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What's in a Name?
by Barry Feig

They were one-of-a-kind names. They conjured up magical images in the minds of consumers. Names like Ivory, Arm & Hammer, Jell-O, Chanel No. 5. They were also the beneficiaries of a simpler time when you could emblazon your message in Life and Look and "own" a TV or radio show. The imagery they promoted was simple and basic.

Times, of course have changed but the basics of naming a product has not.

The key to a great name is still simplicity of imagery with a dash of creativity . . . and the promise of an end benefit. A good name functions as a headline on the shelf. It reeks of self benefit. The results of a great name are speedy trial and a positive feeling about your product whenever it is used.

A good name owes much more to gut feelings than to masochistic computer name-generators. One of the fun rules for naming new products is the utter lack of rules. A good name can come from anybody, and usually does. A good name is as much a function of serendipitous insight as of any research study. Above all, a good name should be simple. Naming your product is no time to confuse the issue.

Healthy Choice frozen dinners says what they are and says it quickly. Snuggles fabric softener is one of the truly great names of the Eighties, capturing the essence of what a fabric softener should impart to a product. Its main competition, Downy, also offers a fervent interpretation of what a fabric softener should do to clothes.

The best names promise security and empathize with the target consumer's life experiences. The newly mass-merchandised adult incontinence category owes a lot to names like Depends and Serenity that promise security without talking down to the consumer.

Offbeat names can be fun and effective when they seek an in-crowd ambiance and create their own level of acceptance. Screaming Yellow Zonkers is still a hit after all these years. Dippity-Do and Dep are two more names that have found new generations of supporters. Ring Dings and Zoinks both are nonsense words connected with a special kind of junk food imagery. The advantage of coining your own words is that you can also coin your own imagery from a blank slate.

With many of today's marketers at the helm, many of yesterday's product names would be dismissed as pure corn. Ivory soap? No way. Consumer attribute studies would probably show that ivory is hard and expensive and comes out of the mouth of an elephant which of course is an endangered species. They would probably name it Lite 'N Floaty.

A product name shouldn't walk tenderly into the jungle fray. It should knock the consumer with the subtlety of a sharpened fence post.

Giving your product a name that denotes more than what is actually in the box is a great way to ingratiate yourself to the consumer. Snuggles ... Obsession . . . Opium . . . all promise fantasy and all magnify the buying experience.

Because of the plethora of products, names have to do more than ever before. They have to sell, cajole, invite and persuade your consumer to put the product into the shopping cart and take it home.

Are product names slipping? A trip to various supermarkets and stores suggests they might be or, at the very least, marketers are tripping over themselves. In a rather-be-safe-than-sorry gesture, originality is being replaced by ampersands and the cumbersome apostrophized 'n. Power words are big, too, straight from the copywriter's thesaurus. Direct, answer, promise, yes, cue and options are all names of products.

So what's going on in supermarket-land? How are today's marketers differentiating themselves from the competition? Marketers love categories, so allow me to categorize some product name trends:

Most Puzzling Trend: the proliferating use of and, &, n' and 'n. Just where does the apostrophe go? Do you capitalize it or leave it lower case? Five hundred years from now when anthropologists dig up dusty old supermarket relics they'll come to the conclusion that we hadn't perfected the 'n yet. They'll find Thick 'n Hearty, Sure & Natural, Silk N' Wash and Clean & Smooth. When it comes to snack foods there are various Crunch 'n Munches, and of course the classic Good 'n Plenty or its Good 'n Fruity line extension. Thirsty? For kids who are just trying to make sense of the world, there's Name 'N Egg to confuse them even further. And if the kids make a mess, you have a choice --- Big 'n Pretty Napkins or Big 'n Thirsty paper towels.

Most Boring Trend: If you've run out of punctuation and ingredients, or want to milk a category further, just call it Lite. Or is it Light? La Yogurt, Light should win some kind of award for the worst use of two languages in a single product name.

Most Redundant Name (tie): Minute Microwave Meals and Colombo Non Fat Light Yogurt.

Category with the Fewest Syllables: Detergents -- Tide, All, Fab, Surf, Cheer, Yes, Gain.

Most Long-Winded Name: Land O Lakes Country Morning Blend Light with real butter.

Most Intriguing Name and Descriptor: Aussies Sprunch Spray (for scrunching, spiking, and styling.)

Lease Intriguing Name: No Sweat Deodorant.

Most Depressing New Product Name: Cheer Free Detergent.

As usual, the Japanese are constantly rewriting marketing textbooks with their array of nonsense names. Corolla, Brother, Citizen (Can you really visualize an American company naming its product citizen?) are all essentially nonsense names that were devoid of imagery until they were given a life of their own.

Mr. Feig is president-creative director of New Products Workshop Inc. This article is one of several that was published in Food & Beverage Marketing

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Barry Feig:
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