Mozilla: Branding nightmare

I’m still somewhat bemused after reading the explanations, the summing ups and the plain old bafflement from bloggers and pundits alike. From a bird to a fox, let the hunt begin! Keep in mind that “Mozilla” will at one point no longer be a browser but a brand name. From a product to an identity. I haven’t seen it done that way round before. They must be smoking some really good shit.

The naming of the new browser doesn’t seem to make all that much sense to me. For some reason many Open Source projects seem to be named after some kind of animal. It’s cute and all but what the hell does it mean? I wonder if these are the same people who give hurricanes their name. One reason that Mozilla offers is that the former naming (Firebird) had some legal issues but this doesn’t qualify as an explanation. It’s simply a cop out so that Mozilla can keep the name the same and still be (legally) different. Possibly just to piss the lawyers off. They should’ve come up with something new. But to be fair let’s not pick on Mozilla’s choice of product names because there’re plenty of other companies who have come up with much worse. My biggest niggle is that they still haven’t been able to clean up their overall branding strategy.

I have no problem with phasing in a new identity but the way this has been conducted has been poor in my view. Mozilla does rightly indicate that Firefox and Thunderbird are “Technology Preview” products but also seem to give them a pretty high and upfront profile. This is exacerbated by webblogs and technology news sites hyping the hell out of it. For an Open Source company this is a joyful and beneficial occurrence, the latest and greatest must find a user base or else it can’t be fully tested and developed. Mozilla’s non-profit nature forces them to this kind of open and public production. Testing uses up wads of cash you know. All the more reason for them to be cautious in how strong an image they give the little critters. They could anticipate how the media, that’s including bloggers, will react. So why not act accordingly.

Mozilla should be the only product they promote on the consumer homepage because in a sense this is their only consumer product. Their online store shows exactly that, one product. Firefox and Thunderbird are like I said “Technology Preview” products and thus not ready for general consumption.  Camino is a spin-off and Bugzilla is completely different product for a completely different market. Bugzilla has it’s own site and is already being handled separately, very sensible.
These four products ought be on the Mozilla site but should be played down much more.

The lack of appropriate differentiation gives us a very odd look and feel to the Mozilla site. Individually the old Mozilla lizard, the website graphics and the new “Technology Preview” products look really good. Yes, I actually still like the lizard. Well sort of. But when it’s all thrown together Mozilla is sending us a confusing message. Has the great looking Firefox already overtaken Mozilla? No not really, but it does have that all important buzz surrounding it. The fact that Netscape can still be downloaded makes me wonder if users realise that Netscape has actually been killed off. Never mind explaining that the vacancy left by Netscape’s demise has actually been filled by promoting Mozilla in its place as the final Gecko product and that Firefox / Thunderbird occupy Mozilla’s old position so that one day they will be Mozilla’s main consumer products. Please, let’s not mention Phoenix, my head is starting to hurt.

In the end Mozilla as a company should have kept their marketing / branding simple by focussing on their two core products. The Firefox Thunderbird combo shouldn’t have been pushed so strongly until their time had come to be let out in to the wild. These two programs should be Mozilla’s successors and not its competitor. I believe that these successors can still keep the Mozilla name. They just need to add a noun after “Mozilla” for each new product and hey presto you’ve got yourself a family line up. Mozilla browser, Mozilla e-mailer, Mozilla reader (rss reader), Mozilla writer (composer) and Mozilla tracker (Bugzilla). Ad infinitum. Then you could cull the Firefox and Thunderbird names because you can now view them as working titles. Now what’s wrong with that?

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