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Circling R's: Smart phoning it in

Posted by: Ilan Beesen on April 27, 2012

RPerpetually plugged in means never out of the loop. And these days, being out of the loop is unimaginable. Technological advancements have placed the mobile phone at the nexus of our social and professional lives. Yet, while mobile phone technology has advanced, phone naming seems stuck in an infinite loop.

The recent release of Nokia’s Lumia 900 inspired us to take a closer look at how major makers are naming their next bests. With few exceptions, we’re noticing sustained focus on established family brands. Familiar names like Lumia, Galaxy and One are anchoring our expectations in an industry where naming is given to flights of fancy.

But within these families, we, the customer, need to be able to differentiate between phones. And this is where we often experience more of the same.

Samsung’s Galaxy brand keeps expanding with dozens of new trademark filings in 2012. Representing what’s sure to be an innovative set of products, most of the names fail to say anything new. Names like “Accelerate,” “Halo,” “Lift,” “Joy” and “Emerge” are fine names, yet we’ve heard them before. Existing brands like “Stratosphere” and “Skyrocket” already convey heightened levels of productivity and euphoric emotional states. Likewise, Galaxy “TXT” treads the same territory as the already-established Galaxy “Note.”

The most memorable new Samsung names are totally unexpected. The Galaxy “Sire,” “Heir” and “Rite” come straight from an era of knights, thrones and medieval chivalry. They tell a story that’s completely unrelated to the benefits of modern technology. They create visions of castles and pagan rituals instead of strikingly new mobile concepts. They’re fresh and differentiating compared to the status quo. Just try not to imagine Don Quixote texting Sancho Panza on his Galaxy Sire.

HTC has produced another bright spot in a sea of grey naming. The Nexus One, Google’s flagship smartphone from 2010, has been given new life. HTC takes the familiar “One” brand in a novel direction with the Onex, Ones, and Onev. Exponents say math; math says science; and science says new technology. Nicely done! But how do they expect us to brag to our friends about our new Onex phone? “I just bought the One to the x!” Visually interesting, yet impractical in everyday vernacular.

And bringing us right back to the infinite loop is LG, with its filings for “Style,” “Lucid,” “Viper,” “Connect” and “Expression.” These names might stand out in the portfolio if it weren’t for their existing doppelgängers: “Prestige,” “Enlighten,” “Vortex,” “Ally” and “Spectrum.” Haven’t we heard all this before?

So, the million-dollar question is, where does mobile phone naming go next? In an extremely crowded trademark space, available words are dwindling. Product namers will continue to explore unexpected metaphors and emotional states that connect customers to their mobile phones in new and exciting ways. Yet these names will likely tread the same territory as their predecessors. Maybe now it’s time to give the iPhone its due respect.

In an industry that trends towards the complex and undifferentiated, descriptive naming is not only disruptive in its simplicity, but also in its staying power. At the end of the day, naming can help simplify complicated choices, but more often than not it seems to add to the complexity of buying a phone. Help your customers decide. Step out of the infinite loop!

Ilan Beesen is a Naming Consultant for Verbal Identity at Interbrand New York.

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