A Rhyme Can Be Sublime

“Remember these words. If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” – Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran, O. J. Simpson’s attorney for his murder trial, used that famous rhyme to drive home a message point. Would it have had the same impact if he had said “If it doesn’t fit then you must find my client to be not guilty?” I doubt it. Like him or not, Johnnie Cochran was a master communicator and he understood the power of rhymes.

Brand names and slogans that rhyme are much more memorable and enable easy spread of messaging. Dubble Bubble, Mello Yello, Laffy Taffy, Reese’s Pieces, Piggly Wiggly, YouTube, and many more brands use the rhyming technique. I think you would agree that once you hear a rhyming name it is relatively easy to remember it. A rhyming name can lead to fame.

Daniel T. Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, has studied numerous ways to improve education through application of cognitive science. In his article “What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?1” he discusses the use of mnemonics such as rhyming as a means of improving a student’s retention of material. Think of mnemonics as “retention shortcuts.” A mnemonic such as rhyming may be particularly powerful because it adds acoustic encoding to your branding, which is already being interpreted in a visual way, thereby enhancing storage in your brain.

Mnemonics such as rhyming have been proven to enhance learning in multiple studies (here is one2). And be honest, who has not used a rhyming mnemonic is the past? Quick question: what year did Columbus discover America? I bet some of you used the “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue” rhyming mnemonic to answer the question!

There is scientific evidence3 that provides some rationale as to why rhyming generates such positive effects. Matthew McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh used rhyming proverbs such as “Birds of a feather flock together” to assess whether people considered aphorisms that rhyme to be more accurate than those that do not rhyme. The results concluded that “Extant rhyming aphorisms in their original form (e.g., “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals”) were judged to be more accurate than modified versions that did not preserve rhyme (“What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks”).” They concluded that the results “…suggest that rhyme, like repetition, affords statements an enhancement in processing fluency that can be misattributed to heightened conviction about their truthfulness.” In other words, rhyming generates processing fluency which can cause people to judge messaging as being more accurate.

How can you use this to your advantage? Obviously if you have the opportunity to rhyme you should consider it strongly. But don’t strive for rhymes just for the sake of rhymes. Consider using a rhyme to link a key benefit to your name, thereby generating name memorability and key benefit memorability at the same time.

As an example, consider the name StubHub. StubHub is an online marketplace owned by eBay, which provides services for buyers and sellers of tickets for sports, concerts, theater and other live entertainment events. If you are looking to buy or sell that “hard to find” ticket in a sold-out arena, chances are you can do it on StubHub. The StubHub name is a great demonstration of a powerful use of rhyming in branding, as the name helps communicate that the site is a central hub for people who want to buy or sell tickets.

7 – Eleven is another great example of a rhyming brand name with relevance. When the company launched, the name represented the hours of operation of the stores (now many of them are open 24 hours). The hours were a key marketing message for the brand at the time.

The Crunch ‘n Munch brand name combines the “crunching” benefit with the “munching” eating occasion to create a powerful, memorable name. The next time you have the munchies and want something crunchy, I guarantee you that Crunch ‘n Munch is going to be top of mind!

Lean Cuisine is a brand of frozen entreés which were introduced as low-fat, low-calorie versions of Stouffer’s products. The Lean Cuisine brand helped create the category of healthy frozen entreés and today it is a global powerhouse brand owned by Nestle. I can assure you that the rhyming name that exhibited a dual benefit of “Lean” (= healthier) and “Cuisine” (= great tasting) played a critical role in the success of this business.

Rhyming can enhance memorability, likeability and perceived truthfulness. However, it is not a panacea and should not be applied in every situation. In particular, “forced rhymes” can be silly or even painful, and can lead to negative feelings about your brand. But finding the right application of rhyming can be powerful!

1 http://www.aft.org//sites/default/files/periodicals/willingham_0.pdf
2 http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/Exceptional-Children/11609200.html
3 McLone, M. S., and Tofighbakhsh, J. (2000). Birds of a feather flock conjointly (?): rhymes as reason in aphorisms. Psychological Science, 11:424-28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11228916

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