Apple has provided a terrific lesson in how to own an idea with a brand name by building the world’s thinnest, lightest laptop and naming it the “Macbook Air.” While other manufacturers may eventually engineer products with an even more delicate form factor, the Macbook Air will likely own the “thinnest and lightest” position in the mind of the audience for a long time to come. With its built-in fast Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and only one USB 2.0 port for connectivity, this laptop is intended to be a completely wireless device—providing yet another layer of meaning to “Air.”
Web developers have long used the term “chrome” to refer to the browser frame surrounding the content—the toolbars, address window, scrollbars, etc. Even if the general audience has never heard of “chrome” in a browser context, the word is rife with positive associations because of its automotive uses. “Shiny.” “New.” “Fancy.” “Smooth.” “Bright.” “Sparkling.” Why not try a browser that sounds so polished?
A magazine for women in litigation. This cleverly named lawyerly publication seems like another in the line of magazines titled with the first name of a founder or publisher: Jane, Rosie, George. Except, it’s not. The twist from proper noun to verb is simply delicious. And bravo to the publisher for embracing this potent word so often linked to negative stereotypes of attorneys.
The success of the social networking site, Twitter, inspired the creation of Yammer, an instant messaging system designed for internal corporate communications. “Yammer” nicely connotes an incessant stream of chatter with an agenda-driven intensity.
Pandora is the most powerful handheld video game console to date. When opened, the familiar “Pandora’s box” of Greek mythology unleashed untold evil upon the world—a nice connection to the unrivaled power of the platform and an attractively subversive element for the gamer audience. “Pandora” also fits beautifully with the technology: The console’s operating system is based on Linux, an open source code.
In early 2008 Sony’s Blu-Ray won the high definition video format war when more movie studios selected it over Toshiba’s HD-DVD. “Blu-Ray” refers to the blue laser beam that reads data on the disc. It’s an instantly understandable name that intuitively suggests advanced technology, with the added bonus of a visual “blue ray” image which helps imprint the name in the customer’s mind. While branding may not have helped Sony win the format war, we believe the Blu-Ray name is speeding adoption of the new technology
According to its manufacturer, Reactor is “the world’s first patented total liquid submersion personal supercomputer.” The name immediately communicates enormous (and potentially dangerous) power, exactly right for the product and the perfect lure for performance hungry geeks. And since nuclear reactors use liquid to cool the reactor core, the name also nicely expresses the product’s big point of difference.
8. The Mothership
An apt name for this high-tech tent, which boasts a whopping 130 square feet of space. The Mothership is meant for use as a base camp on expeditions—just make sure you’re not the one stuck carrying it.
The name of this GPS cleverly communicates both rapid transport to your destination and its placement in your car.
Goodbelly, a line of probiotic fruit drinks, competes with dairy-based DanActive, Yo-Plus Digestive and Activia—brands that sound like they’re more at home in the medicine cabinet than the refrigerator. By contrast, “Goodbelly” communicates the digestive benefits of probiotics while retaining a touch of humanity and whimsy.
Google made their first foray into products this year with a mobile phone that has a shot at outdoing the Apple iPhone’s cool factor. Too bad they hobbled it with such a weak brand name. “G1” is generic, forgettable and easily confused with 3G, the mobile network technology. What’s worse, the name is reminiscent of some of Apple’s legacy products, the PowerPC G3, G2 and, ahem, G1. As one of the world’s leading innovators, Google has the brainpower and budget to create killer brands. G1 has earned the top spot on our worst list because, when it came to branding this important new product, Google just phoned it in.
Toshiba branded their high definition video disc technology by simply tacking “HD” onto their trademarked “DVD” name. Makes perfect sense to an engineer. But to a typically inattentive consumer, “HD-DVD” so resembles “DVD” that it doesn’t instantly communicate how radically advanced this new product is. Confusing matters even further is its similarity to “HDTV” (high definition television)—a related, but wholly different technology.
Who’s coming up with Volkswagen’s car names? Their crash test dummies? In recent years, VW has produced a parade of bizarre and largely meaningless brand names, including “Touareg,” “Routan” and now “Tiguan.” Formed by combining “tiger” and “iguana,” this construction of slammed-together syllables is known in the naming world as a “Frankenstein” or “train wreck.” Like many names of its ilk, “Tiguan” requires explanation. Why not just name it “Tiger?” Not a spectacular name, but the connotations are sexier. Why would anyone want to drive a car that’s even part ugly, scaly, slow-moving lizard?
Porsche unveiled their first sedan this year—a landmark event comparable to the introduction a few years ago of their first SUV, the Cayenne. The name “Cayenne” is packed with associations suggesting excitement and exhilaration. “Panamera,” on the other hand, is empty and lifeless. Because it’s not a real word, the name has no immediate meaning and lacks the kind of connotations that made “Cayenne” a powerful name. It also feels weak and unfinished, in part because it sounds like “Panamerican” without the satisfying ending. This is not the sort of name any car should be saddled with—especially a four-door sedan that Porsche purists believe should never have been made.
