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How Products Get Named

Excerpted from Dr. Ong’s article The Poetry of Brand Naming in Business World On-line:

In “Famous Names: Does it matter what a product is called?” (The New Yorker, Oct. 3, 2011), John Colapinto reports that product proliferation has made creative brand-naming a growing necessity. In 1980, fewer than 10,000 hi-tech trademarks were registered in the USA; 30 years later, the number topped 300,000.

Colapinto’s piece centers on Lexicon, a California- and London-based boutique firm founded by David Placek in 1982 on the premise that a distinctive brand name confers a competitive edge. What to call a two-way device that sends and receives email wirelessly? EasyMail? ProMail? MegaMail? In the digital revolution’s early days, consumers were chary about getting excessive email; it would raise blood pressure. “Megamail,” connoting an avalanche, was out. Lexicon employs two linguists in-house and consults 77 others around the world to screen for unintended cross-linguistic gaffes (such as Chevy Nova, which means “no go” in Spanish) and unconscious resonance of particular sounds (which imply meanings across multiple languages: “p” uses the lips, and is slower and more luxurious than “t” which uses the tip of the tongue; “b” sounds even more reliable).

A Lexicon project begins with free-association Mind Maps on a board — diagrams of brainstormed words branching out from a central theme. For the two-way device, teams worked on “things that are natural,” “fresh,” and “enjoyable.” The creative process plays with stimuli that may seem irrelevant to the problem at hand. Someone wrote the word “strawberry.” Placek drawled out the word, found it too slow-sounding for an instantaneous technology. Someone else wrote “blackberry,” which pronounces faster and has two “b’s.” Choosing among hundreds of options comes down to a combination of instinct, abstract reasoning, and client idiosyncrasy. In this case, the client decided that fruit lowers blood pressure, black is the color of hi-tech devices, and the gadget’s oval keys look like a blackberry’s fleshy drupelets. BlackBerry (both b’s capitalized), launched in 1999, is now the best-selling smart phone.


Dr. Ong teaches marketing management and literature at De La Salle University (DLSU). The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administration. – See more here.