When Product Development Yields Portmanteau Names

port·man·teau
/ˌpôrtˈmantō/
noun

A word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example motel (from ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’) or brunch (from ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’).

Sometimes portmanteau names can be great combinations that help communicate the concept behind the brand. Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputer and software. Groupon combines group and coupon. Instagram combines instant (camera) and telegram. These are fantastic combinations that subtly reveal the underlying brand positioning, which aids in the memorability of the brand name.

Sometimes portmanteau names are lazy combinations that just don’t work (see the POOLIFE combination in this post). http://nameflash.com/2018/08/the-perils-of-portmanteau-names/

And sometimes, portmanteau names are simply the result of clever product development ideas.

Heinz (Kraft Heinz Company: NASDAQ: KHC) is product development wizard as they regularly introduce new items to capture the imagination of condiment users. For example, a few years ago they introduced sriracha and jalapeño flavored ketchup. And they called them… sriracha and jalapeño flavored ketchup. Not exactly names that lend themselves to PR pickup.

But recently they launched another combo product…and called it MAYOCHUP.

Classic use of the portmanteau technique: MAYONNAISE + KETCHUP = MAYOCHUP. The internet exploded.

But Heinz did not stop there. Their product development pipeline kicked in other condiment combinations, yielding:

Heinz even reached into the pantry of Kraft to add barbecue sauce and ranch dressing:

Heinz has always had excellent product development ideas, but now they have discovered the portmanteau method of naming to reinforce the 1 + 1 = 2 product positioning behind the combination of condiments.

If Heinz had this formula when they were launching the sriracha flavored ketchup they might have called it SRIRACHUP. Now, unfortunately for Heinz, the name SRIRACHUP has already been trademarked by a competitor…but why not KETCHACHA?

What future combinations can we expect from the Kraft Heinz Company?

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Tell Me A Story

Smart marketers know how to tell a story. One of Seth Godin’s early books, All Marketers Are Liars, explains the use of storytelling as a marketing tool. It is proven to work.

If you want to up the degree of difficulty, try cueing a story with your name. It is not an easy thing to do. But a good marketer should be able to use the product name as an entry into a story.

Here is an example of how one of our clients did that.

This client was importing a spice liqueur from Goa, India, to the US, and hired NameFlash to develop a name. The recipe for the liqueur is an old family recipe developed centuries ago in a remote village in central Portugal, and includes sugar from Brazil, spices from Asia, and Portuguese fruit, which are then all steeped in strong spirit until the liqueur matures. The resulting dark amber spirit has a unique taste all of its own – it opens with top notes of cardamom, cinnamon and orange, and you slowly get hints of turmeric, cloves and other spices as the taste lingers on the palate.

This liqueur is more complex than Fireball® (cinnamon whiskey) but given the rapid growth of Fireball® to a multimillion-dollar brand, it might have been tempting to develop a similar brand name. However, in working with the client, we developed a storyline that gave this product a unique home in the liqueur universe.

The diverse ingredients in the liqueur emerged from the global explorations of the Portuguese Empire which included the Spice Islands, Brazil, parts of Africa and Western India. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, was the first European to reach India by sea. His initial voyage to India (1497–1499) was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, thereby establishing a new Spice Route to India’s southwestern coast. This part of India was known as the Malabar Coast, and as trade developed, it became one of the most powerful regions of India.

We recommended that the client name the product Malabar. Malabar is an exotic name that conjures up images of kingdoms ruled by maharajas, and the history of the Malabar Coast is aligned with the development of the recipe for this product. With a strong historical base and powerful imagery, we felt we had a winner. And the client has taken the name and further developed the story around the product on its website. The product has launched and is available in selected states (www.drinkmalabar.com).

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This Is How You Do It

It’s that time of year! Baseball Spring Training is here! In honor of this, I’m looking at the fun names in Minor League Baseball. Some of them demonstrate the key principles of name development!

Minor League Baseball team names can be dull and boring. For example, there are some that just reflect the name of the parent Major League Team (e.g., Oklahoma City Dodgers, Syracuse Mets, Springfield Cardinals or Iowa Cubs). Yawn.

Or maybe they use a traditional animal such as the Burlington Bees or the classic Durham Bulls. These are a little more interesting, but not especially engaging.

Some teams are “swinging for the fences” with their names. When you think about what is important in naming your minor league team, you should focus on 3 things. Team names should be fun, relevant to the local population, and quirky enough to be memorable.

Here are some examples of team names that are “hitting it out of the park.”

The Madison, Alabama, Rocket City Trash Pandas – Yes, there is a large NASA facility nearby (that includes Space Camp) in Huntsville so the “Rocket City” moniker is no surprise. The Trash Pandas came from a consumer contest and won the public vote by a large margin. The previous team name was the uninspiring Mobile BayBears. For the record, the other finalists were space-animal combinations: Moon Possums, ThunderSharks, Space Chimps, and Comet Jockeys.

