Simpler Is Better

Why is everything so complicated these days?

Case in point. Starbucks Drink Sizes:
Short (8 Oz.)
Tall (12 Oz.)
Grande (16 Oz.)
Venti (Hot — 20 Oz., Cold — 24 Oz.)
Trenta (30 Oz.)

Brooklyn Fare had some fun with this in their coffee cup redesign, but there is a real point to be made here. Why do we complicate things?

Source: Brooklyn Fare brooklynfare.com

Why can’t the coffee sizes at Starbucks be:

Short becomes Mini
Tall becomes Small
Grande becomes Medium
Venti becomes Large
Trenta becomes Extra Large

Want more evidence of how companies are complicating things? Here are the sizes of ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery:

Source: Cold Stone Creamery coldstonecreamery.com

Imagine trying to order the proper size without referring to this menu. What ever happened to small, medium and large?

Science is solidly in the camp of simplicity. Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer hypothesized that people would have an affinity for simple names that are easier to pronounce. They used names of fictitious stocks that were either hard to pronounce (i.e., Sagxter, Xagibdan) or easy to pronounce (i.e., Slingerman, Vander). They told respondents that these were real companies and asked them to estimate the future performance of the company. People indicated that the easily pronounced stocks would increase in value and the more complicated sounding stocks would decrease in value. Furthermore, the researchers then examined actual stock performance for 89 randomly picked stocks that had an initial public offering between 1990 and 2004. The stock performance for the first year of easily pronounced stocks was significantly higher than that of stocks with more difficult names. Simpler is better.

A study at the University of Michigan looked at fluency, familiarity and risk perception in names. In one study, the researchers asked participants to rate the potential harm of food additives with easy and 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. Simpler is better.

In another study, the University of Michigan researchers asked people to assess whether amusement park rides would be adventurous and exciting, or too risky and likely to make them sick, solely based on the name. Consistent with the food additive study, participants rated rides with difficult names unfavorably. The researchers concluded that “people perceive disfluently processed stimuli as riskier than fluently processed stimuli.” In other words, simpler is better.

A local food court has a chicken restaurant that has rebranded. They used to be known as “chickenow” which is a linguistically difficult and complex name.

Photo by Author

Recently they rebranded to “Chicken & Fries.”

Photo by Author

If you want to get picky you could argue that “Chicken & Fries” has gone too far into the generic camp. But you won’t ever be confused about what you can buy there.

Simpler is better. C’mon people, let’s simplify!

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We Count Only Blue Cars

To Be More Memorable, Be Familiar (But Different)

There is a simple technique that can make you or your actions more memorable. The key is to be familiar (but different).

Want to have your creative efforts stand out? People who are creative are perceived as being different, but you don’t want to be too different because being too different is borderline weird and few people want to be around weird.

Want to advance up the Corporate Ladder? Usually people who fit in (are familiar) will advance faster but you don’t want to be too familiar because you will blend into the sameness around you.

The sweet spot is the intersection of familiar and different. Or more correctly, you need to start with the familiar and add some differentiation. Familiar (but different) is a comfortable way to be more memorable because the human brain is comfortable with the familiar but detects the differences and works hard to make sense of them, thereby making the experience a memorable one.

Here is a visual way to demonstrate the issue. In the three groups of circles shown below, the circle in the center is always the same size. However, as you can see, the center circle looks smaller or larger based upon the size of the other circles surrounding it. The group of circles on the right has six similarly sized circles, and you can see how it is impossible to distinguish one from another. If you want to stand out, it is far better to be the outlier, such as the center circle in the first two groups of circles. But being a triangle in a group of circles might be perceived as being too different.

Familiar (but different) works because our brains are wired to find differences. Perhaps this goes back to the need to be aware of the presence of threats like man-eating animals. Or maybe we just don’t overburden our brains with information about things that are familiar, but when differences appear we start to pay attention.

In his landmark book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman discusses the differences between two types of thinking: System 1 and System 2. System 1 thinking is based in our intuitive system and is quick, automatic, effortless and emotional. This is the type of thinking that causes people to make “snap” judgments and fail to observe subtle differences. System 2 thinking is slower and more conscious, logical and “deeper.” System 2 thinking creates more memorable events.

Here is an example from the world of branding. In the Philippines there is a very famous burger joint called “Regrub.” The food is great and is no doubt a major reason for their success. But a good part of their awareness comes from the fact that their name has a lot of people thinking, “Why did they name it Regrub?” After they ponder for a while, they then realize that it is the word “Burger” spelled backwards. They then go on to tell their friends about the new place with the unique name which helps to build the success story.

