When branding goes wrong: Why Aurizon’s made-up name is a mistake

Aurizon is a nearly perfect example of all that can go wrong with a rebranding. The new name was today voted on, and passed, by the shareholders of QR National, the listed company that was once the rail service owned by the Queensland government.

The company announced the name change in September. QR National’s CEO, Lance Hockridge, said the name change was “the logical next step in the company’s transformation to becoming a world-class operator”.

The name is derived by combining Australia and horizon, Hockridge explains. “It conveys the geographical scope of our expanding operations, as well as the extraordinary growth opportunities that are on the horizon for the company.”

“Who cares?” says Michelle Gamble, the CEO of Marketing Angels. “You wonder what their logic is if they are trying to reposition their company.”

Branding advocate, Michel Hogan, says: “To me it is a classic case of people making a weird hybrid names to try and make it unique and interesting so that people will remember it. This is not true: people don’t remember made-up words.

“This is marketing garbage run amok. It means nothing to anyone and when you have a combination that needs a stupid justification, you are probably on the wrong track.”

Gamble says non-words can be very successful brand names. “Spreets is not a word, but it is a good brand. The problem is when the word sounds like another word [Aurizon and horizon]. It is just going to lead to misspellings and misunderstanding. That is going to be a practical issue.”

But Hogan disagrees with the idea that non-words work. “Naming tends to sit on a continuum – you have descriptive names, like Queensland Rail, or XYZ bank, on one end.

At the other end, you have the more esoteric things like Apple or Nike. They don’t have a lot of meaning, but that is built over time. It is pretty much a trade-off: with a descriptive name you have to spend more giving it some pizzazz; with esoteric names, you work harder to give it a description. In the middle you have the ones that are emotional, somewhat descriptive, and some esoteric. MySpace, is a great example and Twitter is one too.”

Gamble says Aurizon’s failure to encapsulate anything about what the company does – there is no mention of travel, rail or even tourism – is a bigger branding snafu in the modern market than it would have been in past days. “More and more, people are choosing brand names around key internet search terms,” says Gamble.

“Look at names like freelancer.com. If you are searching for a freelancer, this company will appear very high in any search. In that sense, Queensland Rail is very good. There is a lot to be said for keeping it simple.”

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