TICO: A meaningful exception

[Cache – #9]

In the Cache Blog two weeks ago, I made the case against presenting brand names in ALL CAPS.  Names that are presented as abbreviations, like GE or HP, are a variation on this theme:  they consist of all capital letters, but are even less desirable than an all cap name like, say, ING DIRECT – because they convey absolutely no inherent meaning to anyone unfamiliar with the brand.

Of course, we all know that GE stands for General Electric and HP stands for Hewlett-Packard, because these brands have been around forever and have spent infinite amounts of money to build awareness.

But take a moment and tell me what these abbreviations mean:

  • AMD 
  • AME
  • BBVA
  • CNS
  • FPL

Chances are, you have no idea who these brands are or what they do, because unlike GE or HP, they have not spent billions spreading the word.  And assuming for a moment that you don’t have billions either, hopefully it now seems clear that using abbreviations is a bad idea if you want your audience to immediately have any inkling of your offering.

Except that there are meaningful exceptions.  An acronym, for example, is one step improved from an abbreviation like GE because it is more memorable.  Generally speaking, acronyms are names pronounced not by saying each letter individually (like GE, pronounced “gee-eee”), but by saying the entire abbreviation like a word – like BART (pronounced “bart”) which stands for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco.  Although BART is quite memorable, and memorability is to be prized in naming, there is no inherent meaning communicated to you when you hear BART, and thus no meaning about the brand is brought to mind.

A further step improved from an abbreviation is a bacronym, which is made by taking an everyday word and making a phrase out of its first letters.  An artfully-formed bacronym has inherent meaning and immediately tells us something important about the brand – like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

Just noticed in (wouldn’t you know it?) the TTC is TICO (“tea-ko”), which immediately brings to mind tropical imagery, quite a feat considering the word has no explicit meaning to an English speaker.  Yet it conjures up ideas like “vacation” and “travel,” perhaps in part because we associate it with words like tiki, tiki torch and even Contiki, the vacation tour company.

All of which is an achievement for the Travel Industry Council of Ontario, the consumer protection agency.  Wikipedia tells us that tico happens to be a colloquial term for a native of sunny Costa Rica, and also that tico is a Spanish suffix denoting something very small.

Like a dog (a watchdog, get it?) – an extremely cool-looking version of which TICO has created to add another layer of meaning and memorability to the brand.  His name – you guessed it – is TICO.

One smart pooch.

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Recent posts:

The Starbucks name is worth nothing – http://coinbranding.com/the-starbucks-name-is-worth-nothing

All caps: Just don’t do it – http://coinbranding.com/avoiding-all-caps

Little Black Dress, and other wines – http://coinbranding.com/little-black-dress-and-other-wines

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