“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!
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
With apologies to The Beatles for borrowing a lyric from their song “All You Need Is Love” from The Magical Mystery Tour album, branding that uses “Love” or its symbols are scientifically proven to give persuasion a boost.
Southwest Airlines has understood the power of love for quite a while (e.g., their stock exchange ticker symbol is LUV), and they recently launched a new advertising campaign that utilizes love in verbal and visual form to drive the “Southwest = Love” point home. Suburu is another company that leverages the power of Love in their marketing, including the tagline of “Love. It’s What Makes a Suburu, a Suburu.” What do they know that other brands don’t?
The scientific evidence about the persuasive power of Love abounds. French behavioral psychologists Jacques Fischer-Lokou, Lubomir Lamy, and Nicolas Guéguen conducted a study of pedestrians walking alone on a shopping street1. During the survey the pedestrians were asked to remember either a meaningful episode of love or a meaningful piece of music in their lives. After they had completed the survey and had walked on for a few minutes, the pedestrians were approached by a person holding a map and asking for directions. Those individuals who had previously been cued to think about the concept of love were significantly more helpful in the amount of time they were willing to spend in the effort of helping another person.
In another study, Guéguen and Lamay demonstrated that merely including the concept of love on charitable appeals led to a significant increase in donations2. Adding the words “DONATING = HELPING” to charity collection boxes increased donations by 14% compared to boxes that just contained the usual information about the appeal. However, adding the words “DONATING = LOVING” increased donations by 90%.
Sometimes all you need is a visual symbol of love to make a difference. Southwest Airlines knows this as the “heart” symbol is omnipresent in their marketing materials. Guéguen conducted a study3 where food servers placed the bill, which had been folded in half and placed under a plate, on the table. The server put two candies on top of the plate and left the area. The researchers observed the tipping behavior of the diners. There were three different types of plates used in this study: round, square, and cardioid (heart-shaped). The diners whose bills arrived under a heart-shaped plate left tips that were 17% higher than those whose checks came under a round plate, and 15% higher than those whose checks came under a square plate.
The conclusion from these studies is when people are exposed to words or signs that are synonymous with love it serves as a cue for the person to respond with behaviors that are associated with love. “Love begets love” is more than just an idiom. It is scientifically proven to be a universal truth that can be leveraged in branding and marketing.
Recently I discovered a wonderful infographic on the different meanings of colors in various cultures. It got me thinking that people who are branding a product, service or company might be unintentionally offending some of their potential customers. In the use of colors for example, Westerners/Americans would consider grey to be a good logo color to show respect, but in Japan the color for respect would be white and in China it would be yellow. Grey in Japan would be more aligned with words like modesty or reliability.
Sometimes the potential for offending your target customer is obvious. For example, Assitalia is one of the biggest insurance companies in Italy. I am sure the company developed its name without thinking about international considerations and in Italy the name is fine. But if they ever wanted to expand to an English speaking country…well, let’s just say there might be a problem.
But sometimes the potential for offending your customer is less obvious. Most of the large companies I work with agree to conduct foreign language checks to ensure that the names have no problematic connotations in the major foreign languages. In one instance that prevented us from making a major mistake. It turns out one of the names we developed had an obscure slang reference in the Spanish language to a body part that…well, let’s just say it was not a good choice of name.
Some of my smaller clients do not want to do foreign language checks because they are not planning to sell internationally. That is a mistake! Even if you have no plans to sell your product internationally, you need to beware of potential unintended consequences of your actions.
For example, people of Hispanic or Latino origin in the US represent over 17% of the population. What if you unintentionally chose a name that had a bad (but not obvious) connotation in the Spanish language? Would you like to offend over 17% of your potential market?
It is relatively easy to investigate potential unintended language consequences. There are linguistic companies or freelancers who will do this work for a reasonable fee. You can also try to do it yourself if you know different native language speakers. Just ask them questions like:
• How is this word pronounced by a native speaker of your language?
• Is this word similar in sound or appearance to other words in your language? If so, what do those words mean?
• Are there any inappropriate associations with this word? Is this word similar to any slang terms of the language?
Finally, if you want to check to see if a common word is being used as slang for something else in the English language you can always check the Urban Dictionary. However, be aware that, even though the Urban Dictionary is regulated by volunteer editors (similar to Wikipedia), some of the content of the Urban Dictionary is sexual in nature (for adults only!).
There is a new drug for overactive bladder with the brand name Myrbetriq. I don’t know about you, but my first thought upon hearing the brand name was “HUH?” What is a Myrbetriq? How do I pronounce it? Surprisingly, the FAQ section on their website does not have a “how to pronounce Myrbetriq” button but the physician website does, and it is pronounced “meer-BEH-trick.”
I’ve named Rx drugs before and I can tell you that the landscape is not a simple one due to numerous FDA regulations about implying benefits in the name, as well as potential trademark issues. However, I have never resorted to choosing random letters out of a hat…which is the only explanation I can come up with for why Astellas Pharma US, Inc. chose this name. Clearly the person who chose this name was not aware of the science behind complex and/or difficult-to-pronounce names.
Science is solidly in the camp of simple brand names. A study (1) at the University of Michigan looked at fluency, familiarity and risk perception in names. Speciﬁcally, in one study, the researchers asked participants to rate the potential harm of food additives with easy-to-pronounce or difﬁcult-to-pronounce names. Consumers consistently rated names that were difficult to pronounce as being more risky than those additives with names that were easy to pronounce. In another study, the researchers asked people to assess amusement park rides with easy-to-pronounce or difﬁcult-to-pronounce names as to whether the ride would be adventurous and exciting or too risky and likely to make them sick. Consistent with the food additive study, difficult-to-pronounce names led to more people thinking the ride was too risky and likely to make them sick. The researchers concluded that “people perceive disfluently processed stimuli as riskier than fluently processed stimuli.” In other words, if it is difficult to pronounce then it must be risky.
