Friday, September 5, 2008

Google Chrome or Goofle Chrome?

I have this hypothesis that techie companies somehow never get their branding right. The Googleheads at Mountain View have just offered me a data point that strengthens my case.

Take the Google Chrome selection. Is Chrome a sub-brand name? Is it an evocative brand extension? Or is it a brand by itself? These are basic questions any brand manager would have asked, before picking a name. I am certain Sergey Brin's Suits would have taken the pains to explore this issue.

But the name they've chosen, the logo that they've opted for, and the icon that they've force fitted into Google, gives me a feeling that the key branding decisions in Google were taken by a confused, please-all committee. It surely doesn't appear to be the well thought out choice of a perspicacious mind with a clear brand plan.

If the marketing team had wanted a brand extension, they would have attached a simple suffix to the mother brand. Something as simple as Google Apps or Google Maps. They didn't do it, right? Obviously, the thinking was we need to sound cooler or more competitive than IE.

For a moment, let's assume they settled for a sub-brand. If you're going for a sub-brand you might as well, give it a name that goes with your mother brand, right? Would you pick something that sounds like a cell phone brand from LG? Wouldn't you brief your naming team to suggest a short name that goes with Google and has similar cues? Nada. That didn't happen.

So obviously the thinking was: let's create a brand that can compete with Firefox, Explorer, Safari & Explorer. That's the only way they could have arrived at a name like Chrome. I suspect that the marketing team at Google would have favoured this approach. That may be the reason why they developed the 'Pokemon & Simon Says' inspired icon. My gut feel is initially the icon would have been developed as the visual substitute for the 'o' in Chrome - just like the mailbox icon is the visual substitute for the M in GMail. If this had been the plan, I would have had no issues with Chrome (although I would have suggested a more original name).

Now let's speculate on what would have happened. The honchos at Google would have liked the name Chrome and the icon developed for Chrome. But some jerk would said: All along we've followed a mother brand strategy. If we suddenly jettison Google, we will be under-utilising the power of the mother brand. So let's make Chrome the sub-brand and let's call it Google Chrome. The Chrome team wouldn't have expected this googly. A quick brainstorming session would have ensued. The gist of the discussions would have been on these lines: Let's take the Chrome icon and bung it in Google. As Chrome has been re-designated as a sub-brand, let's shrink it's size and treat it as a throw-away descriptor line under the logo Google. Give it a plain-jane font so that it doesn't take the attention away from the mother brand.

And that's how ladies and gentlemen, Chrome would have assumed its current avatar. Any takers for my theory?

UPDATE: Interesting revelation from Google here. Apparently Chrome refers to all that jazz that reduces the screen space in a browser. Considering the browser does exactly the opposite, it's an odd choice. Perhaps, the naming team opted for this simply because the it was codenamed Project Chrome. They say, familiarity breeds contempt. In this case, I guess, Google developed a certain contempt for the other names as they were used to Chrome.