Brand Thinking

When acronyms work


They need to flow and to sound right. It should not just be a shortening exercise or to try and appear more modern. 

There is a significant trend in brand naming to use acronyms, but is it a good idea or not? DKNY and IBM definitely work. Donna Karen New York is strong but DKNY is punchier and contemporary. International Business Machines is descriptive but again IBM has a much stronger identity for the technology giant.

So what are the rules? They need to flow and to sound right.

It should not just be a shortening exercise or to try and appear more modern. BT, NHS, M&S, MGM, RBS, GSK all have value and sound right. The old monolith British Telecommunications was able to modernise and develop a new brand identity when it became BT. In the case of GSK it was the mega-merger of Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham that led to the new brand.

Certain sectors are rife with acronyms. The charity sector loves a good abbreviation: RSPCA, NSPCC, RNLI, et al. But sometimes the acronym is not clear cut. The Automobile Association is well known as the AA and works well, but does fight with Alcoholics Anonymous for the AA territory. We even get into generational issues with some abbreviations, such as R&B, which is Rhythm and Blues to my generation of 70’s rockers but Rap & Base to the less cultured youth of today. Tongue firmly in cheek!

At the more challenging end of the spectrum FCUK used the acronym to shock. French Connection UK would have much less impact. The initials can be so well embedded that we struggle to name what they stand for: FIFA, HMV or FTSE anyone?

Sometimes colloquial use leads to abbreviations, such as JD’s for Jack Daniels, although they have resisted the temptation to go shorter on the brand. Similarly, the spooks at the CIA and the FBI use the acronyms for common usage but retain the full names formally as the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigations.You rarely ask for a Gin & Tonic, it has to be a G&T.

Should you consider an acronym for your brand name? The answer is of course, it depends. It can be a great choice but there are lots out there already. Make sure that you play the game if you are considering any form of brand naming for your company.

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