Go Better with Quark?
Language” by William H. Roberts )
Batteries called "Duracell” might sound
reliable in the United States,
but not in France
– and for a reason that no businessperson would care to explain. Blunders such
as this one have become so costly today that many goods and services, from cars
to banking, are sold under names that are themselves manufactured by companies
that invent product names for a fee. These companies supposedly apply a process
of painstaking research to identify appealing names while screening out
potential troublemakers. The following newspaper article by Chris Reidy details
some notable product-naming successes and failures. The article, with its short
paragraphs and weak transitions, also nicely illustrates the journalistic style
▀ JOURNAL PROMPT In the selection that follows, Chris Reidy starts that the most
important aspect of marketing a new product is creating its name. Think about
names in a product line that interests you (cars or cosmetics, for example).
What is the marketing appeal of the names? What do the names say about the
product? What consumer groups will the names likely attract?
Reebok International Ltd. Found out last week [mid-February 1997], coming up
with a good name for a new product isn’t always easy.
most important piece of marketing is naming,” claims Sam Birger, a co-founder
of Whatchamacallit Inc., a small naming firm with offices in Cambridge
and Mill Valley, Calif. "It’s the handshake, the first
made a bad impression with a shoe it called the Incubus. According to the
dictionary, an incubus is an evil spirit who has sex with women while they
Embarrassed, the Stoughton-based footwear giant said it plans to implement new
guidelines for checking product names.
5. The art
of naming a product or a company is increasingly big business – whether it’s
done within a company’s marketing department or whether outside forces are
brought in to help. Finding an appropriate, nonoffensive name, say companies,
can have a direct effect on sales, and in some cases can mean success or
so many different methods are used, its hard to say how much US companies
spend on naming new products. Some companies sponsor in-house competitions.
Others seek help from their ad agencies and design firms. And still others use
naming consultants who can charge anywhere from $20,000 to $250,000 for their
7. In return for such fees, these
consultants often agree to remain anonymous. Just as some politicians don’t
like it to be known that their principles were shaped by public opinion polls,
many corporations don’t like to admit that they needed outside help to come up
with a new name.
used a variety of sources to name its new Catera. A search begun in 1993
reviewed more than a thousand options, including Pegasus, Helios and Ascent,
Cadillac said. After winnowing the list several times, eight names were
submitted to focus group in "three US
cities as well as Paris, Dusseldorf
and the Far East,” Cadillac said.
9. In part, Catera was chosen for its
European flavor and also because the name is inoffensive in a variety of
languages, an important consideration in a global economy.
names that are perfectly serviceable in English can suffer in translation.
Could Duracell’s name be a factor in why its European battery sales have not
always met expectations?
Duracell sounds suspiciously like a French phrase that means "difficult to
defecate” or "hard stool,” said Robert Sprung, chairman of Harvard Translations,
a Boston-based foreign language consulting firm with revenues of about $3
(Duracell disputes Sprung’s interpretation.)
Selame, president of a Newton, [Massachusetts] – based
firm called Brand-equity International, noted that using a name that makes
customers uneasy can cost a company millions of dollars.
14. As an
example, she cited the Harlem Savings Bank, which bought another bank in the
mid-1980s. When Harlem Savings put its name on some of its newly acquired suburban
branches, "deposits walked out the door,” Selame recalled.
bank found that the word Harlem evoked
negative connotations for many suburbanites, and it hired Selame’s firm to find
an agreeable new name. Rechristened the Apple Bank for Savings, the bank
quickly gained new customers, Selame said, adding that Brandequity doesn’t
simply choose a name; it seeks to integrate a name with a corporate logo and
and visual should work hand in hand,” she said. "You have to consider how a
name will look on signs and business cards and how it will be used in
17. In the case of the Harlem bank,
Selame’s company showed it’s client a color scheme, a lettering typeface and an
advertising tagline: "Apple Bank. We’re good for you.”
18. "If we
had just showed them a name – Apple Bank – they probably would have turned us
down,” she said.
new products constantly flood the market, it’s hard to find clever names that
someone else isn’t already using.
20. And, as
Avon Products Inc. found out earlier this month, using someone else’s name can
have unfortunate results.
21. A recent Avon
catalog made numerous mentions of the word "Maxx,” prompting a lawsuit by the
TJX Cos. Of Framingham,
which operates the T.J. Maxx chain of offprice apparel stores.
22. To avoid
lawsuits, naming consultants often turn to make-up words, and searches for
made-up words frequently begin with lists of morphemes. A morpheme, according to
linguists, is the smallest fragment of language that conveys meaning.
companies are especially keen on morpheme-derived names.
morphemes, a San Francisco firm called Namelab
Inc. came up with Acura for the line of luxury cars that Honda introduced in
the United States
several years ago.
morpheme "acu” connotes precision and care in several languages, said Ira
Bachrach, president of Namelab, a company with about $1,5 million in annual
According to Bachrach, the made-up word – Acura – helped exorcise the
impression that Japanese companies could make only economy cars that did not
deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Mercedes and BMW.
is also supposed to suggest a European commitment to luxury and engineering.
Focus groups told Cadillac they thought of a "cat or a fast-moving, agile
object” when they heard the word Catera.
aren’t the only reason to prefer make-up names to real words. In the mid 1980s,
a company toyed with calling a computer printer "the Shuttle,” but when the
space shuttle Challenger blew up, the company became afraid customers would
associate the name with a disaster, said linguist Sprung.
generate lists of morpheme-based names, some consultants use computers, but not
Namelab, which relies on linguists.
wasted a couple of hundred thousand bucks trying to come up with software” to help
choose names, Bachrach said.
"Intellectually, it’s a far more arduous process than you might think,”
Bachrach said of matching a name to a product.
real or made up, names should be "short, memorable, relevant” and immune to
lawsuit, said Whatchamacallit’s Birger.
33. It also
helps if a name is easy to pronounce in many languages.
Bachrach’s lights, the name Coca-Cola represents a perfect marketing haiku.
Like a Byronic scholar scanning a poem for rhyme and meter, Bachrach noted that
Coca-Cola is not only short and visually memorable, but it also pleases the ear
by being "alliterative, assonant, repetitive and iambic.”
consultants agree that a great name won’t sell a bad product, but opinions can
very about the effect of an unfortunate name on the sales of a good product.
36. In Europe, a US company has
had success with a desktop publishing tool called Quark Express even though
Quark sounds like a German word for cottage cheese, Sprung said.
However, in "The Reckoning,” a book about the auto industry, author David
Halberstam noted that the habit of giving cars lame names was one of several
reasons why Datsun and Toyota had trouble
cracking the US
market in the early 1960s.
Americans were not enamored of cars with names such as Bluebonnett and Cedric.
And a car that Datsun planned to market as the Fair Lady seemed destined to do
as the last minute, the name was changed to the 240-Z, and a sports car was on
its way to becoming a legend.