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

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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.

“Typo”? Why Would Anyone Name A Keyboard “Typo”?

Because they understand the power of a name to define & own a category.

Typo's iPhone Keyboard Case

And to get them a staggering amount of free press / product awareness / brand name recognition.

Typo” does everything you want a name to do. It cuts through all the clutter, it’s viral, is instantly and eternally memorable, demonstrates the notion that this is a ground breaking offering, exudes confidence, is relevant, etc.

And it makes the cash register ring.

Why is this type of name so rare and why hasn’t it been given to a keyboard before? Fear. Irrational fear based on a lack of understanding of how consumers process names. The objection is obvious – “We want to convey that we make typing a better experience, typo is the opposite. It will convey there is something wrong with our product”.

Really? As a consumer does this name make you doubt the quality of the product? No. That possibility is a wholly imagined one and exists only within a naming committee – yet fear of the baseless is the basis for most naming decisions.

The key is understanding how Typo gets its positive power from the same qualities that intuitively are seen as negative nullifiers.

You need to ensure the right filters are in place when evaluating names.