Jan 10

’Twas the night before tablet…

Almost showtime

Only a few hours till T-Day. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be left out when they count all the blogs that hyped the tablet today. Just a few miscellaneous observations:

Steve. Everyone is so focused on the tablet, nobody’s even mentioned Steve’s health lately. But the Steve-watch will be back in the news, for sure. Expect many reports to start with “A healthier-looking Steve Jobs took the stage today to announce…” At least I hope they do.

Ressurection. For those who think Apple might recycle the Newton or iBook names — forget it. Impossible to imagine Apple naming a thoroughly new device after a thoroughly dead device. Remember also, there are still lots of iBooks out there. How confusing would that be? I’m crossing my fingers for something more imaginative, but the Vegas oddsmakers are heavy on iSlate. iPad is making a late surge around the home stretch.

To i or not to i. Keep an eye on that pesky little letter — for the future starts here. Should the tablet escape without an i, it will be a good indication of where things are going. If the i sucks the tablet into its orbit, assume we’ll be living with it for the rest of our natural lives.

Collateral damage. Black-and-white e-readers, anyone? I’m sure you’ll see some great deals real soon.

The warm-up act. I believe we’ll see more than the tablet tomorrow. We’ll need a major iTunes Store update to present all the new media that will be available there. It’s time for the annual iLife update too. After Steve shows us how magazines will reinvent themselves on the tablet, imagine if he shows us a fantastic new way to share our lives. Use the new features in iLife to create your own “magazine” with words, pictures and videos. It may even call for a new iLife app. iMag? iPub? iNews?

Unfathomably moronic. Rob Enderle says the venue for the announcement indicates that Apple wants to “distance itself from this offering,” as if it’s “a product the company isn’t that sure of.” I had no idea human beings were even capable of such dribble.

Macworld who? Just a year ago we were sobbing over Apple’s rejection of Macworld. We’re better now. Way better. Didn’t exactly seem to hurt the buzz factor, did it?

That’s it. No more tablet talk till we see the whites of its eyes. Enjoy the show.

Jan 10

A monumental naming opportunity

In the naming biz, this is a dream job

What a difference a few billion eyeballs can  make.

While some new products lead a pauper’s life when it comes to advertising and PR, Apple’s new tablet will be born into obscene riches. It will become a TV star, a global headline, grace the cover of hundreds of magazines and be analyzed in thousands of blogs. Whatever name Apple gives it — that word will echo across the land.

Naming experts will tell you that even silly names are accepted quickly, as soon as they become familiar. (See Verizon, Virgin and Google.) Clearly the tablet’s name will become familiar with breathtaking speed.

This gives Apple license to be incredibly brave. They can make the name as creative as the product itself. But how brave will they be? If you try to go by Apple history, it will only confuse you. Here, you’ll find two totally opposite examples: iPod and iPhone.

iPod is a classic name for the ages. No one could have predicted it, since it said nothing about the product other than vaguely describe its form factor. It had as little to do with music as the name Macintosh did with computers. But by creating such a magnificent user experience, Apple would soon make the name iPod synonymous with music — and one of the most powerful brand names on earth.

iPhone took a completely different path. The product was hotly anticipated for months, and the prognosticators had already dubbed it the iPhone. The familiar “i” made it an Apple product, and the device would be … a phone. Not Apple’s most imaginative moment.

With iPhone, the category named the product. With iPod, the product named the category.

My hope is that the tablet’s naming will be more in the creative tradition of iPod and less in the obvious tradition of iPhone. Granted, slate describes the shape of the product just as pod did before. The difference here is that the industry is already overflowing with tablets and slates. It was a feisty and original Apple that shook up the music business with the word iPod. It would be great to see that same Apple show up on Wednesday.

The only real argument for iSlate is that it eliminates the need to educate customers. But with all the world’s attention already so intensely focused, I don’t see the need to educate — only the need to amaze.

We’ll soon see which side of the brain won the debate.

Jan 10

Crimes against nomenclature: 2010 edition


Okay, Samsung — what's your excuse?