Trash Pandas

Even though the Trash Pandas won’t start playing until 2020, they broke the three-month sales record for merchandise sold by a rebranded Minor League Baseball team with over $500,000 in merchandise moved in nearly 3,500 online orders.

The El Paso Chihuahuas – When the former Tuscon Padres moved to El Paso in 2013 the team ran a naming contest and fans chose between these finalists: Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Chihuahuas, Desert Gators, and Sun Dogs. While Team Management was initially a little apprehensive about the name, their focus on fun drove sales of Chihuahuas merchandise to record setting levels.

Chihuahuas

The New Orleans Baby Cakes – According to a team PR release, the Baby Cakes name is “A tribute to the Mardi Gras king cakes where small plastic babies are sought after.” In the 2017 rebranding, the former New Orleans Zephyrs held a name-the-team contest and the finalists were Baby Cakes, Crawfish, King Cakes, Night Owls, Po’boys, Red Eyes, and Tailgators.

Baby Cakes

Although the Baby Cakes name was initially met with mixed reactions, the team reported increased merchandise sales after the announcement and the rebrand set a record for online merchandise orders. Of note, the team awarded a free lifetime pass to any baby born in the state of Louisiana during 2017 and was entered into a raffle to win a full four-year tuition to a state college in Louisiana upon their 18th birthday in 2035.

In 2019 the Amarillo Sod Poodles begin play – Per the team, Sod Poodles is a “pioneer’s nickname for ‘Prairie Dogs.’” This name emerged victorious in a “Name the Team” contest, triumphing over other selections rooted in Amarillo’s Texas Panhandle location: Boot Scooters, Bronc Busters, Jerky and Long Haulers.

Sod Poodles

The Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp – Previous renditions of teams in Jacksonville included the Jacksonville Expos (referencing the parent Montreal Expos) and the Jacksonville Suns. You’ve got to admit that the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp is an upgrade, even if it is an oxymoron.

Jumbo Shrimp

And speaking of oxymoron, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was an answer on Jeopardy earlier this year!Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp✔@JaxShrimp

Jeopardy

Hey @thereal4smo – we loved your work on @Jeopardy tonight. Can we interest you in to coming to Jacksonville for a ballgame this season? Follow back and message us if you’re interested!

If you want to check out the bible of the weird team names of Minor League Baseball, check out this book: Root for the Home Team: Minor League Baseball’s Most Off-the-Wall Team Names and the Stories Behind Them.

Someday I’d like to work in the “Funnest” brand name category in America–Minor League Baseball Teams!

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Can I Buy A Vowel?

In a recent article in The New York Times, John Williams discussed the evolution of our language through the “vowel dropping” trend.

He mentions the use of vowel dropping in naming tech companies, as tech companies like Tumblr and Flickr dropped vowels “…both for distinctiveness and because the altered names made it easier to trademark, claim domain names on the internet and conduct other practical business.”

In my book The Science of Branding, I noted that the human brain has the ability to “fill in” the gaps caused by vowel dropping. For example, read this sentence and you’ll see how distortion of words does not impair communication:

“It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr all the ltteers in a wrod are. You can stlil raed it wouthit a porbelm bcuseae the huamn mnid wroks by a porecss of ptatern rceigontion. It dtemrines maennig bfoere porecssnig dteails.”

Isn’t tihs amzanig? Your brain can make sense of even the most chaotic situation.

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Dropping vowels is not always a good strategy for name development. While dropping vowels can make acquisition of .com domains easier, it does not guarantee that getting a trademark will be easier. One important reason for avoiding this strategy is it can distort consumer communication.

One of the most important considerations in evaluating a name is the ability of people to remember the name. Test your “day after recall” with some members of the target audience. Make sure they can pronounce and spell it correctly the day after hearing it. If they can’t repeat it and get it right, then they won’t be able to find your product or service on the web. If they can’t properly recall it then they won’t be able to tell a friend about the name in a way that the friend can find it. Net, net, if the name is too difficult to recall properly, then it won’t be a good name (unless of course you have a lot of money to invest in awareness-generating advertising).

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Who Needs A Name?

Mastercard has become the latest company to shift to a “no name” approach to branding.

Of course, they aren’t the first to do this (see Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Target, etc.). We are living in an image-driven world (e.g., Instagram) so this trend is not surprising.

A Mastercard spokesperson said: “As the consumer and commerce landscape continues to evolve, the Mastercard Symbol represents Mastercard better than one word ever could, and the flexible modern design will allow it to work seamlessly across the digital landscape.”

One thing that many people forget is the millions (billions?) of dollars invested in the Mastercard name itself. And yes, that Venn diagram logo design is on every single credit card that Mastercard offers. It is no surprise that “…over 80% of people recognized the brand without the name.”

