May 07, 2004

How not to name a transport company.

Michael Jennings | Rail Franchising

Company naming seems to go through trends, and we seem to be going through a particularly silly one at the moment, which is to give companies numbers as names. A case in point:

One problem that has occurred since rail franchising is that train companies forced to share London terminal stations with one another have taken to squabbling with one another about who gets access to which platforms and when, and as franchises are re-awarded, policy has been to create knew franchises in such a way that the London terminal stations are used by a single company only. (This essentially recreates the original companies that built the stations in the first place, of course). Very recently, a new franchise has been created to serve Liverpool Street station. After immense thought, and no doubt spending lots of money, the marketroids came up with a name for the new franchise: "One", presumably to imply that there was only one company serving Liverpool Street.

How is this stupid? Let me count the ways. Firstly, using such a common word as a company name is difficult if you want to find the company on the internet. The URL is impossible to guess, and it takes a few attempts before you can even figure out how to find it on Google. (It is here). I haven't tried it, but I suspect the same problem occurs if you attempt to ring up directory enquiries to find a phone number. And there is the problem discussed in the Times yesterday. How do you deal with an announcement like

"The train on platform seven is the 7.20 One service to Norwich".

And what does

"The train on platform six is the 3.47 One service to Cambridge" actually mean?

Unsurprisingly, announcers have quickly reverted to

"The train on platform seven is the 7.20 service to Norwich", which is presumably not what the people who own One really want.

One is not even the first train company in Britain to have run into this problem. The Great Western franchise (the railway famously built by Isambard Brunel) is owned by a company named "First", and the operation is collectively called "First Great Western". This company initially put the words "First Great Western" on the side of all their trains (with the word "First" helpfully in a different font, as that was a corporate logo), and found themselves suffering from the problem that passengers would walk from one end of the train to the other, trying to find a second class carriage. (I have not heard if any people with first class tickets sat down in second class thinking they were in first and were disappointed). This problem was solved in an equivalent way to what the announcers are doing. Many of the carriages were repainted simply with the words "Great Western", and the corporate logo was left off entirely.

Given how much money is spent on corporate branding, it surely isn't too much to ask that people think these things through. But they often don't.

(As another non-transport example of the same thing, mobile phone company "3" last year sponsored two series of cricket matches in Australia. Hence the "3 Test series" between Australia and Zimbabwe that consisted of two matches and the "3 Test series" between Australia and India, that consisted of four matches. At least in this case the corporate name was invented well before it was decided that the company would be sponsoring cricket matches. The "One" people have no such excuse).

Correction: I repeatedly wrote "Great Eastern" when I meant "Great Western" when I first posted this article. Silly me.

Trackbacks

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Comments

It's funny but on the natiolnal rail website it says London Eastern Railway. Why don't they go to good old names like the that or the great eastern railway or summit. It sounds better and you certainly wouldn't have these problems! But like all corporations they think modern jazzed up crap is better then the old faithful. I suggest First call the new greater western franchise, Great Western Railway or GWR for short. I think the BRB own the copyright on it as they bought it up when the railways was nationalised in 1948. This just shows that nothing is getting better. Same old shite different day.

Posted by Amir on May 7, 2004

Apparently, One is having a bit of a rethink about their name. Took long enough.

It'll be interesting to see how things go if they change the name to something else. Getting the train home from Colchester yesterday, I noticed that although few (if any) trains on the One route have been rebranded, all of the timetables, posters, and related documents seem to have been. I wonder how many gallons of Tippex it would take to make this one right.

Posted by Jackie D on May 7, 2004

I do like the fact that it was launched on the first of April, too.

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 7, 2004

Yep on the one of April. Also April fools as well. what idiots someone is def having a laugh here.

Posted by Amir on May 7, 2004

Reminds me of the new American discount airline named "Ted." It's owned by United, so the name is supposed to signify something shorter or more personable than the namesake. The unfortunate result, however, is explaining how you're "taking Ted to Miami" or "Flight 86, Ted service to Chicago" has some poor sap named Ted Service running all over the airport.