Product naming is a recurring theme in this blog, so I’m going to make this an official Observatory feature. With your help, I’d like to assemble a rogues gallery of delightfully bad product names so we can crown a winner at year’s end. Kindly send me your nominees as you discover them.

Kicking off the new year I present the Samsung Galaxy Spica i5700 phone. It’s hard not to admire a name you’re not sure how to pronounce. I would have thought “speek-a,” but I just saw a video calling it “spike-a.” Whatever, that’s the least of its offenses. We have two words, lots of syllables, a space theme, a concealed ethnic slur and a lovely assortment of numbers, all rolled into one.

Now don’t get cocky, Samsung. You’ve got the pole position. But I get the feeling this competition is going to heat up in the months ahead.

Jan 10

Google enters the arena


Stand back — another iPhone killer is born

Droid, Pre, Storm, Cliq — kindly step aside. The real Clash of the Titans is taking shape. In a single day, ad giant Google unveiled the Nexus One while phone giant Apple bought itself a mobile ad company. This should be fun. But first things first. A few instant reactions to Google’s new baby:

Name. Lame. You’ve got a killer brand, a high-end entry into the world’s hottest market, months of global anticipation for a “Google phone” … and you call it what? Ya know, sometimes obvious really is best. Ask iPhone. GooglePhone, Gphone, take your pick. (Oh, and if you really, really had to go this route — and you didn’t — was that “One” really necessary?) Extra points for iPhone before the rumble even starts.

Features. Overall: spotty. Some cool things (better screen than iPhone, 5-megapixel camera, voice-enabled so you can write an email simply by speaking). Some duds (no multi-touch, a microscopic 190MB allotted for downloaded apps, wimpy app store, dismal music player).

OS. Google presented Nexus One as “the best Android device.” Brazen, considering the co-CEO of Motorola was in attendance — presumably with the second-best Android device, Droid, in his pocket. Wouldn’t there be fighting in the streets if Microsoft suddenly started selling “the best Windows computer”? Google says it’s not trying to reap profits from the sales of Nexus One, just “broadening the availability of Android handsets.” Uh huh. Already, Nexus One has features that are merely “coming soon” to other Android phones.

Price. $529 unlocked, $179 with a 2-year T-Mobile “subsidized” contract. To be honest, this industry-wide subsidy thing has always sounded fishy to me. If Apple can haul in the cash selling a 16GB iPod touch for $199, how much more can it cost to add telephony to that? Conspiracy theorists, unite!

Design. Hmm, now where have I seen this look before…

I’m eager to see some real reviews now that Nexus One is among us. I think the competition between former buddies Apple and Google will be good for the industry and riveting to watch. But make no mistake: there will be blood.

Dec 09

Serial proliferator strikes again

You just might find your ideal laptop at Dell

You just might find your ideal laptop at Dell

Just when I was ready to give Dell a rest, comes another irresistible press release. Hey, I’m only human.

This week Dell announced the new, “ultra-portable” Vostro V13 laptop. It will fit well alongside the ultra-portable Adamo, the ultra-portable Latitude Z, the ultra-portable XPS M1330 and a few other ultras that no doubt lurk below the surface at

Again, nothing wrong with choice. There’s something terribly wrong with a product lineup so confusing that customers spend their time pondering instead of buying.

Is this more of an industry thing than a Dell thing? Nope. See how many models pop up on the first results page when you Google “[brand] thin laptop”: Dell 5, HP 2, Acer and Apple 1 each. (Note that HP and Acer both outsell Dell.)

Imagine if you’re a customer going to with money burning a hole in your pocket. Enter “thin computer” into the home page search field. You get 26 models spread over six pages of results. Including two models from Wyse, whoever that is.

For personal attention, I started a live chat with a Dell rep. I said I wanted a thin laptop but was a little confused by the models. “Let me solve your confusion,” the rep confidently replied. With very little info about my needs, he recommended Inspiron. When I asked about Latitude, he explained, “Latitude is for business, Inspiron is for home.” Hmm, I’d use it for both. So what’s XPS, I asked. “That’s for higher performance.” Oh. I wanted that too. Somehow, the final recommendation was Adamo. If they can’t create a coherent product line, you’d hope they could at least create a coherent story.

