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What's In a Brand Name?

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Would Lindsay Lohan be more popular if she changed her name to Oprah? Or would things be even worse if she opted to go by Osama, instead?

Just how important is a name in obtaining acceptance and avoiding failure?

According to a new study by CNW Marketing Research, a name is vital, and to prove the point, CNW did some moniker-switching to learn whether consumers held a vehicle in high or low regard based on its brand name.

It held a variety of consumer clinics using the Chevy Cobalt and Scion xB as examples. In addition to showing the cars with their true names, it switched badges to see what, if any effect, brands had on consumer perceptions about quality and reliability and if the name had any impact on whether they held the car in high or low esteem.

The conclusion: name matters.

CNW found that when Cobalt carried its original Chevy badge, it rated 6.9 out of a possible 10 ranking. But when it carried a Toyota badge, the rating rose to 8.6. If, rather than Chevy, the Cobalt was labeled a Ford, the rating fell to 6.2 and if called a Chrysler to 6.1. Those who favor a return of Fiat to the U.S., take note. When a Fiat badge was put on Cobalt the approval rating sunk to 4.8.

When a Scion xB was rolled out carrying its Toyota badge, the rating was 8.4, but when replaced with a Chevy badge, the rating slipped to 6.3. Chevy shouldn’t feel too bad: when a Ford badge was added on the xB to gauge reaction, the rating fell to 5.9 and Chrysler to 5.2. And Fiat fared poorest, with a 4.2.

One can only wonder what the outcome would have been if CNW tested a Yugo badge.

There are, obviously, explanations for this phenomenon. Poor quality among the domestic automakers in the ’70s and ’80s along with outstanding quality among the imports in the ’90s, especially among Japanese brands like Toyota, has created a perception among consumers that if a car carries a Toyota nameplate, it is infallible.

While recent quality surveys among companies like J.D. Power and Associates have proved that domestic quality has made solid gains, and is comparable to that in most imports, it is difficult to change consumer perceptions.

“The problem for some brands can be traced to long memories and the lack of attention to detail in the past,” said CNW general manager Art Spinella. “Squeeks or rattles in the ’60s or poor paint in the ’90s still haunts certain brands to this day. It took Toyota 15 years to establish its credentials.”

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