WHAT iPAD MEANS

Apple’s iPad tablet device is shipping April 3 and already it’s looking like another hit for Steve Jobs…yes, in spite of initial reaction to the name.

I must admit, I am bemused by the continuing name controversy. Admittedly, for women of a certain age it is entirely understandable they would connect the word ‘pad’ to a hygiene product in free association. In context, however, that association would be drastically minimized.

When we speak of launch pads, legal pads, bachelor pads, ink pads or pad locks we know exactly what is being referred to. There are no jokes, snickers or shudders when someone asks for a note pad. In such contextual instances, association of the word ‘pad’ to a feminine hygiene product is not only unlikely, it is perverse.

So it will be with the Apple iPad. It will come to mean the computing platform of the future without anyone blinking an eye (see Walt Mossberg‘s comments in the Wall Street Journal).

In naming, context is everything.

Oddly, the prevailing negative views about the iPad name are coming from men. For some reason have assumed the banner of female disdain and just can’t get beyond the tampon. How their minds work is a matter for them and their psychologists.

The iPad: context is everything, ladies

Is a legal pad an item of personal hygiene for female lawyers? How about a launch pad – is that a contraption for applying Maxipads? What about ink pad? Or mouse pad…

Pardon the puerile analogies. Of course you know what these kind of ‘pads’ are. So, to force such interpretation of their meaning through association with a feminine hygiene pad would be perverse. But that’s no worse than what happened this week with Apple’s iPad.

Within seconds of the unveiling of the iPad by Steve Jobs, Twitter lit up with women complaining and/or joking that the name immediately made them think of …iTampon.

Experts who should know better fanned the flames. “It’s an unfortunate name choice,” contended Michael Silverstein, senior vice president at Boston Consulting Group and author of “Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest, Fastest-Growing Market.”

“They needed to do a research protocol and testing for a product that would offend no one while making clear its technical, functional and emotional benefits,” he said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Are you experienced?

That may be the way they think in the literal world of management consulting. What he clearly does not understand is that, when it comes to names and naming, experiential context is everything. Just is we do not suppose a cell phone is for making calls in jail, that Virgin Atlantic is an airline for the sexually inexperienced, or indeed Apple is a company that manages orchards, the iPad will create its own context and it will be become just as familiar and accepted as iPod.

The trap to guard against with new names is the natural tendency of people to associate an unfamiliar name with something that it is familiar. The statement that begins, “It reminds me of…” has led to the premature dismissal of many a good name candidate.  Associations are important, but focus should be on whether the the product or company that is being named could create new, positive meaning around the word, rather than rear-view association.

There’s nothing that can be done with plain bad names, such as the Ford Probe. But just imagine if iPad had been called the iTablet, which some bets were on before the launch. Would alarmed physicians be advising us not to use one more than a twice day, and then only after meals with a glass of water? Of course not. They know what hypochondriasis is.

What was that name again, Steve?
What was that name again, Steve?

 

Peeling the Apple

Buried in the article mentioned in the previous post [Google? What kind of name is that?] there is an inevitable reference to Apple.

In the article Paola Norambuena, who runs the naming division at Interbrand, said: “If you took the Apple name away and sold all of its other assets, they wouldn’t be worth as much”.

As with many things in the branding industry, there is an overwhelming amount of unsubstantiated received wisdom that is accepted as truth. This line of thinking about Apple seems to be a variation of a quotation, beloved by namers everywhere, which is attributed to John Stuart, former CEO of Quaker Oats. It goes something like this:

“If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trademarks, and I would fare better than you”.

This is probably so in the commodity business of breakfast cereal in which oats are oats are oats. Quaker did a great job of processing oats in their brick and mortar assets and getting them into the breakfast bowls of the nation. Apple, I would argue, is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Feb 5, 1996

Apple as a business has not always been the shining success it is today. As the BusinessWeek cover tells, the company and the brand were nearly managed into oblivion by a succession CEO misfits after Steve Jobs left Apple Computer in the mid-1990s. They viewed the business’s core product as manufacturing beige computers that fewer and fewer people wanted.

The Apple brand was rescued by Steve Jobs on his return, first through product revitalization and marketing and then by new product innovation. Today the brand is inextricably wound around the intangible capital of design, functionality, retail environments, product integration, content convergence, the Internet, marketing and the brilliance of Steve Jobs and his team.

What other assets does Apple have to sell? The company does not own its manufacturing plants. The brand is everything.