A distinctive and memorable brand name is just as important as an iconic visual identity when it comes to ensuring that a company or product stands out. But the fact is that many of Canada’s best-known brands either have a descriptive brand name – like Canadian Tire, WestJet or Bank of Montreal – or they are named after their founders – like Tim Hortons, Bombardier or Molson. While each may have strong brand recognition, this can most often be attributed to familiarity rather than being particularly remarkable.
However, while we may not have developed many of the brand names that have redefined categories (think Intel, Nike, Virgin, Tesla or SunKist), Canada has more than a few “coined” brand names that have stood the test of time, all for varying reasons.
Ski-Doo: Inherent meaning
Back in the late 1950s, Joseph-Armand Bombardier had developed a new type of fast-moving vehicle – what we now know commonly as the snowmobile. He had originally meant to name the snowmobile the “Ski-Dog”, as it was intended to be a practical vehicle – designed for hunters and trappers – to replace the dogsled. But due to a typesetting error by printers in its initial marketing materials, the product became the “Ski-Doo
”. This accidental name had Bombardier’s new product benefiting from the association with the then-popular catchphrase “23, skidoo!” Derived from “skedaddle”, meaning to leave quickly, it just so happened to pair perfectly with their new vehicle. And, when Bombardier released a seafaring counterpart, the association was easily carried over: the phonetically similar name “Sea-Doo
” was used, carrying with it all of the Ski-Doo
’s brand recognition and familiarity.
Telus: Open and adaptable
Alberta Government Telephones, also known as AGT, served as Albertans’ primary telephone provider from 1906 through to 1990, upon privatization of the company. The name of this new private company, “Telus
”, provided a connection to the telecommunications category, while at the same time indicating that the company was transforming into a more customer-focused, friendly and conversation-based organization for all of us. Short, clear and memorable, the strengths of this new, non-descriptive name became even more evident after the merger with BC Tel in 1999 and acquisition of Clearnet in 2000: “Telus
” gave the company the opportunity to grow both geographically and in offering as time went on.
Created as a centennial project in 1967, the Government of Ontario Transit system was set up to provide mass transit for the first time by connecting downtown Toronto with its suburbs. While at first glance, the selected name “GO Transit
” is a simple and straightforward name, it has succeeded where many others haven’t, for three key reasons. First, an important consideration with acronym-based names is to figure out which elements need to be included and which ones to leave out; “Take the GOOT” would not have been as appealing a pitch to suburban commuters. Second, the organization determined to consistently called itself “GO Transit
” from day one – unlike the Ontario Government’s latest train, which waffles between calling itself both the UP Express and the Union Pearson Express. And finally, its iconic logo, created by the firm of Gangon/Valkus, has remained a constant since day one, further reinforcing the “GO” mnemonic.
BlackBerry: Intuitive and memorable
Research in Motion’s first device was introduced in 1999 as a two-way pager – but in hindsight, many now see it as the world’s first smartphone. The company called it “BlackBerry
”, due to the resemblance of its keyboard’s unique buttons to that of the drupelets of the blackberry fruit. Throughout the first decade of the 2000s, the BlackBerry
became the must-have device for many business professionals due to its unique, advanced ability to access email and a limited version of the Internet. This product became so interconnected with the idea of mobile communications that its name became a verb: “I’ll BlackBerry
you.” Research in Motion changed their corporate name to BlackBerry
in 2013 – just as the era of the BlackBerry
device was coming to a close, supplanted by other smartphone brands. As of 2020, the company no longer makes it iconic phones, but its unique name is so memorable that it continues to live on as an enterprise software company.
In 1978, during the depths an economic recession, Loblaw
Companies launched “no name
” with its first 16 generic unbranded items in their distinctive packaging. Modelled after Produits Libres in France, Loblaw
Companies then-president, Dave Nichol, set into motion a new way of branding and looking at branded packaged goods. A key element on the success of the brand name is the font in which all its products appear: Toronto-based designer Don Watt chose bold, lowercase Helvetica in black, on a bright yellow background, as a means of attracting the attention of shoppers. Watt’s design follows Dieter Rams’ mantra, “Great design is as little design as possible.” Had the “no name
” brand had a more complex and elaborate logo, the visual approach would have been at odds with the name and strategy.
Diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 10, John spelling has charitably been described as “creative.” Over several decades, he has helped a wide range of leading Canadian organizations see potential in their new name, from Emera to Terasen to Trillium Health Partners. Some of the more recent names he has helped to bring to life as the founder of B3 Strategy (and is confident you will see much more of in the future) include linens company envello, baby formula developers Jovie and wealth management firm SmartBe. He’s worked closely over the last 30 years with organizations of all sizes, however – from entrepreneurial start-ups to global leaders. Prior to founding B3 Strategy, John held executive positions at a number of leading brand consultancies, including Identica Branding, karacters design group and Ove Brand|Design. John currently teaches at George Brown College in its Design Management Program. He is the Past President of RGD and is an active speaker and contributor in the design industry.