To Stand Out, Republic Changes Name to AutoNation

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Auto retailer Republic Industries Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, this month renamed itself AutoNation Inc. as part of a corporate branding exercise to reposition itself in an increasingly crowded online market.


The development follows similar announcements from other Internet companies that have changed their names recently to keep abreast of growing competition on the Net. Fogdog.com, the San Jose, CA, sporting goods store, changed its name from SportSite.com; Fatbrain.com, the technical and professional bookstore, Sunnyvale, CA, changed its name from ComputerLiteracy.com; and the apartment finder Allapartments.com, San Francisco, christened itself Spring-Street.com.


"The Internet is the most overcrowded real estate in the business world," said George Frazier, partner of the Internet naming company Idiom, Oakland, CA. One letter away could take users somewhere completely different.


"When we renamed AirTouch about five years ago [it had been called Pacific Telesys] it really set off a trend, and now a lot of companies have started to do it in the Internet space. There is a steady stream of the Yahoo/Amazon direction of naming."


The reason Internet companies are giving themselves these corporate overhauls was summed up by Fogdog's corporate spokesman Duffy Jennings: "It's an issue of memorability among the consumers, a question of being unique and having a name that stands out in their minds.


"For us, the main issue was to find an identity that was unique, easy to remember, easy to spell and had some character. And a lot of companies are looking for unique identities right now. Three years ago, Amazon was just a river!"


But it is not a simple process for most. It can involve months of working with agencies to create the name and image and then register the name. The final, and perhaps hardest phase, is selling the change to the consumer.


Fatbrain.com marketed its new site by sending out an e-mail to all clients that offered them $250,000 Scratch-It-Rich Sweepstakes, Fatbrain.com Sweepstakes, $15 off anything on the Web site and free Fatbrain.com baseball caps.


It also invested in banner advertising on the Net and in the technical press, in magazines such as PC Week, Interactive Week and Wired.


AutoNation ran ads in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal print publications. And SpringStreet launched a multi-million dollar national advertising campaign which featured an online giveaway contest, "Live Rent Free". This was a prize to win a year's free rent, and free tickets to the New York Broadway musical, Rent.


Neither is it cheap for a company to change its name. It can cost some hundreds of thousands of dollars and others at least $50,000 to $80,000 (not including advertising) according to Robert Cudd, corporate spokesman for Fatbrain.com.


"It's an expensive business, but definitely well worth it. We spent somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $75,000 dollars, not including advertising, because we recruited a company to help us to go through the naming process. Consumer research suggested that logo design and logo standards were also very important.


"In the age of the Internet where you don't have to invest in bricks and mortar, you have to invest in your brand and marketing your Web site."


Fogdog's Jennings agreed. "The renaming process is not a cheap one," he said. "The recreation of our identity cost us about $50,000, not including advertising. We also had a huge party in San Francisco in November during which we had a drag race of zamboni ice resurfacing machines - you can buy one on our Web site. PR is a big site of our working. Affiliate relationships is the other component. (IS THERE SOMETHING MISSING)


"But you have to stand out. Yahoo is not called 'searchengine.com'"


Internet-naming specialists, of which there are approximately 15 in the United States, help by recruiting a team of creative linguists and writers to come up with names for selection.


"We bring in a creative team to come up with some names," said Frazier, whose clients include Compaq and Intel among others. "Each of the 'namers' also has a real job. One person we use writes for cutting-edge technology publications, we usually bring in a poet and a screenwriter, we use people with language skills. We do a series of exercise skills for a few hours, we do it for a number of hours different ways and play contests and then we evaluate what people like best."
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