What’s In A Name?

Originally published August 14, 2005

Name Tag

"Hello, my name is" sticker

Thirty years ago a pair of researchers, Herbert Harari and John W. McDavid gave eighty experienced teachers papers to grade. Eight essays, all of comparable quality were supposedly by boys named David, Elmer, Hubert, and Michael, and by girls named Adelle, Bertha, Karen, and Lisa.

The names were rotated through the eight essays, so that some teachers believed David wrote the essay on Tarzan, while others noted that David wrote the essay on kites.

Result? When credited to names with positive stereotypes the papers got better grades than when credited to names with negative stereotypes. Michael always got a better grade than Elmer, for instance.


Names Make a Difference in People’s Expectations

That would lead a curious person to wonder if George W. Bush could have been elected had his name been Pépé LePetomaine. Would John Kerry have been his party’s choice of candidate were he named Percy Arbuthnot? Would our fellow citizens be supportive of sending troops into combat if the initiative had been named something other than the “War On Terror?”

Those who are very talented often make things look easy. When talented people are articulate, they make things sound easy, too. I think that’s the case with a post Chris Gloede authored on his Rants on Modern Marketing blog titled Product: Naming Isn’t Really That Important. It’s what started me thinking about names.

I don’t disagree with Chris often. No matter how simple he makes it sound, I don’t believe that he would choose anything but a great name. Like I said, talented people just “do it,” while others are wondering what to do. And I certainly agree with him when he says “having a good product supported by good marketing” is more important than the name of the business.

Still, I think names are important.

Everything in our world has a name. Every sound, every color, everything you touch, and every business you deal with.

Some Names Have Positive Connotations

Others much less so.

It’s not likely anyone today would name a baby Francis, Edgar, Agatha, or Mabel. And yet, we see companies deliberately choosing such names as Vapid Software. (I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up. Vapid is a Latin adjective meaning “flat tasting, lacking liveliness, dull”).

There wasn’t much of a market for Chinese gooseberries. Say it out loud and listen to the sound of that name – gooseberries. It’s so much more attractive now that it’s been renamed “Kiwi fruit.”

Crazy Eddie®, “with prices so low we must be insane,” sold massive amounts of stereo gear in New York in the 70s. It was a memorable name with a memorable advantage to consumers. But how likely are you to seek out an accountant doing business as Crazy Henry’s Income Tax Service? Would you make an appointment with a proctologist who calls himself Crazy Norman?

Names are important. A businesses name is the foundation upon which it’s image is built. Are you more likely to purchase:

DieHard®, or Gulf Star® batteries?
Intensive Care®, or Cornhuskers® lotion?
Craftsman®, or Imperial® hand tools?

Care to guess which name in each pair sells more? Names are important.

Overstock Dot Com has a problem in trying to market themselves as a high end retailer. The television image of opulance and the good life clashes with the name. Go to their web site and decide which of those images is a lie. Either way, their name becomes the limiting factor.
Does The Body Shop® repair cars or sell scented bath products? This one sells bath products, and the name works. By association with the other image of a body shop, the implication is that you’ll find products to fix your body.

My Great Names List

My Great Names List is heavily populated by Sears® brands. In addition to Craftsman® and DieHard®, Sears names are such gems as Silvertone®, Coldspot®, Toughskins®, and the now defunct Roadtalker® CB radios. Sears understands naming

Other names on my Great Names List include Right To Life Society®, Bank of America®, Sports Illustrated®, and Pay Less Drugs® (Yeah, I know. They’re Rite Aid®, now. Pity. I understand Pay Less Drugs. Wanna explain to me what a Rite Aid is? Or how to spell it?)

A British energy company named Powergen? I like it. The Italian subsidiary of that company? Powergenitalia. That wouldn’t be such a good name.

What do you think about Phartronics Engineering or Ascend Communications. (Try them out loud. It makes a difference).

Also featured on my You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me names list are such gems as Badcock Furniture, Boozer Shopping Center, Beaver Cleaners, Dick Cleaners & Drapery Service, and Bea’s Ho-Made Products.

I want to see the workers on Bea’s assembly line.

For the record, I didn’t invent these names to make my point. I’m not that clever. These are very real businesses. Well, except for Powergenitalia.

Why Names Are Important

Names establish the foundation of image. Names make a difference in people’s expectations. Your child’s name is important to his future success, and so is your business’ name important to its future success.

In each case we use the name to affect public perception. Perception is reality.

And what is marketing, if not an attempt to alter perception? The right perception can only help as you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Need some help creating a great name for your company? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected] and start a conversation.  Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Your Favorite TV Ad

Honda Pilot

The car in question.

I like group a capella singing. I love group a capella sound effects.

My favorite radio commercials of all time are a series for Trop ArcticTM All Season Motor Oil produced in the late 70s.  A group of exceptional jingle singers imitated the sound of a railroad crossing, complete with warning bells, locomotive sounds, and a perfect doppler effect as the train roared by.

That was radio in 1979.  In 2011 there is an equally well done television ad.  Its running right now.

Have you seen this ad?

An SUV drives down the highway. Three boys in the back seat. Three girls in the middle seat. A pair of adults (Dad and Mom?) in the front. The blonde boy in the middle of the back seat starts making mouth noises.

“Bum bum.”   (high) “Bum bum.”   (low) “Bum bum.”   (back to normal) “Bum bum.”

As he repeats, the leftmost girl in the middle seat opens up with “ah-ee ah-ee ah-ee ah-ee.”

The kid directly behind her holds up his soft drink cup, empty of soda, and rattles the ice.  Cut to Dad simulating downward a bass glissando.

Bam! The eight people in the car are now each performing their respective parts of a song intro which is becoming very familiar. Kids are fingering their shoulder belts as if they’re playing guitars, and as the camera pulls back to show a full view of the automobile, the passengers all burst into the classic Ozzy Osborne, “Goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.”

Have you seen this ad? If not, I’m sure you will. The ad is scheduled to run during “Dancing With the Stars,” “Big Bang Theory,” and“The Biggest Loser.”

Shall we make some predictions?

People all over America will claim this is their favorite ad. The RPA agency of Santa Monica will win awards. And sales of Ozzy’s catalog will spike before Christmas.

This ad won’t sell cars

Here. I’ll prove it. Show of hands – who knows the ad of which I’m speaking? Oh, a bunch of you. Let’s see… one, two, three… twenty-seven, twenty-eight, two hundred nineteen, a few more…

Now, keep your hand up if you can name the car.

Oh. My. Nobody?  Nobody remembers the car being advertised?

And that’s the issue, isn’t it.

In my favorite radio ads the singers pause the sound effects several times to sing out boldly, “Trop ArcticTM, All Season Motor Oil. Long live your caaaarrrrr.

Thirty years later I still remember those Trop ArcticTM ads.

But vast numbers of viewers who will claim this new TV ad is their favorite, won’t know who to thank for the entertainment. An automobile manufacturer who probably spent half a million dollars to produce this ad, and several million more for TV airtime, will not receive the highest and best use of his advertising dollars.

Because we don’t remember the name of the automobile. We remember “Crazy Train.”

This is a catchy, very well produced, and very bad ad. Please don’t create ads like this if you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

PS. Oh, you really can’t remember the make and model of the car in the ad, and it’s driving you crazy? Here’s thirty seconds of some pretty well done TV.

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about creating ads which help customers to remember your name? Call Chuck at 760-813-5474. Or “E” him at [email protected].

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