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Things Go Better with Quark?

(from "About Language” by William H. Roberts )


Chris Reidy

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 of writing.


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?


1. As Reebok International Ltd. Found out last week [mid-February 1997], coming up with a good name for a new product isn’t always easy.

2. "The 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 impression.”

3. Reebok 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 sleep.

4. 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 failure.

6. Because 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 services.

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.

8. Cadillac 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.

10. Indeed, 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?

11. 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 million.

12. (Duracell disputes Sprung’s interpretation.)

13. Elinor 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.

15. The 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 marketing plan.

16. "Verbal 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 advertising.

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.

19. Because 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.

23. Car companies are especially keen on morpheme-derived names.

24. Using 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.

25. The morpheme "acu” connotes precision and care in several languages, said Ira Bachrach, president of Namelab, a company with about $1,5 million in annual revenues.

26. 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.

27. Catera 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.

28. Lawsuits 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.

29. To generate lists of morpheme-based names, some consultants use computers, but not Namelab, which relies on linguists.

30. "We’ve wasted a couple of hundred thousand bucks trying to come up with software” to help choose names, Bachrach said.

31. "Intellectually, it’s a far more arduous process than you might think,” Bachrach said of matching a name to a product.

32. Whether 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.

34. By 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.”

35. Most 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.

37. 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.

38. 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 little better.

39. Then, as the last minute, the name was changed to the 240-Z, and a sports car was on its way to becoming a legend.              


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