There are many examples in the art world. Andy Warhol created high impact paintings of familiar images such as Campbell’s Soup Cans or Brillo boxes. Even his famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley were made from common close-up photos of celebrities. Andy became famous by making the familiar different.

“We count only blue cars” is a lyric from the hit song “Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla. This lyric is actually a wonderful observation of human nature. If you only saw white cars all day long, then blue cars would be something special and you would pay attention to them. Life is like that often where the sameness seems to pass by without being noticed. To be memorable, you need to be familiar (car) but different (blue). In that way you’ll be noticed and remembered!

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Liquid Death – Good Branding or Good Marketing?

Let’s get this out of the way. Liquid Death is just water sold in beer cans. OK, now they are moving into flavors and fizzy water, but the brand was built on “mountain water in a beer can.”

So how do you explain their success (they recently closed another round of fundraising bringing its valuation to $700 million)? Is it the Branding or the Marketing behind the Branding?

Its latest investor, Peter Pham, seems to credit the name as he wrote in a Medium post that “Like Tesla moved drivers toward better-for-the-planet EVs through a great product and brand that became part of culture,” Pham wrote, “Liquid Death is moving people toward healthier and sustainable drinking options, not by preaching to them, but by entertaining them and making them a part of something bigger in culture.”

Others have credited the unique packaging and subversive marketing which has used bizarre ads (e.g., Martha Stewart Severed Hand https://liquiddeath.com/pages/martha) and Twitter influencers to define the brand as fast growing and a true disruptor in the non-alcoholic beverage market.

The way I make the call is to look at one without the other. If Liquid Death was on the shelf without the marketing would it work? Probably not. If the marketing was used to sell another brand of water in a beer can would it work? Probably, depending upon the name. So my conclusion would be the marketing is the hero, and the brand was the platform that enabled the success. Together they obviously are a great success. But in my opinion, the Liquid Death name is not the lynchpin as any of a number of names would have worked just as well with that fantastic marketing.

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Douchebags. A Lesson in Name Development.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
douchebag (noun)
douche·bag | \ ˈdüsh-ˌbag \

  1. usually douche bag: a bag used for giving douches; a rubber douche bag
  2. chiefly US slang: an obnoxious, offensive, or disgusting person

From the Urban Dictionary
Douchebag
Noun – A person with an over inflated ego, coupled with a low intelligence, who has no idea people are making fun on his style or personality.

None of these definitions are good. In fact, most people would want to avoid being called a douchebag.


So why did a company that manufactures high-end luggage name their company Douchebags? The company founders got drunk one night and one of them suggested that name.


Here is their version of why the liked the name:
https://us.dbjourney.com/pages/douchebags?loc=US&lang=EN


I get it…Douchebags is memorable and irreverent.


But as a name for a high-end luggage company? I don’t get it.


Most people who develop names while they are drinking with friends have the common sense to ignore all the suggestions generated during the night of drinking. But these guys didn’t. And they paid a price. Although they have now rebranded as Db (marginally better because of the Douchebag reference), think of the lost opportunities they had. Yes, they may have gotten noticed by more people because of the controversial nature of their name, but how many sales were lost because nobody in the US wanted to buy and use luggage called Douchebags?

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Wordle Alternatives Teach A Valuable Lesson On Branding

Who doesn’t love Wordle? The word game has become so popular that a number of alternative games using a similar format have emerged.

Worldle – Geography based game

Heardle – (aka the musical Wordle game) gives you a clip from a popular song and asks you to guess it

SWordle – Star Wars based word game

Artle – Guess works of art sponsored by the National Gallery of Art

…and many more.

Many of these knockoffs have similar names and there is a reason for that. The people who named them are using a very common naming practice that is based on a well-known cognitive bias: the Anchoring Effect.

Allow me to explain.

First, most of the names are anchored with the “-dle” suffix. This essentially tells potential users to expect a gaming format like Wordle where players get a fixed number of attempts to guess a five-letter word (or map or song or work of art), with feedback given for each guess. By using the “-dle” suffix as an anchor in the name, people communicate a lot about their Wordle variant with just a few letters.

Second, the other part of the name communicates what is unique about the game. SWordle has a dictionary that only contains words associated with Star Wars. Artle is focused on art.

The end result creates a name that is different (and perhaps a little weird) but also at the same time is familiar enough to trigger a connection in the brain. For example, Worldle uses “World” + “dle” to signify that the game will use the “World” (e.g., global maps) in a Wordle game format.

