Skip to main content

What’s In aName?

Jeff Weber remembers the
puzzled stares from colleagues at SBC
Communications six years ago, when he
announced the name for the telco’s new
video service.

SBC, which adopted the AT&T name after
acquiring the telco, spent months evaluating
hundreds of names before picking “U-verse,”
meant to convey an expansive entertainment
experience centered around “you.” The name
tested well with consumers and was easy to remember
and say, Weber said.

But often when U-verse was brought up internally,
“there was a glassy-eyed, blank look,
because it didn’t mean anything,” said Weber,
now vice president of U-verse and video products
for AT&T.

Would the TV service, by another name,
have been just as sweet? “I love the U-verse
brand. But if we’d gone with something else,
we could have built that into another name,”
he said. “It’s the product delivery that matters.”


The labor-intensive process of introducing a
new brand — or changing the name of an existing
product, service or company — has become
a popular pastime in the media industry
in recent years, particularly in cable and telecommunications.

It’s been more than a decade since Cablevision
Systems introduced Optimum. Verizon
Communications offers service through its
FiOS brand, and now Comcast’s service now
goes by the catchier Xfinity.

Court TV became TruTV, OLN switched
gears to Versus and the Sci Fi Channel is now
just Syfy. Macrovision Solutions, after buying
up Gemstar-TV Guide International and several
other companies, last year chopped its
name down to four letters: Rovi.

One universal truth in the search for brand
meaning is this: Brand equity — the loyalty
built up in a name from years of delivering on
the corporate promise — is worth more than

“If you were starting a sports network today,
I doubt you would call it ‘ESPN,’ ” said Cable
& Telecommunications Association for Marketing
president and CEO Char Beales. “But
they have established that brand by living and
breathing the connection for sports fans, and
investing in it very heavily.”

Corporate names are typically changed after
an acquisition or merger. Sometimes it’s fueled
by a desire to better reflect new services
offered by a company that’s outgrown its birth
name. Other times, it’s a way to avoid association
with a parent company that
may not have the best reputation.

More art than
science, picking
a name is a
tricky business
and even once
a new moniker is
chosen, it’s hard to
judge success. The
best names evoke a
brand’s core attributes.
But industry executives
say the much more critical
issue is spending the time
and effort to make a name

Indeed, if a company is not delivering
on its marketing promises
in very clear, convincing ways, it is better
off not changing its name, said Howard Belk,
co-CEO, president and chief creative officer at
Siegel & Gale, a global strategic branding firm
owned by Omnicom Group.

The science part of branding and rebranding
means it can’t be a subjective exercise, Belk
said. “Asking, ‘Do you like this name?’ is absolutely
the wrong question,” he said. “People
don’t like change.”

Comcast enlisted Siegel & Gale to help it
pick and vet Xfinity, the brand the MSO is using
to apply to a slew of upgrades, including
faster Internet services, expanded HD and
new features like its recently launched iPad
app. The name plays off Comcast’s Project
Infinity, which CEO Brian Roberts outlined
at the International Consumer Electronics Show in 2008, a strategy to drive toward a
virtually unlimited amount of video-on-demand

“Xfinity represents the future of our company
and it’s a promise to customers that we’ll
keep innovating,” Comcast executive vice
president of operations David Watson wrote
in a blog post in February 2010, explaining
the name.

Kids’ programmer Nickelodeon wanted
consistency across its family of channels. So
after two years of planning and research, on Sept. 25, 2009, it changed the name of preschool
channel Noggin to Nick Jr., and teen-focused
The N to TeenNick.

“People were calling SpongeBob
[SquarePants] a brand and Noggin a brand,
and we said, ‘Hold on — there’s only one
brand, and it’s Nickelodeon,’ ” said chief marketing
officer Pam Kaufman.

Fans of the old names were aghast. “Change
it back!!!! Hate that it’s now called Nick Jr!!!”
wrote an anonymous parent on’s
message boards. But the switch seems to have
worked, given that ratings for both Nick Jr. and
TeenNick have improved since.


Kaufman’s No. 1 advice to marketers: Make
sure to build in a healthy timeline for making
the brand transition. She noted that
Nickelodeon took 18 months for the move to
Nick Jr. and TeenNick. “We really did need
that time,” she said.

But new brands — even names that initially
make little sense — can catch on surprisingly
quick. Rovi had long-term plans for the transition
to its new corporate name. The tagline
“Rovi, the New Name for Macrovision” was
supposed to last for two years
— but the company ended the
campaign after six months, vice
president of marketing David
Jordan said.

“We were amazed at how fast
it was adopted,” he said.

Macrovision considered
many possible names, including
brands from recent acquisitions
like TV Guide, All Media
Guide and Lasso. None of those
worked. The company turned
to U.K. consulting firm Heavenly to come up
with a more flexible brand.

