Tesla – Anatomy of a Great Company Name

Tesla is a fantastic name for revolutionary electric car company, but not a name that could navigate a typical corporate naming process and survive.

The death of a thousand cuts would include:

  • We can’t acquire Tesla.com (they were at TeslaMotors.com for the first 8 years), we’d have to use Teslamotors.com, a non-starter. Electrificity.com is available. Let’s go with “Electrificity” instead – we can get the domain.
  • Nicola Tesla’s inventions were all in AC, not the DC battery power the cars use. Edison was the man when it came to DC. Tesla advocated the opposite
  • Most people don’t know who Tesla was
  • “Tesla” was a big selling ’80s hair band

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 8.28.43 AM
Most Teslas are sold online, and though they were unable to secure Tesla.com, they knew the common wisdom that going with Teslamotors.com would hurt sales was and is nonsense.

Tesla knew it was a great name even though Mr. Tesla’s work was with AC electricity, not the DC electricity the car runs on, which was the domain of Edison. They knew Tesla is a much sexier word attached to a sexier, more mysterious personality. The name Edison is just boring all around. So no one cares about the glaring discrepancy – they just associate the name with electricity.

For Tesla, going with the domain Teslamotors.com from launch in 2003 until finally being able to acquire Tesla.com ing2016, and using the name Tesla was a better move than changing the name to Electrificity or some such because they could get the Electrificity.com.

Tesla is memorable, has a great look, sound, meaning, mystery and sexiness to it. Do you walk away from that over domain availability? (Hint: “What would Elon Musk do?”)

We are all for a matching domain name, but it must be a powerful one.

What makes “Hotwire” & “Pandora” Powerful Names?

To understand why they work so well, you have to get literal for a moment:

Hotwire = “to steal a car”

Pandora = “unleashed plagues, diseases & all the evils of mankind”

These types of meanings will get a name dismissed ASAP by a naming committee – a committee that would have been wrong to dismiss these names, obviously.

Consumers don’t attribute these literal, negative qualities to the companies who use Hotwire & Pandora as their company names (you don’t, do you?). But naming committees will almost always believe they will. It’s essential to understand that your target audience does not interpret names literally – if they did names like Slack, Virgin, Pandora, Hotwire, Yahoo, Google, Airport, Gap, et al would be D.O.A.

In each case the name is a metaphor for something about the company. Hotwiring a car is a “hack”, Hotwire positions the site as a travel hack – a way around high prices. Pandora Radio is a marketplace, positioned metaphorically as a “box full of intrigue”.

When juxtaposed in line with the company’s positioning, the names simply become interesting – they have personality. They demonstrate confidence and uniqueness. Metaphorically re-purposing the negative is what makes them so positive.

The names are provocative, differentiating and memorable.

From a business perspective, these names are a pure positive, derived from a literal negative. It’s called “The Principle of Negativity”.

Don’t fear the Negative – well executed, it’s a Positive.