Over the last couple decades I’ve worked on a numnber of naming projects. From companies to divisions to even an open source code project for Intel. So when Apple announced the name of their streaming service as AppleTV+ I was amused at what I considered a “meh” name. Then came Disney+, EPSN+, and the announcement of Discovery+. I was sneering at the seeming laziness exhibited in naming these new services.
Except I was wrong. Like, way wrong. Here’s why.
Brand equity has real value
To see why, we need to start with the concept of brand equity. You can think of brand equity like a bank. Some efforts deposit into it, others take out of it. When a company has a solid brand position and applies it consistently over time it deposit into brand equity. In equation for it might looks something like this:
The more consistent a company is over time, the bigger the deposit into the brand bank becomes. And the amount accelerates over time.
By the time upstart mobile phone network Cingular bought AT&T Wireless in 2004, AT&T Wireless, which started life as McCaw Cellular, had been around for seventeen years. The AT&T name had been around since the late 1800s.
Cingular, with it’s catchy name and bouncy logo “Jack”, decided that they wanted to fold the AT&T Wireless brand into Cingular.
I’ve written before about when a company should change its logo before and the same holds true for names. Why? Brand equity. Take Cingular Wireless for example.
On his way out the door to become the Brand Manager for Netflix, then AT&T Wireless Brand Wrangler, Gary McMath ran the numbers for Cingular on how much it would cost to replace the brand value of AT&T Wireless — $5 billion. Yes, that is five “with a b” billion. Undaunted Cingular moved forward with the plan anyway.
Then, in 2006, just $2 billion into their rebrand, they decided to just go ahead and stick with AT&T Wireless saving $3 billion more.
Why + adds so much to a name
Which brings me to why I was wrong to think the “+” naming scheme was anything but smart. Unlike Netflix, none of the streaming services launched by content creators are actually standalone businesses. They’re all tied to other, established entities. Entities that have built up, you guessed it, brand equity.
But the reason Disney+, AppleTV+, ESPN+, and Discovery+ are so powerful is five-fold:
1/ They leverage the brand equity of the established brands
2/ They indicate “new, different, and more”
3/ Visually, it is an open-ended equation which signals that they will add even more content as time goes on.
4/ Now that enough streaming services are using that naming structure, they are a shortcut for consumers to instantly know they are streaming offerings.
5/ The + symbol is universal which means they can have their service be available anywhere in the world and not have to worry about translation or trasliteration
Imagine getting that much benefit from just slapping a plus onto an existing name. Yet that is exactly what happened and why I was absolutely wrong.
P.S. You might be wondering about how HBO Max and Peacock fare in all this? Well, at least HBO was smart enough to leverage their main brand but the use of “max” is a bit problematic. While it signals that you get access to everything, it doesn’t imply they will be adding more. Obviously they will but I’m just speaking to the naming here.
As for Peacock, as clever as it may be, they have a tougher row to hoe. Because it’s an abstraction of a brand asset, it doesn’t necessarily get to leverage the brand equity of NBC. So, they have to spend time and money educating consumers that a/ it’s a streaming service from NBC and b/ what kind of content to expect. Not to mention when they go to other cultures around the world the word peacock may not translate directly or well.