Be careful when naming your Twitter application…

If you’ve built a third-party application for Twitter, you’ll want to think carefully about what you call it, following the company trademarking the term ‘Tweet’.

The official response has been posted on the Twitter blog by Biz Stone, after Robin Wauters highlighted the issue over at Techcrunch. The official announcement is:

‘We have applied to trademark Tweet because it is clearly attached to Twitter from a brand perspective but we have no intention of “going after” the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter. In fact, we encourage the use of the word Tweet. However, if we come across a confusing or damaging project, the recourse to act responsibly to protect both users and our brand is important.

Regarding the use of the word Twitter in projects, we are a bit more wary although there are some exceptions here as well. After all, Twitter is the name of our service and our company so the potential for confusion is much higher. When folks ask us about naming their application with “Twitter” we generally respond by suggesting more original branding for their project. This avoids potential confusion down the line.’

Which is interesting from a marketing point of view – Twitter has namechecked and praised some of the great apps currently using the word ‘Tweet’, including Tweetdeck for example, and suggests it may only use the trademark to go other apps which try to pass themselves of as official, for example.

Then again, ‘to tweet’ or ‘I’ve just tweeted’ suggests common usage of the word as a verb anyway. I’d be interested in hearing from any legal experts about what that would mean for any trademark cases.

And Mark Evans points out that Tweet.com is currently a site claiming to be about birds.

So if you can’t use ‘Twitter’, and might want to stay away from ‘Tweet’, what about Twit?

Well, that could cause problems as well – Robert Scoble reports that Leo LaPorte has trademarked ‘Twit’ for his longrunning TWiT TV netcast network (It stands for This Week in Tech if you didn’t know, rather than being Twitter related, and is something I recommend having a listen to…). There’s a related Friendfeed discussion going on…

So you might want to steer clear of Twitter, Tweet and Twit.

There are obviously reasons why Twitter wants to maintain some clarity between company products and 3rd party applications – particularly when they might be launching more of their own for premium users. At the same time, the constant referrals to ‘Tweet’ and ‘Twit’ have definitely helped publicity and common usage of the parent service, as has the availability of such services.

At the same time, the generic terms aren’t as well used – for instance, microblogging. Which is a bit of a shame, given 140char’s ranking for the term ‘microblogging blog‘!

Personally, I’d recommend building your own brand name – it’s a long term win but means you aren’t tied to one service or risking trademark problems. The short term benefit of going for the most common Twitter terms is likely to be waning as so many exist, and you’ll be able to carve out your own niche.

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript

So far we’ve lost Woolworths, MFI and  Zavvi, while Whittards has been bought by a private equity firm after going into administration.

At least MFI and Zavvi still have websites notifying people of their current status – Woolworths has: ‘Our site is currently undergoing essential maintenance. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.  Please check back later.’

What’s interesting is that there are various reasons for the first three disappearing – the problems with the music industry, the downturn in the housing market, a drop in consumer spending etc.  And despite the possibility of a buyer for Woolworths, there’s nothing happening fast. Meanwhile Whittards was snapped up quickly.

Which makes me think this could be the start of something I’m going to call:

The Bankruptcy of the Non-Descript:

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

In Case of Bankruptcy, Please Help Yourself - by Noaz. on Flickr

Put simply, Woolies, Zavvi and MFI all had a problem, in that they didn’t have a clear belief and description. Woolies started as an American ‘five and dime‘ store – but mutated over the years, leaving Poundland as the modern equivalent. (I’m not linking to the Poundland site due to the annoying auto-playing explosion that just burst my eardrums!). In the end, Woolies was a strange amalgamation of Pic’n’mix sweets, entertainment, soft furnishings etc.

Zavvi came out of a management buy-out of former Virgin Megastores, and at the time left a lot of people asking friends what had happened. Apparently the aim was to be different from competitors by having ‘exclusive and limited edition products in the future’. An aim buried in a wikipedia entry, and an interview in industry publication MCV.

