result, there is a website Acronym Finder dedicated to decoding acronyms and abbreviations with more than 4 million definitions. Unconsciously we use initials and acronyms every day to communicate like, 24/7, WWW, LOL, TBD, ASAP, FYI, ROI, FAQ, SAP, SOL, KPI, ETA, SEO, SWOT and OMG, to name a few. Will all brands eventually become acronyms or mindless initials?
After Y2K, the DotCom bubble and 9/11, there has been an explosion of companies moving towards acronyms and initials. Here are just a few brands that have reinvented themselves:
- The Hudson Bay Company to HBC;
- The Royal Bank of Canada to RBC;
- Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC;
- British Petroleum to B.P.;
- Lucky Goldstar to L.G.;
- YMCA to The Y;
- And the Bank of Montreal to BMO.
LOL – WTF
Wisconsin Tourism Federation changed its name to The Tourism Federation of Wisconsin, retiring its unfortunate WTF (also known as What The F&*K) logo in favour of the innocent TFW. While Wisconsin Tourism changed its name to stop the humiliation, many other brands are doing the same to expand into new non-English markets or to remove words that made the company too regional and old.
There have also been brands that have had a long life as initials such as G.E., IBM, H.P., BMW, UPS, SAP, AT&T, H&M, MSN and V.W. Most people today couldn’t tell you the words that these initials represent.
So Much Meaning In So Few Letters
As it gets more and more challenging to come up with unique brand names that can be trademarked (see Building a Brand Identity Isn’t Getting Easier), developing unique acronyms is another solution. IKEA is an acronym starting with the founder’s initials “I.K.” (Ingvar Kamprad). The “E” came from the farm where he grew up (Elmtaryd), and the “A” from his home county (Agunnaryd in Sweden). From the phrase “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” the acronym Yahoo was created.
Simplicity Or Survival
The charm of initials and acronyms is their simplicity. There is no need to memorize several words, especially if they are long and difficult to pronounce (like German companies such as Bayerische Motoren Werke, BMW or Systeme, Anwendungen und Produkte in der Datenverarbeitung, SAP). Globalization has accelerated the use of acronyms and initials to transcend languages, cultures and countries. Graphically, they can create a strong design mark that can also convey emotional dynamics and, more importantly, can be legally protected.
The main problem is many acronyms mean nothing upfront. Remember your first day in a new company – all those nonsensical abbreviations – all just a scramble of letters. Over time, you build a mental library of what each letter represented even if you couldn’t remember the literal words. Acronyms and initials are inherently not descriptive of the business and possess no imagery or benefit-oriented language in and of themselves. Ideally, you want a brand name that communicates something about the category, or a benefit, or both.
Name = Benefit
In the car insurance industry, Government Employees Insurance Company, known as GEICO, competes with companies like Nationwide, SafeAuto, and Esurance. Right away, these three competitors’ names all tell you something about who they are:
- Nationwide – an extensive network of service and coverage.
- SafeAuto – keeps you and your car safe.
- Esurance – provides access to insurance online.
What does GEICO tell you? The first thing that comes to mind is the memorable little green gecko. GEICO built its brand recognition through extensive advertising. In 2013, GEICO spent $935 million on advertising, almost three times the average paid by the rest of the ten most significant insurance companies. No surprise, their brand is well recognized as an insurance company.
Transforming to Meaningless Letters
Small and medium-sized companies can’t afford the time and money to build a brand from initials unless the initial or acronym is very exclusive and memorable.
However, there is a way to cheat by using the initials/acronym as a design mark with the full words that represent the initials. Consulting firms like law, advertising, architecture, where the people are the differentiating factor, tend to use the founder’s and partner’s names as the brand. To be customer friendly, they abbreviate the brand name to simple letters. Just make sure the final initials/acronym does not spell words you couldn’t say in front of your mother. However, there are still those companies who push the limit to be memorable like the popular FCUK, which stands for “French Connection U.K.,” a trendy clothing store.
The Internet, texting, tweeting and social media have forced everyone into new abbreviated, shorthand to fit, save time and work with a mini keyboard of two-inch by two-inch. Many companies have also abbreviated their company names to have more memorable URL addresses. Today many brands start by securing a URL name first before determining the brand name.
IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)
Acronyms and initials are here to stay and will continue to become more prolific as more brands become more global and more digital. But other trends could influence the evolution of brand names becoming acronyms such as smart voice devices (Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, Google Home) and the increasing use of audio dictation and Apple’s Siri. Artificial intelligence (A.I.), digital assistants and logarithms are changing how we communicate every day. How this will affect abbreviating brand names is still unknown. The essential brand goal is to ensure its customers remember their name – acronym, initials or not.
Eventually, ABWBA (all brands will become acronyms), but DQMOT (don’t quote me on this)!