Interactive Companies Play the Name Game

What’s in a name? A great deal, apparently, because a number of companies in the interactive advertising space have changed their names in the last few months. Gator became Claria, Dealtime and Epinions changed to, and switched to Enhance Interactive.

At least it’s not like the days of the dot-com boom, when companies with seemingly acceptable names, like Computer Literacy, changed to eccentric monikers like Fatbrain. The latest round of name changes seems to be fueled by more rational reasoning.

“When we put the name ‘Ah-ha’ together in 1999, it reflected that we were a search engine. Ah ha, you found what you were looking for,” said Paul Brockbank, CEO of what is now Enhance Interactive. “Now, we are less of a search engine for the public, and more of a paid listings provider.” The company’s name change reflects the evolution of the business, he said.

Also, “Ah-ha” is difficult to spell, and this “hounded us over the years,” according to Brockbank.

“Other companies provide search services and we enhance those services. So the new name is perfect,” he said. The company presents itself as a complementary offering to clients who advertise with major players Google and Yahoo!-owned Overture.

Though Brockbank said he and his company are “just ecstatic” over the new name, contemplating a change was difficult in the beginning. “It’s a frightening thing,” Brockbank said. “We were very happy with the brand identification we had.”

The process of choosing a new name was also not without difficulty.

“We went through thousands and thousands of alternatives. We wanted to avoid something we see both on the Internet and a little bit in our industry, when the name is cutesy, funny, but you kinda go, ‘What is that?’ It implies some dot-com guru guys knocking names together,” Brockbank said.

“Enhance” was far and away the best choice, he said. Another reason he cottoned to the name is that “enhance” means “to grow and improve,” and that’s what’s behind an advertising campaign, the CEO said. The official change was made in December 2003 , four years after the company was founded.

Equally pleased with his company’s new name, Nirav Tolia, COO of, echoed Brockbank’s sentiments regarding the initial fear and loathing of name change.

“It was terrifying,” Tolia said. “We felt we had built something in four years with Dealtime and Epinions and they had millions of people visiting under those names.”

Dealtime, a comparison shopping site, and Epinions, a consumer reviews and ratings site, both launched in 1999. The two merged in April 2003 and officially announced their new name in September.

“I find changing names after mergers and transforming events in a company’s history are the easiest times, because you have a reason, it makes sense,” Tolia said.

Also, when two companies are merged, as with Dealtime and Epinions, there is often resultant identity confusion. Rebranding both companies as resolved that problem.

Like Enhance, the company did extensive research into the name change. An initial suggestion, Locomotive, was rejected for a number of reasons. For one thing, it suggested a search engine, since a locomotive is an engine. For another thing, it wasn’t descriptive. “If we had changed it to Locomotive, people would have been wondering exactly what it meant,” Tolia commented.

Focus group members said was easy to remember and descriptive. And for once, the .com ending was an asset.

“We are shopping on the Internet. That’s what represents,” Tolia said.

Going from “Gator,” an extremely specific image, to “Claria,” which somehow evokes the idea of clarity without actually using the word, was an October 2003 bid to reflect the Redwood City, Calif.-based company’s broadened offerings. Founded in 1998 as the Gator eWallet, which remembers login IDs and passwords, Claria is now an ad-supported software player.

“We loved ‘Gator,’ as it helped us grow from a handful of employees in 1998 into the leader in a brand new category of behavioral marketing. And while it was appropriate to change the name as we outgrew it and dramatically expanded our company scope and offerings, many of us had mixed feelings,” said Scott Eagle, Claria’s chief marketing officer told this publication in an e-mail exchange.

“[It was] sort of like when your child goes to college. You are proud/happy for the growth, but a bit sad for the change. But just like in this example, our child is still around, just in the e-wallet form,” Eagle said.

The company’s name change, announced in October 2003, may also have been a bid to distance the company from controversy.

Claria has big name advertisers in its GAIN network, which serves ads based on the Web sites people visit. But it has been dogged by litigation, including court cases involving the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), another involving some major publishers, and still other legal battles with companies including UPS and Six Continents.

Eagle said Claria’s clients were neutral to positive about the name change. Most members of the press agreed that the name change made a lot of sense, and “the few non-fans, detractors, those few outlying companies [eight] suing us? They didn’t like the ‘Gator’ model and guess what, they don’t like the ‘Claria’ model. Nothing has changed here.”

Since its 1998 launch, Claria has expanded to encompass three business units. GAIN Publishing publishes, distributes and provides ad support for free software. The GAIN Network delivers behaviorally targeted online ads to more than 38 million customers who have downloaded the software. Feedback Research provides online research and analytics using data from the individuals who have installed the software.

Overall, Eagle said the name change has been a positive experience. “For the general industry, new press folks, some new prospects, there is just greater clarity (and less confusing of the Gator e-wallet) with the expansive scope of our company offerings. And this has proven very beneficial to date,” Eagle said.

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