Bland leading the brand

23 February 2008

With some of the electronics magazines cutting back on their coverage of the electronic design automation (EDA) business, you'd think the vendors would be trying to do more to increase their visibility on the intertubes. Someone needs to tell the people who come up with the product names that, whatever they're doing, it's not working. The trend right now, particularly with the two largest companies – Cadence Design Systems and Synopsys – is to pick as anodyne and forgettable a name as possible and then coat every single tool they have with it.

One of them complained this week about not being name-checked in a recent feature. I had a look at why that was and immediately ran into a problem: I couldn't remember what the actual product was called. I could remember what it used to be called, but not its current moniker. That caused a bit of a problem when I went to the website I had to whittle down the list of possibilities by a process of elimination - and only because the company hadn't rebranded everything else in the meantime.

Take Synopsys. It bought a company called Virtio a few years back that does simulations of the blocks that go into system-on-chip designs. Then the brand police swooped in and called it...Innovator. I am so going to remember that. What was it again? To this day, in my mind it remains "the tool formerly known as Virtio". Unfortunately, that doesn't do a lot to help find it.

Let's whizz across to Cadence where every tool in the verification arsenal is now Incisive something or other. Now, the name NCsim was hardly going to set the world alight. But at least it was googleable. Now it's the Incisive Enterprise Simulator, unless it's the equally memorable Incisive Design Team Simulator. Not to be confused with the Incisive Enterprise Manager. OK Vmanager – Verisity's original name for the tool before the company got bought by Cadence – was not that much better but you can guess which one sticks in my head.

And the companies think these 'umbrella brands' are the best thing ever: even organising meetings to tell hacks they have just thought up a new umbrella brand for some group of otherwise unconnected tools. It's hard to suppress the response: "You got me here to tell me you're launching an umbrella brand. Are you kidding me?"


Ah, but Chris, you have to remember the mantra of niche high-tech industry.

"There are only 10 companies out there that we are concerned about and we know who they are..."

As long as those customers remember the name, that's all that matters, right. That's why EDA continues to grow at 10 percent per annum.

Doesn't it?

Too true.

But you can bet that none of the engineers in those companies use the official names - they just use the command-line names which probably remain ncsim, vplan and so on.

Which begs the (slightly rhetorical) question: why do all this umbrella brand stuff? Answer: cos it's supposed to look good to shareholders and Wall Street.

Mentor is a bit of an exception here but the other big three are all going for the portfolio strategy, to the extent of beating their heads against a wall by launching competitors to tools with 90%+ market share - just to complete the portfolio and (with the help of steep bulk-buy discounts) claim they are the preferred choice in a customer such as Freescale, Intel or ST - while the engineering teams in those operations continue to go ahead and pick whatever they want to run.

In that environment, having umbrella portfolios is supposedly less confusing to the people buying and selling shares. However, it is another reason why I continue to question the relevance of a lot that passes through my inbox (into the round filing cabinet*).

* Actually, that's not quite true. It all gets archived instead.