Brand name contagion – when a new car launch catches a virus

02 February 2016

The new hatchback’s intended name was Zica, apparently a reference to ‘Zippy Car’, but recent worldwide attention on the Zika virus, which is causing a public health emergency throughout South America, has forced a last minute change. Of course a replacement can’t just be created overnight, as any new brand name will require detailed trade mark searches and better due diligence to uncover unregistered names, unintended name associations, translated definitions and any double meanings.

While naming your new brand after a deadly virus is unadvisable, it isn’t the first time a brand name has been infected. AYDS slimming candy was forced into a name change and Australian soda manufacturer SARS caught a cold in 2003. Infact the annals of brand naming are full of expensive brand name mistakes, including Golden Gaytime ice cream, Plopp chocolates, Pee Cola, Barf detergent, Cock soup mix, Oral Me toothpaste, Pschitt lemonade and not forgetting Arslik electrical stores to name but a few. India has not been short of its indigenous brand name disasters which have recently included Spunk sportshoes and Nightmare pillows.

Without full due diligence during the naming process, even large car manufacturers like Honda, Hyundai, Mazda and Mitsubishi have all screwed-up. Car brand names have referred to female genitals, masturbation and prostitutes in the past; or misspelled animal names remember the Colt Starion? Names can also place products in a less than positive light; General Motor’s Nova brand name didn’t really work in Spanish-speaking countries, ‘No va’ means “It doesn’t go”. Another German manufacturer was forced to pay one of our clients a multi-million £ sum shortly before the Geneva show a few years back because it had committed to a naming structure where it didn’t own all the trade marks in a numeric sequence. As our client owned a critical trade mark registration in important trade mark classes and territories, the manufacturer’s only option was to agree a settlement.

While the Zica debacle is very unfortunate for Tata, at times like this we are reminded of our Nucleus motto; “Your brand is your business; your business is your brand.” This strapline implies why it is so important to position, name and design your brand with great care; if you don’t, you will risk compromising your business.

Creating a new brand name requires a disciplined process which integrates name creation, trade mark searches and domain name checks with due diligence into language, pronunciation and (double) meanings. This is why, back in 2005, we acquired the Trade Mark Owners Association, now Nucleus IP, to become the only brand business in the world to integrate a brand consultancy with its own firm of trade mark attorneys. The resulting rigorous approach developed between the brand naming and trade mark teams creates world-class brand names that can be protected across 200 countries - avoiding expensive brand name disasters…

Peter Matthews
Nucleus Founder & CEO
February 2016

Agree? Disagree?
Share your views by emailing