One of my local stores has a huge selection of “As Seen on TV” products. In reviewing their offerings, it occurred to me that the brand names are almost all descriptive & highly functional names that make it very clear what the product does. I’m talking about names like the “Furniture Fix™” chair and cushion support, the “Perfect Pancake™” cooking system, the “Perfect Fries™” French fry cutter and the “Wax Vac™” ear cleaner.
It’s possible that a simple, descriptive name may be all that is needed for a product that is usually accompanied by a long-format infomercial. After all, you are going to demonstrate the product and show its benefits, enabling you to elaborate on the product’s premise over and over again, so why try to deliver a name that has deep and rich meaning? All you really want to do is get people to pull out that credit card and pick up the phone!
Actually, the “branding” in “As Seen on TV” products is part of a trend in name development. Many clients want highly functional names because they claim not to have the money to establish a name that is not obvious to the consumer. That is one of the few pros of a descriptive name.
However, there are many more cons to using a descriptive name. In general, the more functional the name, the more likely it genericizes the product and destroys the potential competitive advantages of the product. How many variants of “fast” are there in the cleaning aisle? How do you decide which one to buy? It also makes trademark clearance a more difficult task. Just try to get anything with “fast” registered for a cleaning product! And if you manage to get a descriptive name registered as a trademark, it will be a weak mark at best.
Not all “As Seen on TV” brands are taking the easy way out, though. Consider “Poo~Pourri™,” the “Before You Go Bathroom Spray.” It’s not exactly a functional name, but I’m not buying it!
You might think fragrance houses would start with a fragrance then figure out a name. Actually, the name came first for Kate Spade. In a WSJ article, Deborah Lloyd, the president and creative director of the brand said, "We had the name before we had anything else." The name? Live Colorfully. Aligns with the bright handbags that Kate Spade designs. Here is the link to the article if you would like more details:
In 1967 The Doors wrote a song called “People Are Strange.” In the chorus, the lyrics include the phrase, “No one remembers your name when you’re strange.” It seems like some current fashion labels think that advice no longer applies.
"If you are building a brand from scratch, you're going to get more reaction from something unexpected and strange," says Tom Julian in a New York Times piece by David Colman (2/7/13). It seems as if fewer fashion designers are naming their lines after themselves and are launching lines of clothing with strange names. Consider what Shane Gabier and Chris Peters call their new line: Creatures of the Wind. It's taken from a 1957 Johnny Mathis song. "We liked the moody atmosphere and the way that the song brings up different associations," says Shane.
David Colman’s article is titled “No One Forgets a Name When It’s Strange.” Apparently Mr. Colman is not a child of the 1960s. One of the first rules of naming is figure out a way to make it memorable. Strange does not equal memorable.
Consider Natsuko Kanno's line which is called 4 Corners of a Circle. Apparently it is memorable for being hard to remember. Publicist Erica Roseman says nearly everyone — even those who work on the line — mess it up. "It was '4 Circles in a Square,' '4 Corners of a City.' No one ever got it right."
Jean Godfrey June, the beauty and fashion news director at Lucky, thinks the quirky names can be a mixed blessing. "It goes one way or the other, they charm or they repel … The offbeat name is a way to distinguish yourself and sound mysterious and underground-y. The trade-off is, purposely making yourself sound obscure can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy."
You’ve got that right, Jean!
The lesson here is that strange is not necessarily a good or a bad thing, but what is important is how the name relates to the target customer and the product itself. Strange for the sake of strange can be bad, but if the name makes the target customer curious about a product and willing to investigate it further, then strange can be good. 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.” But their findings also indicated that names without some reference (e.g., calling a blue crayon “Fred”) were totally confusing to consumers.
Net, net, don’t assume that strange is necessarily good or bad. Like most things in life, the nuances are what make the difference between a great name and a confusing name.
As a professional name developer, I am constantly struck by the “creativity” of small business owners. Sometimes the owners think they are being cute or clever. Sometimes they are just being stupid. Here are just a few examples of bad restaurant names I discovered in 2012. Which do you think is the “Worst Restaurant Name of 2012?”
B.A.D. Sushi (http://badsushi.net) – Apparently the owners think their acronym for “Best And Delicious” sushi is clever. While bad sushi is certainly memorable, I don’t see it generating a lot of positive vibe.
Crapitto’s (http://www.crapittos.com) – OK, I know this is a family name. But no matter how proud you are, I don’t think anyone wants to go to Crapitto’s for that special dinner.
Lick-A-Chick (http://www.atyp.com/aklickachick) – OK, I dig the alliteration, but I’m pretty sure the owner is trying too hard to be clever.
Phat Phuc (http://www.phatphucnoodlebar.com) – The name may translate as “Happy Buddha” in Vietnamese, but Americans might mistake this name of a London restaurant as meaning something derogatory.
Fu King Chinese (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fu-King-Chinese-Restaurant/123368567719721) – Yup. No mistaking what they sell here, eh?
Which name deserves the “Best Worst Name of 2012” award?
Well, why not? Why should hurricanes have all the fun? For reference, details are provided in the link below, but really how many details do you need? Ideas like this don’t require a lot of explanation!
The Weather Channel says naming the storms will result in clearer communication about the systems. Seriously? Telling me that “Brutus” (one of the actual names they plan to use) is dumping 3 feet of snow on Buffalo is clearer than just saying Buffalo is getting 3 feet of snow? What’s Brutus got to do with it? Some of the other names they plan to use are Athena, Caesar, Rocky and Zeus.
Obviously someone at The Weather Channel thinks they can drive interest/viewership by naming winter storms. Yes, it is no longer sufficient to have poor Jim Cantore standing in the sleet while a bus rolls by and swamps him with slush. We now need to know that “Brutus” did that to poor Jim. I am sure that will make him feel better.
I understand the fact that identifying things is basic human nature. Everything needs an identifying name. But giving a “human” name to a blizzard is going too far. Where do you draw the line on this one?
Will we start naming high pressure systems? They hang around generally produce lovely weather for a number of days. Personally, I think Athena (goddess of wisdom, courage, and inspiration) makes a better name for a high pressure system than for a winter storm!
I just saw that a new incontinence drug has been approved. The FDA approved Myrbetriq for Overactive Bladder.
As a consumer, I must say…”HUH?” What is a Myrbetriq? How do I pronounce it? What is it for?
Have pharmaceutical companies gone insane? 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 and numerous potential trademark issues.
But 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.
Seriously!?! Hey Astellas Pharma…please keep me in mind for your next Rx drug. I am certain I can do better (can’t do much worse!).
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? Continue reading
I’m beginning to think the world is losing it. This month we have witnessed incredible stupidity in name development. As a professional name developer, I am appalled.
Let’s play a game. This is the name of a new company: Mondelez International. What does Mondelez International make? Give up? Continue reading
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." William Shakespeare
With apologies to William Shakespeare, the title of this post reflects the fact that you could call “The New iPad” pretty much anything and it would be a gangbuster seller.
But why not have a proper naming architecture? Because this is Apple, and doing the predictable is not what they do. At least that is what Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior VP of Marketing, said Continue reading