Innovation & Design

Crayola Brightens a Brand


Binney & Smith has always been known as the maker of the country's favorite crayon. Now they're letting their most popular name do the talking for them

Standing outside Binney & Smith's Easton (Penn.) headquarters on Jan. 18, chief executive Mark Schwab stood beside a duo dressed in blue and red crayon costumes and—"ta-da!"—slipped a cloth off of the corporation's new sign. Gone was the rather staid name that the company, now a subsidiary of Hallmark, has used for 104 years. In its place was a sign that read "Crayola."

Why now, after more than a century, is the company changing its name? Or maybe the question should be why didn't it happen sooner? "We've talked about the change for a while, and started to consider a switch to Crayola about two years ago," says Schwab. "The reason is simple. When you think about how Binney & Smith is known, it's for making Crayola crayons."

The name change, effective January 1, 2007, comes on the heels of a number of high-profile brands taking on new monikers. Following in the footsteps of Dell (DELL), which dropped the "Computer" part of its label when its product line expanded in 2003, Apple (AAPL) shortened its own name on Jan. 9, the same day Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone.

Short and Snappy

Speaking of the iPhone, its exclusive launch carrier, Cingular (T), "is the new AT&T," as its ads announce. (In case you haven't followed the circuitous naming history of the former Baby Bells, it should be noted that "the new AT&T" was never the old AT&T.)

Both Apple and AT&T reflect two of the typical reasons behind name changes: a shift in business and a merger. The adoption of Crayola, in contrast, reflects both the increased importance of branding in general, and the increased value of a short brand name. Ditto Citigroup (C), the financial-services giant that will soon be known as just "Citi" according to a Jan. 14 report by The New York Times. Then there's VNU Media, which announced Jan. 18 that it would rebrand as The Nielsen Group, in reference to its well-known TV-ratings systems.

Marty Neumeier, founder and president of Neutron, a San Francisco-based brand consultancy, has long advocated the power of shorter, sweeter names during his 30-year career in the branding business. He believes Crayola is making the right move. "Crayola is not only shorter and friendlier but more memorable," Neumeier says. "My rule for brand names is to use no more than four syllables. More than four, and people will shorten the name for you, in essence renaming the brand."

Nicknames that Stick

In an age of acronyms, text- and instant-messaging, and emoticons—when multi-syllable phrases are increasingly reduced to a few letters and words are expressed with punctuation—corporations are wise to condense their names.

Customers have a tendency to create nicknames for their favorite brands, anyway. Apple buyers have long referred to the company as such, dropping "Computer" long before Jobs made it official. And companies can help create a sense of consumer connection to a brand by providing a snappy, sticky nickname to buyers. Neumeier cites FedEx (FDX) as an example of a consumer nickname working out well for a corporation. "Fed-er-al-Ex-press had five syllables, so people shortened it to FedEx, which is actually a better, more distinctive name," he says. "And the company took note and adopted it."

Crayola's Schwab says Binney & Smith executives and salespeople had a history of identifying themselves as working for the company that made Crayola crayons when the name "Binney & Smith"—a relative mouthful compared to the new moniker—failed to ring a bell with colleagues, clients, and customers.

Sounds Like Fun

Schwab says that when staffers engaged in consumer focus groups and ethnographic product-testing sessions at Crayola's Easton factory, both children and adult visitors repeatedly said "Crayola" was the main association that they had with the Binney & Smith name—if they had any associations at all.

"We didn't over think the name change when we decided to formally make Crayola our overall brand," says Schwab. "Crayola has always been associated with ideas and memories of color, fun, creativity, and quality. Now our other products, such as Silly Putty, will be identified with the same qualities, too."

Crayola's naming strategy reflects what Anthony Shore, creative director of the Naming "and" Writing division at branding agency Landor Associates, sees as a wise path to follow when considering a change. "One rule of thumb is to look at existing trademarked assets," says Shore. "Choosing one of those assets as a new corporate brand works only if it serves as an endorsement of all of the company's other brands."

Go for the Icon

Shore cautions, however, that there isn't a one-size-fits-all formula for renaming strategies, although the step of looking within a company's stable for an appropriate product that could serve as an umbrella brand name is a good place to start. Landor, incidentally, is the firm that rebranded FedEx and is working with The Nielsen Company. Shore adds that turning to an older, established product within a company's stable as inspiration for a new, overarching corporate name can also provide a sense of resonance for customers.

"We live in an age when we're bombarded with so many marketing messages in so many different platforms and media, at all times. It's hard to establish trust among consumers," Shore says. "But trust is necessary. Established brand names already have built trust and are part of the fabric of the marketplace."

David Placek founder of Sausalito (Calif.)-based Lexicon Branding, the agency that named the BlackBerry for Research in Motion (RIM) and Pentium for Intel (INTC), agrees. Only a handful of companies can boast a brand as valuable as America's favorite crayon. "When a company is so fortunate to have a brand like Crayola, and all the positive feelings it generates, it's wise to make it as visible as possible," he says. "They made a smart move."

Invisible Inks

The name change comes at a time when Binney & Smith—er, Crayola—has seen increased sales growth from all of its products, ranging from classic crayons to newer offerings such as a spray-paint product, Color Wonder. The latter represents a growing line of Crayola-branded goods, an expansion that gives the company yet more reason for a name change.

Color Wonder is one in a series of products that feature proprietary technologies. These include paper coated with a chemical solution that allows colorless sprayable inks to produce hues only when they come in contact with it. Crayola also markets other counterintuitive "colorless" products, such as finger-paints and markers, which again become visible only after the application on Crayola paper.

Although the private company doesn't cite exact sales figures, Schwab says 2006 sales exceeded $500 million, a double-digit percentage increase from 2005. But if the company's on a roll, why change the name? In fact, name changes typically suggest a healthy company, says Landor's Shore. Just think of Apple's recent switch—timed shortly before its announcement of stellar first-quarter profits and revenues (see BusinessWeek.com, 1/18/07, "Apple's Shares Off Despite Stellar Quarter"). "Name changes usually take place when mergers and acquisitions happen, or when companies aren't fearful and they are able to focus on non-urgent decisions," such as a name change, he says.

So the rechristening of Crayola reflects brisk sales and a rosy future for the company. Or maybe make that Cerise—or Fuschia.


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