Power of words enriches visual communication

Pity the name-generators for they have received their comeuppance. A near biblical phrase sums up the plight in those on the edge of design, who for a short while have enjoyed a lucrative foray into global business as name-changing became a ‘fashionable’ necessity.

Enterprise IG kicked off the year with news that naming activity fell last year from its global peak in 2000 (DW 24 January) – not surprising given the number of dotcom crashes and the slowdown in mergers and acquisitions.

Then London’s Evening Standard built on Enterprise IG’s research, pointing out that a company’s share price tended to drop following a change of name. Meanwhile, the debate fueled by the launch in recent years of brands like Diageo and Corus continued with celebrated wordsmiths such as Interbrand director of verbal identity John Simmons decrying the rash of Latinate names on the grounds they sound elitist and lack personality.

But nothing could compare with Consignia chairman Allan Leighton’s denouncement last week of his own organisation’s £2m name and identity change from the Post Office Group, courtesy of Dragon, in January 2001.

Sadly for Leighton, Consignia can’t afford to reverse the situation – something he should perhaps have considered more carefully before he spouted forth. It wasn’t a great moment for staff morale and prompted media already taxed by names such as the incomprehensible mm02 for the former BT Wireless to have a field day.

Naming is important. It has helped some companies, notably Orange and global bank HSBC, to make a new start or statement and it has proved a valuable asset to consultancies trying to better their standing on the strategic side of branding. It has also given welcome credence to the power of words in visual communication. But naming shouldn’t stand alone and perhaps the problem has been that it has been allowed to do so.

Nor is all lost for design groups priding themselves on their way with words. A more important phenomenon is gaining favour with clients – that of generating a tone of voice. Interbrand’s Simmons and WPP Group’s Jeremy Bullmore are established masters, writer Tim Rich is doing it for Ericsson, working with SAS across the mobile phone giant’s suite of literature, and Boots the Chemists appointed Ben Affia to its Nottingham staff last year to help on the words side of its communications.

This is good all round, not least for punters confused by the disparate messages some companies send out. For design groups and writers it affords the opportunity to work more closely together to their mutual enrichment. Such collaboration is about communication in its truest sense and deserves our support.

Latest articles