The Halo Effect of a Great Name

Tom Cruise is 5’ 7” tall, but you would never know it based on the way Hollywood portrays him in the movies. Just look at his relative height in these scenes from some of his movies.

Hollywood uses technical tricks like having the leading man stand on “apple boxes” or wear lift shoes, or have the supporting cast slouch or always be seen in a sitting position. Why does Hollywood do this? It’s because we all love a tall, dark and handsome leading man. There is a real “height bias” that demonstrates the principle of the “halo effect.” If the leading man is tall you will attribute other things to his character such as power, leadership, and positive emotions (i.e., the halo effect of height).

There are many scientific studies that prove this point. In a 2004 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, scientists Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable followed 8,500 British and American citizens through their lives and found that height was strongly correlated with business success. In fact, every inch of height above six feet earns a person, on average, an extra $789 per year.

Beauty is another factor that produces a halo effect. Various studies have proven that beautiful students get better grades than not so beautiful ones, and that good-looking criminals get lighter sentences than ugly criminals do for the same crimes.

The name you choose for your product, service, or company also carries a halo effect onto your business. Because the name is most often the first thing people will hear about you, impressions start to form the second they hear the name.

A great example of this halo effect is Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar was formed in 1925 out of the merger between Holt Tractor Company and Best Tractor Company (these companies were named after their founders Benjamin Holt and C. L. Best). According to company history, company photographer Charles Clements was reported to have observed that its tractor crawled like a caterpillar, and Holt seized on the metaphor. “Caterpillar it is. That’s the name for it!” So today if you have a choice between Caterpillar and Kubota construction equipment, which would you choose? Probably more often than not, you’d take the one with the halo effect of the caterpillar because being able to crawl over obstacles on a construction site is a primary benefit of the product.

Think about starting a new computer business in the competitive environment of companies with cold, technical names such as IBM, DEC and Cincom. What would you call your company? Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak decided on Apple Computers. In Steve Jobs’ biography, Jobs said he suggested Apple Computers because he thought the name sounded “fun, spirited, and not intimidating” (halo effect at work). Reportedly, Jobs and Wozniak considered alternate brand names such as Executex and Matrix Electronics, but settled on Apple. With the name Apple, they benefitted from the halo effect for their simple, accessible and affordable computer.

So the next time you have a naming challenge, don’t lean towards generic or descriptive names. Instead, go for a higher level name that carries a positive halo effect and enables you to stand out from your competitors. You should have an easier time getting a trademark (compared to generic or descriptive names), and you will also benefit from the halo effect in your marketing efforts.

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