No, it’s not a new filing cabinet. We could almost forgive an office product for a name this insipid. The Versys is a motorcycle from Kawasaki, so named because it’s a “versatile system” designed for different riding styles. Impeccably rational reasoning. But painfully absent in this brand name is any hint of the fun and excitement of motorcycle riding.
6. Zevia, Truvia & PureVia
While racing to bring stevia, a natural no-calorie sweetener to American consumers, three different companies made the same naming mistake: creating a brand name too much like the original descriptive word. The result is a trio of similar-sounding names, certain to cause confusion among potential customers and likely to wind up in court with trademark issues—an unfortunate sour beginning.
In naming its online community for seasoned travelers, Hyatt tried too hard to invent a hip, slangy variant of its brand name. “Yatt’it” manages to transform Hyatt’s elegant, familiar name into a word that sounds like a yak bleat. Nicknames for brands, such as “Mickey D’s” for McDonalds and “Beamer” for BMW, are best coined organically by customers as an outcome of interacting with the product. We suspect “Yatt’it” is a test tube baby, conceived under the fluorescents of Hyatt’s marketing department.
8. Intel® Dual Socket Extreme Desktop Platform
This name makes our list because of what might have been. During its development, this powerful processor platform—a total of eight 3.2GHz processing engines—was codenamed “Skulltrail.” To the early adopting audience of hard-core gamers, “Skulltrail” evoked massive power and performance, and the name spread rapidly by word of mouth (and blog) as techies eagerly awaited the product’s introduction. When it came time to go to market, however, Intel abandoned this lusty brute of a name in favor of the safely corporate, “Intel® Dual Socket Extreme Desktop Platform.” Would the “Intel® Skulltrail” have been so wrong for the business audience? Ask yourself which platform you’d rather have crunching a 60,000 line spreadsheet.
EnCana Corporation, a $60 billion energy enterprise located in Calgary, split off its integrated oil operations to form a new company this year, which they named “Cenovus.” This name warrants a spot on our list because it represents thousands of company names spawned over the last three decades, all with the same fatal flaw: zero meaning. If Cenovus wants their name to mean something to the world, they will need to spend some of their billions on an extensive ad campaign.
A deadly dull name for a new 3D virtual environment, “Vivaty” holds none of the intrigue inherent in the name of its biggest competitor, “Second Life.” With an invented construction based on the Latin word for “life,” “Vivaty” is the kind of safe, unobtrusive and ostensibly logical name a committee would approve unanimously—and an audience would forget immediately.
Great list! And nice to see two of the names my company, Catchword, created (Dash and Vivaty), even if one of them is on the Worst Brand Names list. From our point of of view, Second Life is itself a logical name – it’s clear and descriptive, and therefore not particularly intriguing. We also felt the “-aty” ending gave Vivaty a boost of energy. It’s a tough comparison, because Second Life has a popular and well-executed brand, and Vivaty doesn’t yet – they’re just getting started (still in beta). I notice that the Best names were almost all real words, and the Worst names list had quite a few coined names on it – do I detect a bias against coined names? I agree that Yatt’it is horrible.
Hi, Laurel! Thanks for posting, and welcome to the blog!
While it’s not the best name ever, Second Life is intriguing to us because of the idea inherent in it. Generally, I think people consider life a one-time opportunity (think “you only live once” and the soap, “One Life to Live”). So a name like “Second Life” provokes interest by challenging that common notion and creating a mystery that compels people to learn more.
We don’t have a bias against coined names per se. In fact, “Wii” topped our list of best names from last year. We do, however, believe that brand names ought to connect to ideas that already exist in the mind of the audience. As a homonym of “we” and “whee!”, “Wii” nicely connotes the brand promise of playing together and having fun.
So if there are more natural words on our Best list, it’s because we felt that these names do a better job of instantly communicating a brand promise by evoking ideas and emotions that are already a part of someone’s mindset.
Totally agree about Wii, Devon – it succeeds on all levels, and is an awesome product too. I guess Second LIfe takes me to “double life”, which is a pretty common expression, and for me resonates more with the concept of spending a lot of time at the computer in the virtual world. Consider me a focus group of one.
Real word names are great, but of course the big problem is availability! This was definitely a constraint on the Vivaty project, where the client had to have the exact .com domain. Even though domains don’t command the prices they used to, real word domains – even combinations of real words, like Second Life – are beyond the budgets of most start ups. Do you think the opening of new TLDs, including vanity domains, is going to make any difference at all in the naming world? I still think .com is king, but I could be convinced otherwise.
Yes, I think the new TLDs will open up a lot more opportunity for naming, and eventually the shine will come off the .com extension as it loses its de rigeur status. (Although, we don’t necessarily believe that companies need to have the prima facie dot com addresses these days, as most people aren’t using direct URL input for navigation anymore. Now it’s all about the power of the brand. Create a distinctive, memorable brand name, optimize your site, and customers will find you, even if your URL is a slight variation of your brand name.)