Wayne Gretzky

Would You Fly on an Airplane Named Boom?

Supersonic Whiplash

I’m recovering from a serious case of supersonic name whiplash.

A Very Cool Airplane

It started when I saw the photo illustration of an amazing new passenger jet being developed by a Denver start up.  The firm is pursuing a daring mission – to reintroduce supersonic flight to commercial aviation.

For the company’s team of skunk works engineers this must be the absolute dream job – to create an iconic new aircraft and conquer the speed of sound!

The super sleek aircraft has a projected cruising velocity of Mach 2.2.  It will fly at more than two and a half times the speed of any current day airliner and will be 10 percent faster than the old supersonic Concorde, which had its last flight in 2003.

What’s the name of this visionary aerospace company?  Boom.  Boom Technology.

Perfect at First Glance

At first glance, Boom seems to be the perfect name for the world’s fastest ever passenger plane. Boom is bold, evocative and exceedingly cool. Boom is gutsy, memorable and instantly repeatable. Best of all, it says supersonic in a single syllable.

The engineers undoubtedly love Boom. I bet there was giddy excitement when they chose the name. And what could be better than going to work wearing a Boom T-shirt?

Boom is a great piece of naming.  It immediately filled me with wild blue yonder excitement.  It reignited my old grade school dream of one day becoming an aeronautical engineer.

Supersonic U Turn

But as I moved my thoughts beyond the confines of the test lab and took on a wider perspective, some significant Boom shortcomings came into view.  My opinion did a supersonic U turn.  Name whiplash hit me hard.  Suddenly my perfect name conclusion seemed hasty and seriously amiss.  Here’s why.

The engineers building the plane are the first audience for the name, but certainly not the only audience. And they’re not the audience that will bring money in the door.

Different Audience - Different Message

For the much larger outside audience Boom conveys a very different message, and stirs a very different set of emotions.

To the engineers Boom means speed. To the outside audience Boom means danger. For engineers Boom elicits emotional excitement. For the outside audience Boom feeds fear.

The last thing any air traveler wants to hear is a boom. A mid air boom is never the start of anything good.

No brand can afford to fall on the wrong side of fear.

Will Airlines Be Comfortable with Boom?

The first customers for Boom jets are the airlines.  They operate in a safety-focused and highly regulated environment.

Will airline CEOs agree to shell out mega millions and stake their company’s reputation on a jet named Boom? Is the Boom name a fit with the airline culture?

What Will Air Travelers Think of Boom?

For the 10-30 percent of the population already afraid of flying, the Boom name could well strike panic. It’s unlikely that your nervous Aunt Nola from North Dakota would ever take a Boom flight. Or for that matter famous white-knuckled flyers like Wayne Gretzky, John Madden or Mr. T.

The company is probably not targeting aerophobics, so making the already fearful a little more anxious isn’t a big concern.  But is it possible that the name is edgy enough to cause others to hesitate?  Could the name sabotage ticket sales?

Consider the example of my frequent flyer friend Todd. Todd has no fear of the flying part of flying. In fact he’s the type of guy who would be eager to take a supersonic flight.  When he was a boy his dad worked for the airlines and received family travel passes, so Todd pretty much grew up on airplanes.

9/11 Terrorist Concerns

But when I asked Todd if he would fly on a plane named Boom, his response was rather tentative. My question had hit a nerve.  Then he explained. “Prior to 9/11 I would have had no problem getting on a plane named Boom. But since then I’ve been feeling a lot more cautious.”

The Name Would Keep Him off the Plane

He isn’t as wary now as in the fall of 2001, but the Boom name is still intense enough to activate his terrorist alarm system and overrule his desire for a super fast flight. The name would keep him off the plane.

Is any name cool enough to use if it scares away your potential customer base?

Regulators & Anti-Noise Activists

How will the name be received by influential non-passenger audiences?

Imagine you worked at the FAA and were in charge of issuing airworthiness certificates. Would you be more stringent in reviewing a plane from Boom than one from Boeing?

What about the anti-noise activists who live close to big airports? How will the company ever convince them that a plane called Boom is actually quiet?

Inviting Headline Ridicule

Boom leaves the company vulnerable to ridicule. If there ever is a mishap, the name will be inviting fodder for the media. The tabloid headline is already written – KA-BOOM!

If that nickname gets riveted to the plane, it will be impossible to shake.

Boom is great for boldness.  But is it just too risky?

What’s the Boom Lesson?

The mini Boom case study shows that names are powerful and make powerful impressions.  But depending on the audience, the same name can stir markedly different, and potentially undesirable impressions.

When you’re naming your company or product it’s all too easy to focus on what a particular name means to you without giving enough attention to other ways it can be interpreted. You need to consider what thoughts and feelings the name evokes in the marketplace.

To arrive at a name that will be a solid foundation for your brand, you need to balance creative enthusiasm with sober second thought and customer research.

What Should the Company Do?

The Boom name has some great strengths but also enormous weaknesses waiting in the wings.  Should the company stick with it for the long term?

For now the company is isolated from the downside of the Boom name.  The drawbacks are still only theoretical.  The main audience for the name is the engineering group designing the aircraft.

That will all change beginning late next year when the supersonic jet has its first test flight.  Once the plane takes to the skies, the name will attract a lot of attention and much of it will be negative.

If the company’s CEO called to ask my advice, I would suggest replacing Boom with a new name – a name that conveys a sense of supersonic engineering but not at the expense of safety and credibility.

To spare the engineers from feeling cheated out of a name they love, Boom could live on internally as the name for the jet propulsion division.  This would allow the engineers to keep the Boom T-shirts in their work wardrobe.

The Sooner the Better

The sooner Boom is replaced the better.  The flurry of publicity that the test flights will unleash should be harnessed to establish a strong new name rather than publicize a problematic one.

The company’s amazing new aircraft needs a name that will give it a lift, a tailwind, some sort of an advantage.  The Boom name puts too many unnecessary obstacles in the flight path to success.

Would you fly on an airplane named Boom?