Does this trend mean that professional logo designers are more in demand or professional name developers are doomed? Nope. Mastercard could not have started with a snappy logo and assumed that everyone would get it. They spent years investing in their brand name and now they can reap the benefits. But you can’t just skip to the “image only” logo design. You have to create the meaning first, and that requires a great brand name (and logo!).

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A Better Way To Change Your Name (Or Not)

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

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The Perils of Portmanteau Names

A portmanteau is a linguistic blend of words in which parts of multiple words are combined into a new word. Common language examples include smog, which is a combination of the words smoke and fog, and motel which combines motor and hotel.

Some big companies used the portmanteau technique to develop their names. Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputer and software. Groupon combines group and coupon.

However, sometimes companies refuse to admit that their portmanteau name doesn’t work.

Consider this manufacturer of pool maintenance products.

Poolife

Yes, I get that they slammed “pool” and “life” together to get their name, but no matter how many times you look at this name it is hard to not see “Poo Life” isn’t it? And who wants to live a “poo life” anyway?

Here is another one. Yes, I see what they did here by combining “smart” and “tours.” But step away from the page for a second and look at it…what the heck is a “smar Tour” (or did you mean “smarT ours)?

smartours

Portmanteau names can be very good when the combination makes sense. But you have to have some common sense (as in most things in life). Combining words together to make a brand name can work or can look very stupid. Don’t be stupid!

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The Best Names Are Familiar But Different

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating book by Allen Gannett: The Creative Curve.

The author discusses how important it is to develop the right idea at the right time. Innovative ideas are more well received when they are introduced at the right time. Too soon and they are viewed as being weird. Too late and they are passé.

One of his foundational principles is that the intersection of the familiar and the unknown leads to breakout success. He provides extensive scientific support for this theory.

In my book, The Science of Branding, (www.amazon.com/Science-Branding-Proven-Better-Decisions-ebook/dp/B00TBOL6YA) I explain how this principle can lead to better names. There is a lot of scientific backing for using slightly ambiguous names for your company or product.

Let’s take a simple example: Intel®. Intel processors can be found globally across all platforms and the Intel name is arguably the best-known trademark in its class. Company history indicates the Intel name was derived from condensing the term “integrated electronics” into one word. Integrated Electronics was the company’s first choice, but the name was already taken, so they settled for Intel. Most importantly, Intel is a shortening of intelligence; or as a real word intel means “information of military or political value.” This familiarity enhanced brand recall and memorability. It also did not hurt that it implied being smart.

Using a name that is familiar but different also engages your customer’s brain by creating a “mind puzzle” with your branding. When the name is familiar but different, the customer’s brain will work to find a way to understand the familiarity and will spend time trying to figure out why the name was chosen, which can lead to higher recall of the name later and positive attributions to the product (the science behind this is in my book). If the consumer doesn’t have to work too hard to get the “mind puzzle” they might even have positive emotions about your brand. At the very least, when consumers solve the puzzle, they will then have a sense of accomplishment because they were able to figure it out.

Using “familiar but different” names is a strategy that challenges people to think about your product and to have your name on their minds. This can often lead to a stronger response from customers when the connections are made with the name of your company or product. Just don’t make the “mind puzzle” too difficult or you will frustrate your consumers!

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Artificial Intelligence Update: How About These Tomatoes!

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of name development and the use of Artificial Intelligence to name things. I also made a prediction that AI was going to get better and better as it practices name development.

Since that time, AI is getting better at developing names. Check out these potential names for tomato varieties from a recent post by Janelle Shane.

Floranta
Sweet Lightning
Speckled Boy
Flavelle
Pinkery Plum
Market Days
Fancy Bell
Mountain Gem
Garden Sunrise
Honey Basket
Cold Brandy
Sun Heart
Flaminga
Sunberry
Special Baby
Golden Pow

I’m pretty impressed by some of these!

Of course, AI also generates names that might be considered to be bad choices, like these examples:

Birdabee
Sandwoot
Shampy
Bear Plum
The Bango
Grannywine
Sun Burger
Bungersine
First No.4
Smoll Pineapple
The Ball
Golden Cherry Striped Rock
Eggs
Old German Baby
Frankster Black
Bumbertime
Ranny Blue Ribber
Adoly Pepp Of The Wonder
Cherry, End Students
Small Of The Elf
Champ German Ponder
Pearly Pemper
Green Zebra Pleaser
Flute First

As predicted, AI is getting better at developing names. And this should increase the demand for professional branding services by experienced human beings! When AI was generating bad names it was easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But now that AI is doing a better job, clients will have a harder time choosing a name because the list of 100 names contains 85 good ones! Clients will need the assistance of a branding expert to help make a branding decision, and perhaps a research expert to get consumer feedback on names.

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