MFI had all sorts of problems, but most importantly, look at who it’s up against – Ikea. I’d guess most people already know what the Swedish success story stands for, but if not, try here, and here. Functional, well -designed furniture that everyone can afford, with Swedish names, Swedish food stores, and bargain hotdogs at the end of the trip.  My girlfriend has been known to forcibly demand Ikea trips to placate her homesickness for Sweden!

I may have had similar excitement at the sight of a Marks and Spencers are months without a sausage roll or pork pie in the U.S, but can you imagine curing your homesickness with a trip to Zavvi or MFI? Even Woolworths?

This isn’t about having a national identity – it’s about having a distinct belief and identity that everyone can clearly understand, and that people can align themselves with.

This isn’t an absolute rule:

I’m not going to say that having a belief will ensure success, or that you won’t make it through 2009 without one – there are far too many other factors involved, from changes in consumer spending to Government bailouts.

But I do think that within each industry and category, we’ll see a greater survival rate for the companies we can believe in.

So I’m going to start tracking what happens, and I’d appreciate your help. It may become a wiki page, but for the moment I’d just ask you to let me know in the comments if you see companies going under, and whether they had a clear belief or not.

Two adverts that irritate the s*** out of me

It’s the perfect time for ranting as I’m still feeling a bit poorly, so I thought I’d highlight two television adverts currently irritating the hell out of me.

First up, is the PG Tips homage to a Morecombe and Wise sketch, mainly because it’s so completely irrelevant to me, but seems to be on constant repeat at the moment on the channels I tend to watch. Especially Film 4, completely distracting me from whichever movie I’m watching.

  • I’m in my (very early) 30s, and Morecombe and Wise had pretty much peaked before my time
  • Even then, the PG Tips ad isn’t as good as I remember the original sketch being.
  • But most of all, I don’t drink tea, and neither does my partner.

I realise the last point marks me as being outside of the target demographic of the tea industry, and so they won’t count me as being a huge loss or influential. There are currently two packets of tea in the house, both of which have probably been here since we moved in – one posh packet which my parents probably brought with them out of desperation, and one cheap packet for any guests who didn’t fancy the posh stuff.

But the fact I’m not a tea-makers target is exactly my point. I’ll never buy it. I’ll never talk to anyone about buying it. And I don’t have the necessary technology to avoid it. So why inflict it on me?

But that’s just a case of traditional irrelevance – there’s a far worse offender out there:

Oh Sweet Lord.

It comes from Norwich Union, soon to be renamed as Aviva, as it’s part of the Aviva group and known under that name internationally. So changing the name might make sense from an efficiency point of view, particularly when job cuts are being repeatedly announced.

But what I don’t get, and I’m trying not to use the word ‘brand’ to join Mark Earls, is the way it has been done. For starters, they’ve had to pay Bruce Willis, Elle MacPherson, Alice Cooper and Ringo Star to talk about how they wouldn’t have had fame and fortune without changing their name.

That’s right. Forget starring in Die Hard, or being part of the Beatles. Or any inference their stardom is down to talent, luck and making the right career choices. After all, if only Molly Ringwald had changed her name, rather than turning down the lead roles in Pretty Woman and Ghost, for example. I won’t even mention Engelbert Humperdinck.

Or the fact that most actors in the UK change their names due to Equity rules stating there can’t be two performers with the same name.

We get a voiceover telling us how changing our name can allow us to become who we want to be, and that Norwich Union is becoming Aviva after over 200 years of the same name. (My first thought was the confusion with the bus company, Arriva, that served my hometown)

But what it doesn’t tell us is what NU/Aviva wants to be.

There’s no reasoning, no belief, and nothing to make anyone think this is more than an attempt to save money on headed stationary.

Why couldn’t they use the name change to publish a clear belief which might benefit consumers, and could be easily said and repeated? ‘We’re changing the name, and making sure you never wait longer than 30 seconds in a phone queue’ for example, or ‘We’re changing the name be more efficient, so we can lower our prices by 5% when you renew’. Or even just some honesty ‘We’re changing the name to save some money and stay in business in tough times – so you don’t lose your insurance cover when you might need it’.

Has no-one else ever watched Crazy People?