Jordan said it was important to have a name
that tested well with consumers, because
Rovi intends to cross over into the direct-to-consumer
space with an announcement teed
up for CES next January. After exhaustive testing,
Rovi was the winner, with implications of
roving around and helping people find things
(in this case, video and other media).

“Some people get caught up in their history,”
Jordan said. “It would have been easy to
say, TV Guide is super well-known, but when
we tested it, it didn’t match our direction.
When we asked people about TV Guide, they
said, ‘Yeah, that’s the magazine on my grandma’s
coffee table.’ ”

Meanwhile, a rebranding effort doesn’t
necessarily need to involve a name change.
Time Warner Cable recently completed an
18-month exercise, code-named Project Mercury,
to evaluate whether to change its name
or introduce a new brand. In the end, the operator
kept its current name. The MSO, working
with Siegel & Gale, found that it had about $1
billion of equity in its existing name and that
the value declined if “Time Warner” or “Cable”
were removed.

“Everyone thinks people hate their cable
company,” Belk said. “But there was a lot of
trust in the Time Warner Cable name.”

In lieu of a name change, Time Warner Cable
updated its logo and is making more prominent
use of its “eye-and-ear” insignia, which
chief marketing officer Sam Howe hopes will
become as recognizable as the Nike swoosh or
the Target bull’s-eye.

Thomson, the Paris-based supplier of media
services and communications and entertainment
devices, adopted the name of one
of its acquired companies — Technicolor —
in January 2010. The company wanted a new
name as it emerged from bankruptcy reorganization.

“We saw a need to put a new face to the
world,” Technicolor chief marketing officer
Ahmad Ouri said. “We wanted to emerge from
the bad connotation of the Thomson brand.”

There was some concern about using the
Technicolor name. It’s still
highly associated with the
old film company, founded in
1915, and perceived by some
as “an old, dinosaur business,”
Ouri noted. But with a
new logo and a more client-focused
culture at the company
to deliver the rebranding story,
the management team was
comfortable with the move.

“We now have one, united
company with a united strategy
and one vision,” Ouri said.

For ICTV, which has been in the
interactive-TV space for about 15 years, the
company wanted a new name — it picked ActiveVideo
Networks — to more efficiently indicate
that it was taking its products in a more
Web-centric direction.

“If we’d kept the name the same, ICTV, it
would have taken much longer to make customers
believe our new direction,” senior
vice president of marketing Edgar Villalpando
said. “It really is an economic decision.”

Added Villalpando, “You have one shot
to change your name. If it doesn’t work,
you’re stuck.”


For cable networks, a new name can help
grow in the target demos it was already trying
to reach. BET and VH1 teamed up to take
BET J, which had been focused on music programming, and renamed it Centric. The programmers
enlisted Lexicon Branding, whose claims to fame include
Swiffer and BlackBerry, to help develop the new

“We were trying to do a better job of super-serving
the audience we had,” said Paxton Baker, Centric’s
general manager and executive vice president. The
channel’s target is 25-54 African-American adults.

“Fortunately for us, it’s actually worked,” Baker said.
The name has “gotten a lot of pop and awareness.”
Centric’s distribution has increased from about 30
million households before the rebrand to 46 million

ID: Investigation Discovery, which replaced Discovery
Times Channel two years ago, made the change
because the programmer saw an opportunity to expand
into a segment — reality programming geared
toward crime and justice — that no other network was

“We operated with a scalpel rather than an axe,” said
Henry Schleiff , president and general manager of ID,
Military Channel and HD Theater. “I wouldn’t necessarily
call it even a rebrand.” ID within the next six months
will be in about 80 million homes, whereas in early 2008
prior to the name change it was in 49.4 million homes.

When Turner Broadcasting System’s Court TV went
through an even more dramatic shift, to broaden its
programming purview into reality programming, it
considered around 4,000 names.

“We wanted a more contemporary, creative look to
the network,” said Mary Corigliano, senior vice president
of digital content and multiplatform brand development
for what is now TruTV. “When you think Court
TV, you’re not thinking cutting-edge, creative content
— and Madison Avenue didn’t see us as that.”

As TruTV, the channel is pulling down bigger numbers.
Comparing 2009 to 2007, the year before rebranding,
TruTV grew its primetime delivery of adults
18 to 49 by 12%, driven by a 30% jump among men 18
to 49. For 2010 year-to-date, the primetime median age
of TruTV viewers has been 46, a six-year drop from its
2007 median age of 52.

However, the move to the new name was far from
easy, Corigliano said, requiring extensive research
and testing.

“Rebrands are a labor of love,” she said.