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Goto Enters the Name Game

Goto.com is scrapping its brand name in favor of a name not yet picked that its executives think will better reflect its business focus.

Goto isn't alone, as companies large and small are switching their monikers to reflect their evolving business models.

These changes have perplexed experts, considering many of these companies have spent millions to brand the names being discarded.

“Goto sued Disney [over use of a similar logo for the Go Network] and won. Nobody sues Disney and wins. As a matter of practice, if you're successful in a lawsuit, you hold on to the thing you win,” said James Beriker, president of Search123, Westlake Village, CA, a cost-per-click search engine. “I find it curious that they're rebranding after all of that effort.”

Goto said its current name no longer reflects its corporate model.

“It's something we thought about for some time as we shifted, six to eight months ago, to becoming an affiliate-based model,” said Stephanie Sarka, senior vice president of product lines and corporate marketing at Goto, Pasadena, CA. “Our focus has changed to driving all traffic through affiliate sites. From a communications point of view, it doesn't fully communicate our value proposition.”

Sarka would not quantify how much the company spent in the fourth quarter of 1999 and early 2000 on consumer branding efforts, but did say it was less than $50 million.

“Goto is the leader in [cost-per-click-based] search. [Even if they're switching to an affiliate model], why do they have to change their name to do that?” said Beriker.

Business doesn't seem to be hurting as Goto provides search services to America Online and Lycos. It also announced last week that AltaVista would use its services. Goto's new moniker will be unveiled early next year.

According to experts, name changes are not necessarily a bad thing.

“You always find a lot of name changing happening when the economy is changing,” said Nan Budinger, creative director at Metaphor Name Consultants, San Francisco. “Companies have to respond to changes in market. They have to make an assessment as to who they are, what they're doing for who and in what competitive environment and see if their name reflects that. Very often the decision is, 'no, it doesn't.' “

Recent name changes include Andersen Consulting becoming Accenture, FreeShop.com changing to Aptimus and iSwag.com switching to Develos.

The trend toward made-up words may baffle consumers, said Al Ries, co-author of “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.”

“These manufactured names are not pronounceable or spellable. At least Xerox and Kodak are simple to pronounce and easy to spell.”

The reason companies are adopting these unusual names is that they are less of a hassle, said Ira Bachrach, president of NameLab Inc., San Francisco, a leading name development company.

“They are concerned with having names that are legally available,” said Bachrach. “The simple way of doing that is to make up a name that doesn't mean anything.” NameLab has been hired to help create Goto's new name.

In the spring of 1999, companies were changing their names left and right to stand out from the crowd. Following leaders such as Yahoo and Amazon, SportSite.com became Fogdog.com; ComputerLiteracy.com became Fatbrain.com; AllApartments.com became SpringStreet.com and so on.

This trend seems to have reversed itself. By summer, a number of companies began removing the “dot-com” from their names to distance themselves from the backlash associated with Internet companies. For example, OneCore.com was rebranded simply as OneCore, and Howto.com became Parago Inc.

” 'Dot-com' is no longer helpful and could be perceived a liability,” said Budinger. “E this and dot-com that. Those names reflect a particular moment in time, and that time has passed. Those names will reflect a dated perspective. My favorite analogy is that bell-bottoms came and went too, and nobody looked good in them anyway.”

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