NetApp follows KFC's lead

NetApp this week announced they were changing their name to NetApp. They will no longer tolerate being called Network Appliance, Inc.

When I first saw the press release, I almost blew diet Pepsi out my nose. I don't know anyone who has called Network Appliance, Network Appliance -- It's always been known as NetApp for as long as I can remember. But, in these days, when it takes a multi-million dollar, slick marketing campaign to get your message out, I suppose solidifying who you are after being in business 16 years sends a some sort of message. I'm just not sure what.

It could be that the new appellation just costs less. After all, fewer letters, less ink. Think of all the ink you could save with 10 fewer letters in your name. According to founder Dave Hitz, it's of course about "brand awareness." Somehow, though, it's still like someone over the age of 25 saying "off the hook." It just isn't cool.

Take Kentucky Fried Chicken for instance. For you whippersnappers out there, we never called the king of grease Kentucky Fried Chicken when I was a kid (and that was 30+ years ago). We bucket-toting kids always called it KFC. So at some point, the word trickled up into the boardroom that customers were calling Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC. I can just see it now, some wet-behind-the-ears vice president tentatively whispering into the ear of the CEO, "Sir, our marketing research has uncovered that customers call us KFC. Perhaps we should consider calling ourselves KFC. It may help with brand recognition." So, in 1991, the restaurant decided to take on the moniker that its artery-choked devotees had always referred to it as. In 2006, KFC included a new and improved image of founder Col. Harland Sanders on its logo, and it was so over the moon about it that they constructed a model in the Nevada desert that could be seen from space. In turn, NetApp took out a big one-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to announce its rebranding campaign.

Still, it's just always sounded strange when some actor in a commercial said "KFC." That's kind of how I feel about NetApp. Sure it's no big deal that they've formally, and for all legal purposes, changed their name to NetApp, Inc.©, but to hear them refer to themselves by their own nickname in the press releases and such is kind of, well, strange.

Then there's the fat, lower-case 'n' that is NetApp's new logo. At first, I thought it was an arch, a magnet, or, as they have depicted on their site, the opening to a train tunnel (images of IronMountain creep into my head). It's like that automobile logo revolution that took place in the late 1980s and 1990s beginning with Toyota. I never understood one of those new hood symbols.

NetApp's new logo

Toyota, which adopted the three interconnected ellipses logo in 1989, states it wanted to "clearly differentiate the Toyota brand from the recently launched luxury brand, Lexus." The logo actually means something too. "These ovals combine to symbolize the letter "T" for Toyota. The space in the background implies a global expansion of Toyota's technology and unlimited potential for the future." Who knew? I always thought it was a cowboy with a big hat. Soon after Toyota, in 1991, Mazda came out with its diamond within a circle logo, followed by the all-famous tulip within a circle and then today's 'V' within an oval, symbolizing outstretched wings, as well as, 'The creativity, the sense of mission, the gentleness and flexibility that are Mazda,' according to a 1999 article in CAR magazine by Martin Buckley. Again, who knew?

Considering the latter, I suppose it's no stretch to consider NetApp's new logo not only reflects the first letter in the company's name, but "an opening to the future -- a gateway to new possibilities, new ideas, and new perspectives-enabling our partners and customers to move beyond barriers and experience business breakthroughs," as NetApp says.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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