Okay, I’m finished now. Until Dell taunts me with another of their provocative news releases.

Dec 09

In search of the lost E

vegas_e_2I know, it was just two weeks ago that I picked on Dell over its uncontrollable lust for sub-branding. No fair going after them again. But hey, I’m just reporting the news here — and yesterday’s press release from Dell got the blood flowing once more.

Besides, this time it’s about naming, so at least I’m not beating the same Dell horse.

Yesterday’s announcement was to unveil a new member of Dell’s E-Family of laptops. They call it the Precision M6500.

I’m sorry, that just hit my funny bone. After re-reading the name M6500 several times, I still couldn’t find an E in there. Why, I wondered, wouldn’t they just call it the E6500 and be done with it? That way, we’d all get our minimum daily requirement of E, and that charming “6500” moniker would remain intact.

So I went to Dell’s E-Family page for further investigation. Wouldn’t you know it, they already have an E6500 model. Damn. What are the odds of that happening? Rather than create one more E name, I guess they decided this one would be an E in spirit only.

It turns out that several members of Dell’s E-Family have actually blazed this trail before. I see E-models galore — but the E-Family also features the completely E-less XFR, Netbook, X2 Table and XT Tablet. No mention of the new M6500 just yet, but it will fit right in with those other renegade models.

Hats off to the Dell naming wizards for keeping tradition alive, and actively resisting even the appearance of logic. They’ve built a naming structure only a contortionist could love.

Nov 09

Decrypting Dell

dell_confusion6I received an interesting comment on my recent post about the “overbranding” of Dell. In fact, I thought it made such good points that it deserved to be elevated to a full-blown post.

A warm welcome, if you will, for the Observatory’s first-ever “guest blogger,” Eugene — from I-haven’t-a-clue-where.


Ken, you’re actually being too kind to the Boys from Round Rock. Dell’s branding dysfunction goes much deeper than the fact that their latest computer actually has a name larger than the computer itself.

Setting aside the sheer quantity of sub-brand names and modifiers in their arsenal, the quality of all them, from a pure naming perspective, is terrible. Not to mention the fact that as a family of sub-brands, they bear no familial resemblance to one another. It’s obvious they were all picked out of thin air, to satisfy a particular need at a particular moment in time, without any sense of overall brand cohesion.

Perhaps Dell’s worst branding offense is what they’ve done recently with their netbook line and soon-to-be-launched smartphone. Instead of opting for one of their wacko made-up names, they’ve dubbed them both “mini.” These are defining products for the mobile internet era we’re in, and they’ve given these products the distinct disadvantage of a completely generic name. Worse yet, a completely generic name already being used by six other products in this category. Let’s see, do I want to buy an Inspiron Mini, a Mini 3 or an Inspiron Zino, which is actually a mini-Inspiron. The choices are endless. And endlessly confusing.

Speaking of choices, I went to to check out a Zino. It only took me about five minutes to find it, which made me think of the Dell tagline, “Yours is Here.” Yeah, somewhere.

Nov 09

Dell shifts into overbrand


Dell layers a new sub-brand on its sub-brand

With a name that brings back memories of their dead-end acquisition of Zing, Dell now brings us Zino. Or should I say Inspiron Zino. Sorry — I mean Dell Inspiron Zino HD.

It’s not exactly a miracle of miniaturization (1.5 inches bigger than the Mac mini in every dimension). But I must admit, Dell has accomplished something fairly unusual: they’ve squeezed three brands into an eight-inch square.

This little bout of multi-branding actually pales in comparison to what Dell has accomplished across its product lines. It’s the branding equivalent of urban sprawl.

For example, a customer shopping for a laptop at can now choose an Inspiron. Or Latitude. Or Studio. Or Adamo. Or Precision. Or Vostro. Or Alienware. That’s seven independent sub-brands with crossover features, named with no apparent logic. Grafted onto those sub-brands are the sub-sub-brands: XPS, Mini and now Zing. I mean Zino.

I’m not speaking out against sub-brands. I’m speaking in support of common sense. Isn’t the whole point of creating a sub-brand to distinguish a family of products? Seriously, how many customers can play back what Dell’s product lines stand for?

