Why Your Favorite Brand Names Are Starting to Look Like Math Problems

April 27, 2019, 2:00 PM UTC

Two plus one equals three. In the span of that many weeks, consumers were introduced to a trio of subscription services promising to add to their lives: Apple News+ and Apple TV+, plus one from Disney, aptly titled­­—Disney+. They’ll complement a growing roster of arithmetic-branded media services, joining Disney-owned ESPN+ and following in the footsteps of the original “plus” brand in tech, Google+.

Things didn’t work out so well for the latter. The Internet giant shut down the social network in April after seven years. And while Google+ ultimately failed because of competition with Facebook and a massive privacy breach, its name didn’t do much to encourage engagement in the first place, branding experts say.

“That’s the biggest problem with [this type of name],” says Laurel ­Sutton, cofounder of brand-naming agency Catchword. “It doesn’t tell you anything at all. It doesn’t tell you what you’re getting; it doesn’t say why it’s different. It’s just adding a superlative on the end—like saying ‘ultra’ or ‘supreme’ or ‘better.’ ”

Of course, “better” is the exact message companies like Apple and Disney want to convey. When you use the + “in conjunction with a really strong, well-known parent brand, it reminds people, like … this is Disney—we’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel,” says the Naming Group founder and president Nina Beckhardt. But the problem, she adds, is that brands then miss a chance to differentiate themselves, and they expose themselves to copycats with vague symbols that aren’t easily ­trademarkable. Just look at the knockoff electronic brands beginning with a lowercase i.

So is the simplicity of the + effective or obscure? It’s a missed opportunity, says Sutton. “Look at Disney—its brand is all about magic and wonder. The name ‘plus’ doesn’t do any of that stuff. It doesn’t appeal to the essence of the brand.”

A version of this article appears in the May 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “When Plus Is a Minus.”

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