The Perils of Naming Contests

Naming contests. Sounds like a good idea, right? A company needs a new name and it decides to engage its employees to come up with a new name. What could go wrong?

Well, you could end up with a name like Mondelez.

Just to be clear, I’m a professional name developer, so you might think I am against naming contests because they take dollars out of my wallet. Not true. If you are a small 5 person startup, by all means “talk amongst yourselves” and figure out your name. Chances are you will do a good enough job if you follow some basic rules. I’ll even give you some free advice! And the big company that buys you someday will likely change your name anyway.

But if you are a billion dollar global company, holding an employee naming contest is just about the dumbest thing you can do. And yet, that is what Kraft Foods did to identify a new name for its Snack Division. Mondelez International will be the corporate home for existing brands like Oreo, Cadbury, Nabisco and Trident. Kraft said in a statement that the new name — pronounced “mohn-dah-LEEZ” — comes from a combination of the words “monde,” derived from the Latin for “world,” and “deliz,” short for “delicious.”

I am sure Kraft used the following rationale to sell the idea of a naming contest internally (remember, I was a corporate insider for 25 years so I’ve heard this stuff before):

  1. Holding a naming contest will engage our valuable employees – No it won’t. Kraft said they received over 1700 names from their 1200 employees which is slightly more than one per employee. Typically in naming contests you get a few diehards who submit hundreds of names and the other “99 percent” of people ignore it. I’m willing to bet this happened in this case.
     
  2. Because the name came from within, our employees will rally behind it – Chances are, the only people who think “Mondelez” is a wonderful name are the two employees who came up with it. The other 1198 employees hate it and think other names were better. One of the other suggested names was “Tfark” and I am pretty sure the person who thought of that still thinks it was a better name than Mondelez.

     

  3. Nothing says “our Management cares about employees” like holding a naming contest – Actually, I am pretty sure a 10% raise would make everyone feel better than holding a naming contest. The act of holding a naming contest is a sad attempt to demonstrate that Management cares about what the employees think.
     
  4. Hey, Google came up with its own name and it worked out OK! OK, it is hard to disagree with this rationale and Google is a lot better than their working name for their search engine, which was “BackRub.” But if Google were looking for a new name for their company today, do you think they would hold an employee naming contest? I doubt it.

Developing a great name is hard work. Sometimes you get a stroke of genius (like Apple), and sometimes you spend weeks trying to get to the right combination of creativity, emotional impact, consumer understanding, branding/marketing potential, etc. Done properly, a great name will reflect a clear strategic positioning, a deep consumer understanding, and an ability for the consumer to “get it” without explanation. This is a pretty tall list for the average employee to consider.

There is also a lengthy process involved in checking and validating the name availability. On a typical name development project, I spend hours evaluating the availability of trademarks (working with a trademark attorney), domain names, common law usage and “native language checks” (to ensure a name like Mondelez does not mean something inappropriate in a foreign language). Apparently someone at Kraft forgot to do the latter, as I hear Mondelez has an inappropriate sexual connotation in Russian.

In this instance, I can point to the end result and thank Kraft for making my blogging life easier.

I have a general rule about names. The more you have to explain the name, the worse the name is. Kraft knows this is a lousy name because their explanation is lengthy and contrived. Sorry, Kraft—you could have done so much better. This name change still has to be approved by shareholders on May 23rd. Let’s hope they have more sense than the people who decided to hold a naming contest!

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2 Responses to The Perils of Naming Contests

  • Sarah says:

    What about having a contest for your customers to rename your business? I think the name of my business is actually holding back the growth a little now 11 years after I picked it and I also moved the business and the name is not quite as appropriate anymore. 
    I would gladly share more info in and email if you are interested.

  • Mark says:

    Sarah – While getting help from your customers sounds harmless, it can actually cause some issues. For example, if you only ask a few of them to help somebody is going to feel left out. If you promise a change and nobody comes up with anything you like then people will feel like you are not listening to them. And if you do pick a name, somebody is going to think you made a dumb choice (by not picking his/her name). Better to get help from an independent source. Send me some details via email and I’ll try to help! Mark

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