What’s in a Brand/Franchise name? The Droid Challenge

Last week while driving into work I heard a local rock station Radio DJ talking to a call-in listener who was chastizing his “fanboy” status of the iPod/iPad.  “You know, there are other operating systems out there too, not every device is an Apple iPod/iPad”, the caller complained. “Android is a great operating system and you should talk about it more”.  While I will spare the details of how the caller passionately corrected the DJ that the iPad can’t read Word documents (it can), the thing that struck me was the next exchange where the DJ kept asserting that he’s aware of “Droid” and has talked about “Droid phones” as a category.  The caller tried to correct both the DJ and his co-hosts that the OS is “Android” – they never caught on and just as adamantly were referring to the category as “Droid”.  The caller then hung up in frustration.

Therein lies the brand challenge.  Last year, when Verizon decided to brand their phones “Droid”, it added a cool cache.  They also took a deep departure from the happy family ads by going very dark in their ads – missiles flying, creepy robotic hands moving at accelerated speeds, all contrary to traditional marketing and signaling their desire to appeal at least initially to the core with “speeds and feeds” type marketing.  But by merely concatenating the Android name, they’ve created confusion in the marketplace.  I’ve always wondered how Google would let them do this?

Well, the answer may be in the fine print itself.  The term “Android” isn’t new – according to Wikipedia, the term was first used by St. Albertus Magnus in 1270 and was popularized by the French writer Villiers in his 1886 novel L’Ève future. The term “android” appears in US patents as early as 1863 in reference to miniature human-like toy automatons.  Google has a trademark filing on Android which has also been challenged.

So what about “Droid”? Interestingly neither Verizon or Google owns the Droid trademark – it’s owned by a third party – Lucasfilm.  Right on the Droid website it says:

“DROID is a trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. and its related companies. Used under license.”

Yes, if you look at the fine print in the ads, the “Droid” term is licensed and used with permission of George Lucas. Now Verizon could be brilliant in their approach – everyone loves cute little R2D2 right?

Many companies have made confusing branding decisions, I’m not debating that point but as seen in the media and conversations with those outside the tech elite, it’s confusing for consumers.  Take the marketing websites where you find topline billing of not one, but three equal brands: “Verizon | Google | HTC”.  Do consumers call it a Verizon Droid, a Google Droid, or HTC Droid phone or correctly referred to as “Verizon bar Google bar HTC bar Droid phone?

Lastly, there’s the master brand challenge.  Verizon recently released multiple Droid phones, by multiple manufacturers.  From Verizon’s site:

  • Droid by Motorola
  • Droid Eris by HTC
  • Droid Incredible by HTC

Yet the main “Droid” site linked from search engines and Verizon’s site on refers to the original.  Buy an accessory there, and will it work with the Eris or Incredible?  Every other Android phone listed on VZW’s site starts with the name of the manufacturer.  Is Droid a marketing alliance?

So what’s in a name – Android, Droid, Droid by Motorola, or Droid | Google | Motorola | HTC.  In a recent conference, Motorola’s co-CEO repeatedly referred to the Droid franchise.  Larry Dignan, the author of the ZDNet article whom I’ve read and respected for years notes, “Motorola has to diversify from the Droid franchise or it’s completely dependent on Verizon’s marketing.”  Does the same hold true for Android from “Droid” or does it even really matter?  Either way, consumers are living in a Brand of Confusion.

(Comments are my own, not necessarily representative of my employer, and infer no rights.)

2 responses to “What’s in a Brand/Franchise name? The Droid Challenge”

  1. Actually, it could be marketing genius on Verizon’s part. You and I know Droid, Droid Eric, and Droid Incredible are made by different manufacturers and run Android. But non-alpha geeks don’t have that level of insight. However, they do know the only place to get a ‘Droid’ is Verizon.

  2. Dave – I hear you, but I’m not buying it. Verizon may have stumbled into the "franchise" moniker. I think they saw how well the first device was doing and decided to release add’l phones under the same name. If you do a review of Verizon’s website and community sites you’ll find clear examples of confusion. Meanwhile other operators do advertise "Android". All the more reason VZW should have been distinct and differentiated.