Posted by randolph on May 7, 2004

One is not amused!

Posted by David Farrer on May 7, 2004

Ted?! Now that's just hilariously wrong. We marketing people have sick minds.

Posted by Jackie on May 7, 2004

Like Amir, I too am rather puzzled why they can't just go back to old names like Great Northern and Great Eastern. These names did just fine for almost 100 years.

Any answers, Jackie?

Posted by Patrick Crozier on May 8, 2004

Can Ted really be considered a separate airline (even one wholly owned by United)? I don't think its route structure even makes sense considered separately. It's more branding than anything else. (and it is a pretty silly name for a brand...)

Posted by Sam on May 8, 2004

More number confusion. The Quatre jours de Dunkirque bike race began on Wednesday and concludes tomorrow, that's five days!

Posted by Mark Holland on May 8, 2004

I don’t like these silly names. As well as Ted we have Song (part of Delta), Zoom, Tango, Jet2 and Duo (now bankrupt). And just how old is the pilot on a bmibaby plane?

Like Patrick, I prefer the good old-fashioned names. What could be more reassuring than the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad or the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company?

Posted by David Farrer on May 8, 2004

Patrick, I can only guess that overzealous marketing people are to blame (as, I am afraid to say, usual). There's no money in saying, "Well, let's go back to the all the old branding," but more than that, there's no fun in it either. (Also, it goes against the push for everything to be more modern, more sleek, more state-of-the-art.) I'd never go back to an old brand, and I don't know (m)any other cake decorators who would, either.

Posted by Jackie on May 8, 2004

Jackie may be partly right; another reason is that many of the old railway company names are owned by preserved railways who refuse to license them.

Both FGW and GNER attempted, but were not allowed, to call themselves GWR and LNER.

Posted by john b on May 8, 2004

John B where is your evidence for this? They just want to be ackward. It's like British Steel being called Corus or Royal Mail, Consignia. I thought the BRB owned the copyright as they bought up the shares when they were nationalised in 1948. South Central wants to call its new franchise the Southern Railway but the copyright was owned by the brb who was willing to sell. But cause these franchises are short they didn't want to pay the money. It would be interesting to see who ownes the copyright to the Great Western Railway. I'm sure its the British Railway Board.

Posted by Amir on May 8, 2004

I'll give you Consignia. The Corus one is completely different: British Steel merged with Dutch former national steel co Hoogovens. Keeping either former name would have annoyed either the Brits or the Cloggies, so a new one was the most appropriate.

Preserved railways *definitely* own many of the pre-grouping names (Great Northern, Great Central, etc). There seem to be no (online/Factiva-covered) published sources that mention whether the post-grouping names belong to BRB and its successors, or to others.

Posted by john b on May 9, 2004

I was involved in registering the Brighton Belle name with South Central when it was privatised in 1996. The answer is that if you do not use a trade mark over time it is possible for someone else to pay to register it. So at privatisation one or two individuals registered a whole pile of names - they are not owned by the BRB. For instance Southern is not Southern Railway because that latter name is registered by someone else (whereas 'Southern' on it's own wasn't).

Posted by andy wakeford on May 10, 2004

I think it was around 1972, that the marketing boffins at 222 Marylebone Road (Headquarters of BR) announced that for marketing and publicity purposes BR was to be known as British Rail. Many of us at the time preferred to use the full title of British Railways as in our opinion it showed the importance of our profession. Today, marketing groups come up with the most surprising brand names, which do not immediately reflect the nature of the product, or in the case of transport, the area in which it is operating. I do not wish to appear re-actionary, but too much of modern life is governed with gimmicks. As other commentators have stated, let us use terms which reflect the importance of the area concerned. Not 'ONE', OR 'CtoC'

Posted by Brian Hayes on May 14, 2004

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