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When “Ap” became “App”: Anyone notice that Apple has transformed a stock abbreviation into a brand bonanza?

May 21, 2010

“Act now and we’ll throw in an extra 256K of RAM for only $99!”

I wanted to write about David CrossI Drink for a Reason, especially the audiobook. Every year, authors are realizing that the audio medium allows for much more than simply reading the text. Cross has taken that idea and hopped the proverbial fence. But something else caught my attention – the merging of technology, pop culture, and advertising.

Coke. Kleenex. Xerox. Band-Aid. Try to spend an entire day without referencing a genericized trademark – the term affixed to products that have acquired their dominant brand name as their chief moniker. While watching Nashville, Robert Altman’s fictionalized (but-not-really) examination of the mid-70s country music scene, I noticed how Barbara Jean made multiple mentions of a prominent kitchen appliance as a Frigidaire. Some of these proprietary eponyms are quite surprising (Heroin was once a registered trademark, although I have no authority if “junk”, “skag” or “chasing the dragon” were granted “SM” status). There is a downside to having one’s product reach that magic union of popularity and ubiquity, as residents of Southeastern Conference states can witness. Here’s a sample of the problematic nature of genericized trademarks:

Server: “So, what would you like to drink?”

Customer: “I’ll have a Coke.”

Server: “What kind of Coke?”

Customer: “Do you have Diet Mountain Dew?”

Despite the potential for brand dilution, companies often aim for their products to reach this exalted status – no one more so than Apple. While advertising critics have hoisted accolades on the cutting-edge nature of Steve Jobs and Company’s publicity campaigns, these efforts depend upon successful strategies of branding techniques from as far back as 1899, when Bayer’s print ads employed the brand Aspirin as a substitute for salicylate. Unless you’ve jumped on the horse-drawn carriage of the Steampunk Artifacts movement, you’ve had to notice how Apple has successfully linked the term iPod with portable music players (to be fair, many still call any model a “Walkman”), or how iPhone is approaching that status within the smartphone set. However, Apple’s greatest branding achievement is none of these.

For many years, computer companies and developers have referred to their software as an “application”. As the 20th Century came to a close, Abbreviation Culture exploded. One example of ab-cult’s effect on society is the squeezing of all personality from nicknames for professional athletes. Where we once had Dominique “The Human Highlight Film” Wilkins, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell and Ed “Too Tall” Jones, we were left with Chris “C-Webb” Webber and Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez (interestingly, Felix Hernandez was able to avoid “F-Her”). And “application” became “ap”.

Yes, ap. With one “p”.

While I am not one to believe that “Google Search + High Number of Hits = Correlation”, this is a rare moment where it does. From time immemorial through 2007, a super-duper-majority of websites utilized “ap” as their abbreviation for “application”. (For evidence, examine the years of publication for the closed-quote term “killer ap” and “killer app” on a Google search).

While Apple has used the two pees for around a decade, the creation of the App Store to serve their iPhone launched their re-branding of the term. With assistance from the tech community, and their informative advertising campaign, “application” is deader than ValuJet stock. And the neutral term “ap” has been transformed into the Coke of the 21st Century. Which leaves us with App, one letter closer…

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