What’s in a name?

Much of the criticism around Yell’s controversial rebrand to hibu has been based around the new brand’s meaningless name.


Yell chief executive Mike Pocock really fired up this issue by admitting to the press shortly after launch that the name means nothing.

But is having a meaningless name really such a problem for brands? As several people pointed out in our voxpop piece on naming, a meaningless name can provide a useful ‘blank canvas’ for a brand.


And even dropping an established brand name for a completely new and unrelated one doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. While we all know the disaster stories (particularly Consignia) there are plenty of examples of nonsense rebrand names becoming established – look at Norwich Union’s now-settled rebrand to Aviva, much criticised at the time.

Beyond the meaningless names, I believe there are two major problems with the hibu rebrand.

The first is that it’s unclear how to even pronounce the name. I’m sure I wasn’t the only journalist to be pulled up by the Yell press office for saying ‘hee-boo’ instead of ‘high-boo’.

Now again, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, it could even be a talking point, and presumably once above-the-line work begins, any confusion about pronounciation should disappear.


But the second – and most important – issue, is that Yell revealed details of the new branding before it had even been approved by shareholders. And with the vital shareholder meeting not scheduled until 26 July there’s still a chance that the brand might not be adopted.

Landor’s hibu identity is actually pretty well-conceived – with soft ‘shouldered’ typography providing a clear link to the people-focused brand that Yell are trying to create.

But by revealing the logo in isolation leaves a huge number of unanswered questions – what is the story behind the brand? How will it be applied? Why the umlauts? None of these can be answered until the brand is adopted and put into use.


So, many questions remain about hibu.

Will the new branding, in a reprise of the Gap logo debacle from a couple of years ago, be quietly killed off before launch? Will it be another Consignia – and be dropped after coming into use. Or will everything click into place after July when the brand fully launches – and we’ll forget a time when we ever referred to ‘Yell’?

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  • Angus Montgomery November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    At Pearlfisher we always say that names are the start of the conversation. They introduce your brand and are often the first equity that people see, interact with and comment on – as is the case with all personal relationships.
    The best names leave an impression and form deep connections with people over time. Even if they are invented that doesn’t mean to say they lack meaning.

    The story goes that Kodak was a combination of letters that pleased its founder. IKEA too. And seemingly abstract names like Orange, Apple and Virgin are all backed up by a strong challenger reasons that, if not immediately apparent, are built into the brand story over time.

    Yell was a seemingly strong and clever adaptation of the famous and much loved Yellow Pages brand. But was it standing the test of time? All brands need to think about their evolution but throwing the baby out with the bath water and, in this case, its most recognised signifier out with the rest of the key equities was bound to be met with confusion and criticism.

    Hibu, as the article says, has been thrown into the spotlight without its support crowd. There are so many questions to which we do not know the answer: does it have a compelling brand line? How does the rest of the brand speak? And what story will be built around the name to give it meaning?

    But , conversely, it might grow on us. Think Gü and Froosh. Two seemingly nonsensical names that imply something that a more functional name would destroy; Devilish Desserts or Fresh Fruit Smoothies would have lost public interest years ago. A good invented name can spark a different sort of love and create a personal connection with the consumer. Rather than simply telling people what it is, it engages the imagination, meaning many things to many people. But, of course, a new brand is already an open book and not a re-telling – or re-titling…

    It’s a shame no one internally managed to yell out for Yell. But if it’s slipped quietly out the back door, then good luck to Hibu. I, for one, would like to think it’s from the French for owl (Hibou)… a wise and all-knowing communicator.

    Sylvie Saunders, Head of Words Pearlfisher

  • steve hughes November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    when we ever referred to ‘Yell’?

    When did we ever refer to Yell, even when you need a local plumber. You google it. Never even think about hibu

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