i - how can one letter mean so much?

The iPod, iPlayer, iTeddy and the newspaper, i Since the iPod, numerous products have adopted the prefix "i"

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The Independent has launched its new light edition, branded "i". So what is it about the letter that has made it so popular?

It started over a decade ago with Apple's iMac and caught the imagination of a generation through the iPod, spawning a whole family of products.

Since then, all manner of products have taken the "i", including the iDog and iTeddy, as manufacturers sought to tap into the buzzword.

By 2008, the BBC's iPlayer had adopted the same snappy title form - even its developmental name of Integrated Media Player was shortened to iMP - and last year "i" was chosen by Magazine readers as one of 20 words which defined the last decade.

Now the Independent's publisher has chosen the letter as the title of its new edition, aimed at a younger crowd who want quality journalism but lack the time to digest a daily broadsheet.

Its promotional blurb gives a few clues as to the reasoning behind the choice, peppered as it is with words like intelligent, incisive, interesting, influential and ideas.

Branding expert Jonathan Gabay says the newspaper's marketers are also capitalising on the modern trend towards personalisation of products.


"It's about the power of people. Them saying 'I want this; I want that. You're going to give me what I want on my terms'," says the head of marketing company Brand Forensics.

"Because people are looking for answers quickly, the paper is very visual. People can get to what they want as quickly as possible."

Start Quote

It's taken on a life of its own, with these overtones now of easy portability or usability - senses which don't usually relate to the letter 'i'”

End Quote Tony Thorne Language expert

Today's use of the letter "i" is much more sophisticated than early attempts to jump on the "cool" bandwagon, says Mr Gabay.

It reflects the participatory nature of advertising, encouraging people to share knowledge of their products electronically or "like" them on Facebook, he says.

"Brands are doing everything to say 'you're in charge'. It gives products more credibility," he adds.

This growing importance of the virtual world is the reason why "i", along with "blog" and "tweet" made it into Magazine readers' 20 words that defined the Noughties, according to lexicographer and Countdown regular Susie Dent, who was one of the judges.

Language expert Tony Thorne says single-letter prefixes have been "trendy" since the 1990s, first with e-mail, then e-commerce and other brands such as Npower or M People.

But "i" works best because its meaning has become "completely ambiguous", he says.

The i What's wrong with "Gazette" or "Herald"?

Whereas with iMac it stood primarily for "internet", the iPod - and many products since - have left customers guessing as to whether it might be internet, information, individual or interactive, argues Mr Thorne.

"Even when Apple originated the iPod, it seems it didn't have one precise denotation. iPod had already been patented as the name of an information kiosk," he says.

From the newspaper's point of view, it fits in with the idea of it being a light edition, says Mr Thorne, former head of the Language Centre at King's College London.

"It's taken on a life of its own, with these overtones now of easy portability or usability - senses which don't usually relate to the letter 'i'."

"People accept prefixes in a different way now. We used to have to use them according to their true meaning but now it's more symbolic."

However, Mr Thorne has a warning for the i's publishers - that there are few successful precedents for single-letter titles.

"People may find it irritating as it's too short to roll around the tongue and too oblique or obscure in its reference," he adds.

A selection of your comments appears below

I even live in a building call i-land. It's so tacky (the name, the flat's really nice). To say that "i" has anything to do with personalisation is ridiculous though, the i-phone is renowned for being impossible to customise. All it is is what I'm coining "brand-wagon jumping", and it makes me cringe.

Darren, Birmingham

I hate it! It feels like I'm constantly being dragged in to the i-life.. iPods, iPads, iPlayer... it feels like companies are using it to appeal to the 'youngsters' simply because Apple did and it became cool. Newsflash! I'm a 'youngster' and I hate it! I think it sums the world today and the me-generation.. i-this, I that.. it wouldn't ever have been a uPod, would it?

Samantha Downes, Derby, UK

Personally i blame Isaac Asimov for this. He started all this nonsense with his short story book I, Robot. I now associate anything that starts with an "i" as "marketing department cannot think of an original name".

Richard Dzien, Bath, UK

To me it's just a hang over from the 80's, when the "i" (as now, always lower case) was a must have on the back of your Golf, XR3 etc!

Mike, Wanborough, Wiltshire

When I started freelancing I was pitching to company whose biggest client was called "ICharter". In our first meeting, I flippantly said: "ICharter... like iTeddy?" "No... as in International".Turns out it was the International Charter, a well known business organisation. What was even more surprising was I got the job.

JohnD, Ely, Cambridgeshire

I see someone's completely missed the not-so-clever highly intentional pun for the newspaper. It's called "i", it's a daily feature, it's the "daily i" or "daily eye". Can I get hired as a "branding expert" now?

John Knight, Neath, Wales

Comments: In world of apparent over-exposure and mass-production of almost everything, this is a small marketing way of trying to make something feel unique to you. User-driven/created content, customisable gadgets and apps. It's just a way of trying to connect to the person rather than the people.

Jacob Barker, London

The funniest example I have seen of this has to be the i-TWIST which is actually a chicken wrap from a well known chicken place. The ad even had young urban-cool dancers a la iPhone ads and you couldn't guess it was anything to do with chicken until the final second of the ad, which seemed almost like a punchline in terms of its timing. Can you guess what the product is yet? It's modern sexy cool tech-savvy FRIED CHICKEN! What an ad brainstoming session that must have been.

elbapo, manchester

It's seem to me as though someone hasn't really thought this through properly. For me, "i" relates in some way to technology; when I see an "i-Thing" I expect to see some kind of gadget - possibly small - which has some sort of information technology related function. It also suggests something new and of the moment. An "i-Newspaper", made of paper, doesn't really fit the bill ... unless it's on-line or a pod-cast or something similar.

Daryl, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Now that everybody has jumped on the "i" bandwagon it reminds me of all the products in the 80s and 90s with "2000" in their name, as if it made them sound advanced and futuristic.

Mark, Vancouver, Canada

Using a short title for the 'Independent Light' is a good choice, as it conveys the light idea with a short name. People are not going to walk into a news-agent's and say 'I want an i' - they are just going to take it off the news rack or counter.

Richard Mallett, Eaton Bray, Dunstable, Beds

I guess it's just a sign of how selfish and self-obsessed we have all become... I want this, it's my right... people only think about themselves, so the marketing is tailored to people who love themselves!

Hannah, London

I've always thought it was general consensus that Apple's super-cool "i" prefix stood for intelligent. It has certainly worked out to be a smart move by their marketing team considering their global sales. Something tells me we're not going to be saying the same about the Independent's "i" in years to come.

Adam Lucas, London

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