Well done! Brilliant!

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Another Naming Contest Gone Wrong

Ithaca, NY restructured their Police Department to include five unarmed community solutions workers to a new department alongside the existing Police Department. This created a new Department of Community Safety.  So far so good. However, Ithaca asked the community’s suggestions for naming the new department. Uh-oh…naming contests rarely generate positive outcomes.

Here is the full list of suggestions that were submitted by the public:

  • Department of Community Safety
  • Community Support Team
  • Community Peace Keepers
  • Test Idea
  • Lipstick on a Pig
  • Use the Resources available
  • Department of Public Safety
  • Title ideas of new department for public safety
  • Antifa
  • Ithaca Police Department
  • Svante’s Bong Rip
  • Department of Public Safety and Community Resource Solutions
  • Ithaca Safeguard
  • OK Corral
  • Safety McSafe Face
  • Crime Spree Observers
  • Name of Department
  • Ithaca PSD
  • Name for Dept of Public Safety
  • Department of Community Care and Safety
  • OASIS
  • Ithaca Police Department
  • Name
  • SHeroes
  • ComPROMISE
  • Community Centered Safety Department
  • Coreorgonel (Where we keep the pipe of peace)
  • New Department Name
  • Title
  • Name for new department

Why do organizations like naming contests? In this instance, it appears that the Police Department wanted to garner support for the new department. Instead, they became the latest organization to have to deal with crappy results of a public naming contest. Re-read the list above and you’ll see what I mean. More than half of the submissions are obvious “smart ass” comments, about 30% of them are just invalid submissions, and most of the rest are just plain dumb. Here is to hoping Ithaca ignores this contest and just calls it Department of Community Safety.

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A Very Profitable Name Change

Apple Records was founded by the Beatles in 1968 with the intent for it to be a creative outlet for the Beatles, both as a group and individually, and to sign premier artists to contribute. The very first “non-Beatle” group signed at Apple Records was The Iveys in July of 1968.


The group’s first single, “Maybe Tomorrow,” was released in November of 1968 and met with great success, reaching the Top Ten in several European countries and Japan, and rising to #67 on the US Billboard Hot 100.


After the release of “Maybe Tomorrow” the group and the executives at Apple Records agreed that the name “The Iveys” was not right for the prevailing music scene and started to consider a name change (The Iveys were also sometimes confused with “The Ivy League”, an English vocal trio).


Here are some of the names that were considered:
John Lennon suggested: “The Glass Onion” and “The Prix”
Paul McCartney suggested: “The Cagneys” and “Home”
Apple Records Executive Neil Aspinall proposed “Badfinger” in reference to “Bad Finger Boogie,” an early working title of Lennon–McCartney’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” (Lennon had hurt his forefinger on a piano and was using only one finger when writing the music).


In December 1969, the band agreed to change its name to Badfinger.


The rest is history as they say. From the end of 1969 through 1972, Badfinger produced a hit every year:
1969 – “Come and Get It” (#7 on the US Billboard Hot 100)
1970 – “No Matter What” (#8 on the US Billboard Hot 100)
1971 – “Day After Day” (#4 on the US Billboard Hot 100)
1972 – “Baby Blue” (#14 on the US Billboard Hot 100)


Could “The Iveys” have reached the same level of success? Possibly. But Badfinger was a better name that fit the times.


BTW, George Harrison later claimed that the band was named after Helga Fabdinger, a stripper the Beatles had known in Hamburg.


You can dispute the origin of the name, but you cannot dispute the fact that the name change was a profitable one!


P.S. If you want to consider a name change for your business, please check out my article on Medium: 10 Reasons To Change The Name of Your Business

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Target Market Relevance

A few days ago, a fellow name developer asked what I thought of the name Napkins Bar and Grill.

My initial thought was that Napkins implies something that you’d need when eating BBQ, and in fact, the #1 Google search result for “Napkins Restaurant” is such a place located in Dirtbag Ales Brewery & Taproom in North Carolina. So, if the name was for such a restaurant then it might be OK.

But in this case the Napkins Bar and Grill is located in the heart of downtown Napa, hardly southern BBQ territory. It is also quite an upscale facility. So my initial impression of the name Napkins for this restaurant was negative.

Then I learned that people who are born and raised in Napa Valley use the term Napkins to refer to themselves.

Which makes the Napkins Bar and Grill name especially relevant for their target audience.

Your name needs to appeal to your target market, and Napkins Bar and Grill does that in spades by demonstrating a very deep understanding of their community.

Well played Napkins Bar and Grill!

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