What’s in a Name?

January 1, 2006
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What’s in a Name?
By Robert McMath
Through the years, a number of potentially good products have failed simply because of their names.

Take the case of “No Sweat” deodorant/antiperspirant, which Revlon launched about the same time Unilever’s “Degree” deodorant came on the market. In naming their product, Revlon likely never considered the old saying: “Horses sweat, men perspire and women gently glow.” It’s no coincidence that Degree is still going strong, while Revlon’s “No Sweat” is down for the count.

Gillette made a similar goof when it launched a shampoo it called “For Oily Hair Only.” Consumers are notorious for their reluctance to accept sensitive conditions that they, or parts of their bodies, might have. In this case, consumers were less than eager to admit that they had oily hair. As you can imagine, the shampoo didn’t attract droves of consumers eager to proclaim their beauty shortfalls. It languished on the shelves of retailers after distribution, and became another famous story behind a product flop.

Sometimes a naming issue is one of bad timing. Clairol reportedly took too long to develop a new shampoo it called “Short & Sassy,” which was being developed for the short hairstyles the company was projecting as fashionable. But, by the time the Short & Sassy product was ready for launch, the hairstyle trend had turned long again—and consumers were not interested in purchasing a haircare product for a dated style.

Another product failure attributed to bad timing was the launch of Farrah Fawcett Shampoo and Conditioner. When the popular TV actress contracted to license her name for the shampoo, she was starring on the weekly TV show Charlie’s Angels. The show had an enormous following, and Fawcett had a remarkably full head of hair, which she famously bounced around on the show. A shampoo and conditioner launch seemed a natural extension. But by the time the manufacturer actually introduced the products, Fawcett had left the show. Consider the notoriously short attention span of American consumers, and you’ll understand why the product launch soon turned to product flop.

I don’t mean to imply that only personal care products have naming issues or require sensitivity. Brand managers of products in virtually any category can take a lesson from these examples. In fact, the inspiration for this column was not a consumer product at all. As I was driving along on a late summer day, I noticed a painted sign advertising an organic farm stand: “Stick and Stone Farms”. The name immediately made me think of dry fields, scraggy vegetables and misshapen fruits instead of the likely more accurate lush fields, full of beautiful, fresh produce. Needless to say, I kept on driving!  BP

The author, Robert McMath, has been a marketing consultant for more than 30 years. Through NewProductWorks, he has advised major companies. He is the author of What Were They Thinking, a book chronicling the whys of product successes and failures.
Contact him at 607.582.6125 or rmcmath@cs.com. Visit www.NewProductWorks.com

Tips for Success
So now that we’ve examined some brand name “don’ts”, here are some quick tips for naming success:
1. Sound it out. Make sure the name is easy to pronounce. If they can’t pronounce it, they won’t buy it!
2. Research. Avoid potential infringement issues by conducting a trademark search to examine potential current and prior use of your name.
3. Repeat step two. There is no such thing as “too much research.” Check the name, then check it again and again! Don’t forget there are names registered in local areas, such as state registers, that may not show up on the federal register.
4. Stay true. Don’t always choose the name that comes out on top in focus panels. Remember that your name must communicate your product or brand’s image. 
5. Skip the small type. Remember to put your brand’s name in legible type. Don’t get so fancy that consumers are not sure what the first letter is, or worse yet, what name they are trying to decipher! Hesitation at the point of purchase translates to lower overall sales in the end.

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