“The more, the merrier” is not a marketing plan. That Dell can provide a ton of choices is a wonderful thing. That they can’t organize them into clearly defined sub-brands is a shame.

Oh god. It’s happening again. I’m feeling the urge to make another Apple comparison. But I will resist — and compare to Dell’s nearest competitor instead. Over at, things are pretty darn clear: three laptop sub-brands, with multiple choices under each. Should Dell really give a damn how Acer does it? Only if they’re taking inventory of the reasons Acer just blew past them to become the world’s #2 PC maker.

To be honest, I’m surprised that Dell has let this go on. If making life simpler for customers isn’t reason enough to streamline, you’d think that cold, hard cash would be. While Dell’s margins have become microscopic, the cost of designing, manufacturing and marketing this mélange of sub-brands is huge.

But it goes as it goes. In Dell’s world, the Dell Inspiron Zino HD will be a perfect fit. Under-marketed — and over-branded.

Nov 09

Nokia scares up some interest

Latest contender for a chunk of iPhone’s share-of-mind: the Nokia N900 running Maemo software. (Don’t get me started on the naming.)

Nokia has created a video that’s dark and twisted enough that you feel slightly deranged for enjoying it. If you enjoy it, that is. I suspect the reactions will range from “hate it with a passion” to “greatest video ever.”

Personally, I like it. In that deranged kind of way. It’s unexpected, well-produced and fun. I went from bored to “huh?” to holy cow in the span of two minutes — then I went back for more. I love the moody hum, the quick cuts, the glitchy video, the casting/acting, the sheer shock of it, the gritty reality. Never did I imagine I’d see creative brilliance in a neck brace.

Love it or hate it, give Nokia credit for being fearless. We ad guys are forever whining that our clients won’t take a risk, and here’s a client who actually took one.

What’s most interesting to me is how the players have switched positions in this market. Apple, leading in presence if not market share, suddenly finds itself in the ubiquitous PC role — while the Nokias of the world get to play the feisty Apple-like challenger. In this upside-down world, Apple amuses us with mass-friendly, non-daring iPhone commercials, and the upstarts reach deep into the creative well trying to gain traction.

Does that mean Nokia’s creativity will make a dent in iPhone’s armor? Well … let’s not get carried away here. There are 100,000 reasons — the iPhone apps — why Apple will hold onto its lofty position.

Also, one teaser does not a campaign make. Searching the web, including Nokia’s site, I don’t see anything that syncs up with this concept. Who knows what the real marketing plan is. But I do think Nokia deserves kudos for getting creative and taking us to a new place. Even if this particular place is dark, dangerous and a bit disturbing…

Update 11:14am 11.18.09. Thanks to Cat for providing the following credits: Agency – Jack Morton Worldwide; Director – David Masters; Producer – Michael Richards; Original Concept – Matt McConaghy; DOP – Adam Hall; Editing House – Bravo Post Production; Editor – Brin; Post Production – The Mill; Post Production Producer – Luke Colson; CG Artists – Fabrice Le Nezet, Francois Roisin and Jules Janaud; Sound Production – Fitzrovia Post Production.

Nov 09

Choking on their own words

I have to thank my new best friend Sekhar in India for this contribution. It’s an HP commercial currently running in his country. In just 30 seconds, it demonstrates the absurdity of complex product naming.

The narrator for the spot is speaking to us human-to-human, until someone sticks a gun in his back and forces him to say:

My HP Pavillion dv5-1221tx Notebook PC for high-definition entertainment tells my story. What’s yours?

Well, whatever my story is, I’m sure I can say it quicker than that. Pardon me for counting, but that PC moniker runs a full 13 syllables! I suspect this is a record that will stand for some time. Though I don’t doubt that new contenders are warming up in the wings…

Update 2:00pm EST 11.06.09: I was having some fun with this one, but I probably should have made a serious point. Every advertiser has to be extremely realistic about what a viewer will take away from an ad. It is unrealistic to believe anyone will remember this ridiculous product name. It is very realistic to believe they might remember HP makes a cool notebook. Forcing this crap into the commercial only distracts from the good stuff. Whoever insisted on this needs to be taken out to the shed.