The Tata Zica Name Hunt Contest. Did it Work – Views From Prabhakar

Tata Motors had to consider re-branding its new car Zica, because it didn’t quite research  the fact well enough that Zika was a virus that was spreading through the world. Zika was declared a global emergency  by the WHO just at the time Tata Motors was displaying their new car at the Auto Expo 2016.

Of course you may argue how Tata Motors was to  know that a virus would be named after its latest brand name and that they were just plain unlucky.  But that is not true. The Zika Virus was first isolated in Uganda in 1947. In fact Zika takes it name from the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was first found. The virus is spread by the day time Aedes mosquitos.  Zika is related to yellow fever, dengue, Japanese encephalitis and  the West Nile virus.  The CDC in the US confirms that this time the strain was first sexually transmitted in Texas.

So there is a high price to pay for companies that don’t do research on their brand names. For Tata Motors the tension was palpable.  Add to this the embarrassment in front of other auto makers and visitors at the Auto Expo 2016.

Tata Motors then resorted to a consumer contest on Twitter for the new brand name.  This was a fairly unique way of crowd sourcing a new brand name, getting the public at large involved and to a certain extent therefore nullifying the effect of the bad publicity created around changing the earlier brand name of Zica.

What is interesting however is that none of the 3 finalist brand names that came from the #Fantastico name hunt were perhaps appropriate.

1. Civet 



Civet has a nice sound to it, but unfortunately it is a cat that is found on coffee plantations and is a nocturnal mammal. It is famous for living off coffee berries.  It can’t digest the  coffee beans, so it excretes them out along with the rest of its droppings. The beans are collected by farm workers. Cleaned and washed, they have acquired a unique and highly prized taste from their passage through the cat’s digestive tract and the anal scent glands they use for marking their territory.  The resultant coffee is the most expensive in the world, priced at anywhere between $100 to $600 per pound.

In retrospect neither the  nature of the beast nor what it is known for, which is the most expensive luxury coffee seems an appropriate name for the Tata Motors car.

2. Adore


Strangely the entire character of the word adore is so different from Civet. They almost have nothing to do with each other.  The dictionary meaning adore:

1. To worship as God or a god. 2. To love (someone) deeply and devotedly. See Synonyms at revere1.3. To like very much: adores Broadway musicals.

The problem with this name of course is that it leads to a very different positioning from Civet. At least Civet although it has the wrong connotations, is a type of  cat and cats are associated with being lithe, fast and quick which was the original philosophy behind the Zica being an acronym created from Zippy Car. But Adore as a name has nothing to do with the quality of a zippy car.

3. Tiago

<> at Camp Nou on May 19, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.
<> at Camp Nou on May 19, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.

Tiago is the name that Tata Motors has finally gone with. Most  Indians may not be familiar with the name.  The name Tiago is a baby boy’s name. The name has Portuguese origins. In Portuguese it is the equivalent of James or Jacob.  Again you must admit Tiago has little to do with Zippy Car, the original naming philosophy behind Zica. If you are curious to know how how it is pronounced click Tiago

No doubt the consumer who came up with this name was a football fan who knew the names of Messi’s family members. True, it is the name of Lionel Messi’s son, but what emotional comfort is there for Tata Motors in the fact that Messi’s son has the same name?  After all a brand name is permanent.  A brand ambassador and particularly his son has no permanency about it.

So while a consumer contest may have been a great idea to generate brand names for the new Tata Motors car, I am not sure that it was the best way to develop marketing and naming strategy for the car.

If indeed the naming philosophy for Zica was Zippy Car then none of the 3 shortlisted names seems to have anything to do with zippiness. Of course the marketing cynic is going to quote Shakespearean rhetoric and say ‘ What’s in a name’?

But as Al Ries and Jack Trout famously said in the their book Positioning : The Battle for the Mind ‘ The name is the hook that allows the mind to hang the brand on its product ladder.

The name is the hook that allows the mind to hang the brand on its product ladder. Given a poor name, even the best brand in the world won’t be able to hang on.Frankly there seems little to hang Thiago on, but of course one would wish only the very best to Tata Motors for the launch of their new car.

Frankly there seems little to hang Thiago on, but of course one would wish only the very best to Tata Motors for the launch of their new car.

One thing however the name hunt contest may have demonstrated is that naming a brand is hardly a process of random selection based on subjective judgement. Tata Motors is known to have received 37,000 entries.  More often than not brand names are inextricably entwined with the marketing and advertising strategy of the brand.

Update 25 February 2016

The Tata name change ad from Zica to Tiago appeared today in the Times of India.


About the Author

Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H.