Given this conclusion, the makers of Myrbetriq should have branded their drug with a friendlier, easy-to-pronounce name since some consumers may be reluctant to try a drug with such a difficult-to-pronounce name!
Almost everyone loves a good magician. The magician’s sleight of hand technique in making a coin or playing card disappear delights us, as we usually take pleasure in being fooled in this manner. Once fooled, our brain rapidly kicks into gear and tries to figure out how he or she did the trick. Sometimes you figure it out, and then you get even greater pleasure. But even when you can’t figure it out, you are amazed!
Magic tricks only work if two things occur. First, the magician must divert your attention away from where the actual trick is happening, and second, your brain must fill in any missing information by combining what you already know with whatever you perceive at that very moment.
The science behind this “filling in process” by the brain is fascinating (read the Discover magazine article referenced at the end of this post). The sub-headline of the article says it all… “The eye and brain work in a partnership to interpret conflicting signals from the outside world. Ultimately, we see whatever our brains think we should.”
Truth be told, the magician is not creating the illusion–your brain is creating the illusion that something has happened (when in reality the magician has done something else). Using this technique from magic can lead to powerful branding.
This “filling in” process has been shown in numerous studies to be important to generating lasting recall and favorable persuasion. If the person’s brain is engaged and filling in the gaps, then the person will remember the experience and be favorable towards it.
Let’s say you want to name a new product (or it could be a service or a company or something else). A strong name for this product would give the consumer enough information about the product so that the consumer’s brain is engaged and starts to fill in the missing information, just as it would if you were viewing a magic trick. This was validated in a study in The Journal of Consumer Research in 2005 where the investigators looked at differences in names for crayons. The findings indicate that consumers preferred “slightly ambiguous” names such as “Blue Haze” or “Alpine Snow” to plain descriptive names such as “Blue” or “White” because the engagement of the brain with a slightly ambiguous name causes the brain tries to complete the “puzzle,” which leads to stronger recall and persuasion.
A great brand name will provide some sense of perspective to the target customer and the product itself, but it won’t provide the whole story. A great name leaves enough to the imagination so your brain gets engaged in the product/name combination and makes you curious about a product and willing to investigate it further. Just as a magician would tantalize your brain with enough “facts” and cause your brain to “fill in” the rest of the story, a great brand name is magical.
Apologies to Dishwalla for borrowing the lyrics from their hit song “Counting Blue Cars,” but this lyric is actually a wonderful observation of human nature. It is also representative of a common mistake in naming. Nobody counts white cars. So why do so many companies give their products generic or descriptive “white car” names? I face this issue regularly with clients.
Most clients lean towards generic or descriptive names despite the obvious issues with trademarks. They want to name their product “Fast Chop” because “fast chopping” is the main benefit of their product. The obvious reason why clients prefer generic or descriptive names is simple: they believe it saves on advertising costs. Every package of their product is a descriptive billboard that communicates their main benefit!
What they fail to consider that most times their competitive set consists of products called EZ Chop, Speed Chop, QuickChop, TurboChop, etc. To the end consumer, “Fast Chop” is a white car in a sea of white cars. Nobody is going to notice “Fast Chop” even if the name is prominent on the package. Any advertising that is done will be wasted as well. Consumers will think the product is great, but when they get to the shelf they will be confused by all the similar names and similar products.
If all you see all day is white cars, but one day you see a blue car…I bet that would get your attention, wouldn’t it?
Keep your competitive framework top-of-mind when considering the name of your product or business. Don’t settle for a “white car” name if the market consists of white car names. Insist on a blue car name…one that communicates the product benefits in a unique way.
No, I’m not talking about Dallas. Nor am I referring to the hip hop rap MC of the same name. I’m talking about Differentiation. If you understand this Big D, then you will have a real key to building your business.
Full disclosure: I consider myself a disciple of Al Ries and Jack Trout. They are true “Marketing Gods” for their work in Positioning and Brand Development. I first read “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind” in the early 80’s and have referred to it regularly since then.
I recently had two very different name development jobs that presented a wide spectrum of name potential. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, but the situations were real.
One client wanted a descriptive name for a product that would exist in a category of descriptive brand names. To exaggerate, the client wanted a “Fast Pain Relief” name in a category with brands like “Ultra Fast Pain Relief,” “Super Fast Pain Relief,” “Faster Than Everyone Else Relief,” etc.
Another client wanted a made up name that had no reference to the product or category. I’m talking about names like “Blue Elephant” for a pain relief product. Sometimes this naming strategy makes sense, but not in his product category. He had a real opportunity to become the market-defining product by choosing a name that helped consumers understand the benefits of using the product.
I always present a wide range of options for names because I want the client to see the possibilities. However, I always recommend an approach based on a strategic examination of the market in which the product competes, and that is where the Big D comes into play.
To help you in this task, consider using tools that can identify ways to differentiate. I recently discovered this highly visual approach…check it out and see if this could work for you:
Sadly, my story about Differentiation in names has an unhappy ending. Neither of my clients chose to differentiate their products with names that would enable them to stand out in the crowd. “Mr. Descriptive Name” chose a descriptive name for his product, and “Mr. Wild Card” chose a wild card name. As a result, each of their products now has an uphill battle in marketing because the names they chose are not differentiated versus the competition. So choose wisely and think “Differentiation” when branding!