Branding by numbers

22 February 2022
Branding by numbers

Numbers can be weaved into brand names in a number of ways: combined with letters or words they create an alphanumeric (7up); serve as abbreviations (3M); indicate model series or extensions (BMW 1, 2, 3, etc); symbolise technical attributes (V12 engine); inspire a mythical story (Chanel No5), or even refer to inventory codes (Levi’s 501).

Beyond that, there are naming conventions, naming systems and taxonomies that apply in scientific, IT and other fields – more often used in B2B brands.

Research has uncovered some interesting insights. Kara, Gunasti and Ross (2015) observed that businesses which altered number components (for example: Audi A3 / A4 / A6) prompted more favourable consumer reactions compared to those that altered letters alone (Mercedes GLA / GLB / GLC).

Apparently round numbers help perceptions of product superiority, so using S200 – as opposed to an S199 or S201 – conveys more positive benefits in the minds of consumers. However, when it comes to pricing, it’s well known to round down numbers to .99.

Studies into the psychology of numbers reveal further interesting insights. In 2014, British mathematics writer, Alex Bellos, polled 44,000 people around the world in an online survey and published the results in the Guardian. One insight was that 7 is the world’s favourite number. He found these responses are determined by a universal arithmetical response to numbers, and not by chance. Other research suggests some numbers are more feminine and others masculine, while cultural factors also apply, with some considered lucky in some countries, and others unlucky.

Most research concludes that numbers resonate with almost everyone, and help us to perceive relative product functionality within a numerical hierarchy. But they can add even more value when used as an integral part of a brand name.


Our work for auto manufacturers over the years, has contributed to our understanding of the value of protectable number brands and numerical naming series.

When advising Gordon Murray on the sale of his ‘I2’ trade mark to BMW in 2o13, we advised the famous race car designer that his IP asset was worth considerably more than a single mark, because BMW needed his alphanumeric ‘I2’ trade mark to complete their series of I-branded electric vehicle names.Owning that mark would have allowed him to challenge other numbers in the series. The resulting consideration for the ‘I2’ trade mark reflected that advice.

We were also involved in the transition from Renault’s numeral branding strategy (4, 5, 6, etc) when searching for a name for the Renault 5 successor. The numeric series had become too limiting and the Renault Clio, named after our founder’s eldest daughter, was the first in the new brand naming strategy.

Today, the automotive industry is having to reinvent itself. With the rapid growth of hybrids and electric vehicles, existing naming nomenclatures have been outgrown.

Manufacturers have adopted two broad approaches to brand naming: favouring either individual model names, or a series of numbers, or alphanumeric combinations.

German manufacturers tend towards alphanumeric solutions. VW has a number sequence for electric vehicles starting with ID3, ID4 and ID5. Presumably, there will also be ID1 and ID2, once their new city cars hit the streets. BMW, as mentioned earlier, has adopted the ‘i-series’ numerical prefix. Mercedes Benz use ‘EQ’ as an electric prefix, followed by a class letter. Porsche famously started with a numeric series (356, 911), but now has a mixed brand naming model, with the Taycan 4 it’s first fully electric series.

Ferrari’s model names have always been unpredictable. Today, they range from numeric brands (296, 812) to place names (Roma, Portofino) to alphanumerics (SF90). Their first all-electric car will be the SF90 Stradale. Ferrari’s approach may be untouched by executive tidiness, but customers don’t care, because Ferrari imbues some of its models with so much passion, you don’t even need to mention the F-word. Think 250 GTO, Dino or Daytona.

Meanwhile, on planet Tesla, a seemingly non-distinctive noun is used as the root for a quirky mono-character naming system (Model S, Model 3, Model X and Model Y). While adopting ‘Model’ as the prefix, there is speculation that the suffix combination ‘S3XY’ was sanctioned by Elon Musk himself. If true, has the eclectic Musk limited his model extensions, to ‘BS3XY’? Or “IAMS3XY’?


Apple dominates this market, and – in line with its process of elegant simplification (with a nod to Bauhaus minimalism) – it has applied ascending numerals, bar the entry-level iPhone SE.

Other than Google’s disciplined Pixel +number series, competitors have struggled to provide an intuitive disciplined alternative. Today, instead of being an uplifting consumer experience, buying a smartphone has become increasingly complex, confusing and stressful.

Android competitors have over-extended their ranges, presenting multiple permutations of chipset speeds, internal storage, 5G readiness, battery longevity, screen sizes and much more. For consumers, the dizzying array of options is presented through an equally dizzying range of product names, such as Galaxy A52s 5G, Galaxy S21 FE 5G or Galaxy Z Flip3 5G. There are few clues about which products are premium, since the use of ‘A’ or ‘Z’ could be either top or lower-end, depending on the hierarchy used.

The same applies to Chinese manufacturers, who follow Samsung’s lead. With Chinese numerology still a powerful influence, product names emphasise numerals with positive associations. The number ‘4’ – associated with death – appears only in the current Huawei 40 smartphone range.


Numerals also work in luxury branding. Perhaps the most famous example being Chanel No5 – the fabled fifth sample created by Ernest Beaux for Coco Chanel, who challenged him to create a scent “to smell like a woman, not a rose”. This number’s mystique flourished when Marilyn Monroe, asked what she wore in bed, answered saying “nothing, except for 5 drops of Chanel No5”, proof that, at the end of the day, the essence of branding is storytelling.

While not exactly luxury, “a16z” is a leading venture capital firm, previously known as as the difficult to spell “Andreessen Horowitz”. By taking the first and last letters and inserting the number of missing letters, the founders have created a memorable mark.


So, numerals already play an underrated role in brand naming, but with only 1% of trade marks featuring numbers, there is plenty of potential for more.

When it comes to brand protection, numbers can make a mark easier to register as a trade mark, and also differentiate between models in a series of trade marks.

In our opinion, branding by numbers really can add up.


Peter Matthews & David Gilbert

For more information about Nucleus’ naming services contact