Playing the game of the name

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 23, 2017

What’s the right pick?   -  patpitchaya/

What makes a good brand name? Will controversy help?

Of late, BJP MP Subramaniam Swamy has been in the news for his role in the recent crisis in Tamil Nadu’s leadership, but before that, he made headlines for protesting the naming of media personality Arnab Goswami’s new venture as Republic. His objection: The use of ‘Republic’ would be “contrary to law and a direct breach” of the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950. Ultimately, the channel changed its name to Republic TV. That threw up the question of what makes a good – and uncontroversial – brand name, especially in today’s startup age when you can’t tell why some enterprises are named the way they are.

Says Ashish Shah, COO and Founder of the online furniture business Pepperfry, “Our brand name is always a conversation-starter. We wanted a name that would reflect the brand’s Indianness, honesty and fun aspect.” He breaks it down: India is known for its spices, pepper is black and white, and it pops during tempering adding the fun element.

Acquiring meaning

Pranay Surana, Co-founder and COO of apparel rental startup Flyrobe, says a brand name should resonate with audiences and be memorable. “I could have called it, which is easy to remember, but it is not appealing. Flyrobe sounds exotic.” Why ‘fly’, though? “Well, to convey getting your clothing on the fly,” he explains, adding that people are not always looking for a meaning. “Brand names acquire value and emotion with time.”

He reels off a list of names that he believes have taken on meaning and equity over time – Zara, Zomato, Dropbox. If the brand name has the potential to become a verb, like Google and many others, it becomes a part of the conversation, he says.

The flipside of this is that many brands are touchy about their names being used as verbs, as they fear misuse and unfair competition, and those are concerns similar to that expressed in the Republic controversy. But is some controversy actually good for a brand name?

Brand domain expert Harish Bijoor says: “Controversy, especially with Subramaniam Swamy involved, will always help the brand, for sure! For a brand at the launch stage, particularly with the lineage of the promoter being as strong as it is today, controversy is good.”

Lulu Raghavan, Managing Director of brand consulting and design firm Landor Mumbai, says it depends on the company’s appetite for risk.

Christening it right

In fact, Republic TV is an excellent choice of brand name, says Bijoor. He believes Nation TV would have been the best name to use. “Remember, Goswami has been immortalised with his very passionate and forceful delivery of the phrase, ‘The nation wants to know’!”

Landor’s Raghavan says naming is a tricky business these days. “It’s extremely easy to run into a controversy.” It’s tough to find a name that is original and has not been trademarked. Another challenge is to find meaning.

It’s interesting that Republic was available, she says. It’s a “nice, bold choice”, and says it’s for the people. However, there are two points of contention here, according to Raghavan. First, there are certain legal issues around using this name due to the law. Also, the name creates a perception of the channel as the nation’s mouthpiece in the minds of the audience.

The Schedule of The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950, specifies that among the emblems and the names that cannot be used for companies, “the name, emblem or official seal of the President, Governor (Sadar-iRiyasat) or Republic or Union of India” are included.

Trademark law practitioner Safir R Anand, Senior Partner, Anand and Anand, says the prohibition under the Emblems Act is only on the use of terms like “name” and “word”, of whose use the Act clearly distinguishes between.

“Our view is in specific, a problem shall arise if by adopting a name, an entity is perceived as an official or government medium. This may be a fact-based determination,” says Anand.

Published on February 23, 2017
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