The Naming.com Game

If a serious news organization decides to name its Web site Hot CoCo, it had better be damn good. After all, it’s hard to imagine newshounds logging on to the Web and bypassing simple yet memorable addresses, such as nytimes.com or usatoday.com, and heading instead for something called hotcoco.com.

Luckily for the Contra Costa Times, the Walnut, Calif., newspaper that launched Hot CoCo as an online supplement to its print publication, the site is getting rave notices more for its content than its unusual Internet address. The site is, well, hot.

So hot, in fact, that the Newspaper Association of America’s New Media Federation last week named Hot CoCo one of the 15 winners of its annual Digital Edge awards, aptly named the “Edgies.” (See list of winners on next page.) Hot CoCo was awarded its Edgie for Best Online Newspaper Site for papers with a circulation between 75,000 and 150,000. In giving out the award, the Edgie committee wrote: “Hot CoCo is cool. Thanks to strong local coverage, interesting diversions, good interaction and a healthy dose of personality, Hot CoCo is well on the way to establishing itself as a strong Net brand.”

The words “Net brand” are fast becoming more than just another made-up phrase in today’s cyberword-cluttered cyberworld. For newspaper publishers, the challenge is to build a memorable franchise online. The dilemma? Whether they should transfer their existing brand name and recognition to the Web, or create a new online identity altogether.

Of the 600 daily U.S. newspapers currently online, more than 60 percent have circulations under 50,000. Some smaller papers feel they have nothing to lose by establishing new “cyberbrands” that, while closely affiliated with the print publication, also have their own identity-and their own name. By naming their site Hot CoCo, the Contra Costa Times went against conventional wisdom, forsaking the name recognition and built-in audience they would have automatically received with the “Contra Costa Times Online.”

Most experts agree that such a strategy is risky. “Newspapers often try to make a dramatic distinction between their printed and online products,” says Evan Neufeld, an Internet analyst for New York-based Jupiter Communications. “They try to create dual identities, but as we learned with Time Warner’s Pathfinder site, that doesn’t work. What newspapers should do is maintain and strengthen their current brand identity and transfer that awareness to online products.”

Hot CoCo’s editor Patrick Twohy disagrees. “One reason we changed the name is because we didn’t want people thinking we were copying the print publication and throwing it up on the screen,” he says. “It was critical that this new product have its own personality, one befitting the World Wide Web.”

And it does. Hot CoCo looks nothing like the Contra Costa Times. In fact, it looks nothing like a newspaper. Indeed, the cyberspace format allows editors to take advantage of the online medium-constant updates, dynamic content, interactive forums, nonstandard sections.

But the real secret to Hot Coco’s success is its focus on local news. “We’re not going to spend a lot of time doing national news; if we do that, we’re just going to be putting up the same stuff as everyone else,” Twohy says. The strength of the Hot CoCo brand is that it will be the only site offering, as the homepage says, “The latest and hottest from San Francisco’s East Bay.”

Another online publisher who believes strongly in local content is Peter Levitan, president of New Jersey Online (nj.com), the cyberspace home of three New Jersey newspapers. “We created a new brand,” he says. But he admits it’s difficult if you pick a name completely unrelated to the paper. “If you’re talking about branding, then obviously a name like New Jersey Online works because it’s self-explanatory,” Levitan says.

Randy Bennet, vp of new media at the NAA, says this emphasis on local news will enable smaller, fledgling brands to flourish. Still, even for a local paper, he’s not sure if he would take the risk of trying to establish a completely new brand name. Says Bennet: “People should be able to get to the site by typing in a name they know.”

Edgie Winners

Best Online Newspaper Site (circ. more than 150,000)

The Chicago Tribune

(www.chicago.tribune.com)

Best Online Newspaper Site (circ. 75,000-150,000)

Contra Costa Times (Calif.)

(www.hotcoco.com)

Best Online Newspaper Site (circ. less than 75,000)

Tie: Sun Herald (Charlotte, Fla.)

(www.charlotte-florida.com) and Gainesville Sun (Fla.)

(sunone.com); (gatorsports.com)

Best Interactive Feature

Augusta Chronicle and Morris Communications Corp. Division of Online Services

(augustagolf.com)

Public Service (circ. more than 75,000)

Minneapolis Star Tribune

(idea.startribune.com)

Public Service (circ. less than 75,000)

Grand Forks Herald (N.D.)

(www.northscape.com)

Classified Use of New Media (circ. more than 150,000)

Kansas City Star

(www.kccareers.com); (www.kcautos.com); (www.kcrealestate.com)

Classified Use of New Media (circ. 75,0000-150,000)

Albany Times Union

(www.timesunion.com/capitalcars/)

Classified Use of New Media (circ. less than 75,000)

Santa Barbara News-Press

(www.sbcoast.com/class/class.html)

Online Advertising (circ. more than 150,000)

The New York Times Electronic Media Co.

(www.nytimes.com)

Online Advertising (circ. 75,000-150,000)

The Electronic Arizona Daily Star

(www.azstarnet.com)

Online Advertising (circ. less than 75,000)

The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

(www.hawkeyesports.com)

Award of Excellence

The Dallas Morning News

(www.dallasnews.com); Timothy McVeigh’s Feb. 28, 1997, confession scoop

Award of Excellence

The New York Times Electronic Media Co.

(www.nytimes.com/library/cyber/week/1009aids.html)

Posted by on July 21, 1997