July 16, 2012

Confession #46: I can't imagine marketers picking baby names

Opel ADAM. And some jumping people
(General Motors photo)
I won two goldfish from the Monroe School carnival when I was 8. They lived for about a week, but I still named them Bob and Buster – and no, I couldn't tell them apart. I arrived at Bob and Buster because Bob Crown appeared regularly on local TV commercials promoting his dealer, Crown Dodge. Next to him, usually sitting on a Durango or something like that, was his bulldog, Buster. Seriously, those were the best names I could come up with.

Names for living, breathing things are hard. My parents chose my full, legal name by committee. That's why, when I show off my driver's license, people sometimes die of laughter. But why should naming a car be that difficult? It is, because Opel just picked one of the first names in the baby book.

Adam Opel, the man
When Ford introduced the Edsel line, the first thing many people asked was, "What the hell is 'Edsel'?" That's not a good way to introduce a new car, and Edsel promptly flopped, never mind it was a hideous, badly made car. Opel has done something similar by calling the fashionable Fiat 500/Audi A1/Mini-ripoff the ADAM (and that's the last time I'm going to capitalize that – come on, marketers!). Adam refers to Adam Opel, as in the company's founder. Ferrari honored its founder similarly with the Enzo, and that's fine. But what's a cooler name, Adam or Enzo?

And here's this: Enzo Ferrari got in the car business because he loved racing. Adam Opel started making cars because sewing machines weren't profitable enough. Not that you can in the US, but if you told someone you spent about $20,000 on a new Opel Adam Glam (that's really one of the trim levels available, along with Slam and Jam, but, fortunately, no "Wham bam, thank you, ma'am") they're going to think you invested in an '70s rock band with a singer covered in glitter.

Opel got it wrong, but plenty of other carmakers have shot themselves in the foot of late. Lincoln decided to drop Zephyr and Aviator for MKZ and MKX because names like Continental and Town Car were overshadowing the brand name. Instead they went for names no one could remember and people forgot about Lincoln.

The Germans could get away with alphanumerics for years because they usually meant something. A BMW 328i used to mean the 3-series, which was smaller than a 5 or a 7, with a 2.8-liter fuel-injected gas engine. But now a 328i means a 3-series with a 2-liter turbocharged gas engine. Mercedes is guilty of the same thing.

Ignoring the LR2 and LR4 that are the Freelander and Discovery elsewhere in the world, Land Rover has been good about using words, not numbers. The company decided to bank off of the successful Range Rover and create a marketing muck-up of their own. The Range Rover Sport was smaller than a Range Rover, but where does the Range Rover Evoque fit in? And on what DMV form does Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Coupe Dynamic actually fit?

At least Opel Adam is short, but it's memorable for the wrong reason. Is that what marketers actually think will make us recognize a car when we hear it being name dropped?