How a Mess of a Name Got Me to Buy the Product

I admit it. It was the name of this product that got my attention and compelled me to open the freezer case to read the package.

It wasn’t just the promise of an easy, delicious meal, though. It was the utter approachability of the name.

This kind of name usually doesn’t survive a corporate naming process. “That’s negative. We don’t want to be negative. The name should have ‘easy’ or ‘perfect’ or something positive like that in it.”

But I would not have picked up a product named so tritely. I would not have even noticed it. “Can’t Mess It Up” got my attention because it had the word “mess” in it. That’s not something you see every day in a food product. (Read this for more on how negativity can make a brand name more effective.)

Beyond that, “Can’t Mess It Up” sounds human–like something a friend would say. Unlike a product that promises perfection with an expected, positive name (which I would dismiss immediately as unbelievable), this brand suggests an empathy for people who may be uncertain about their culinary prowess.

In short, it was the humanity in this name that suggested I might be able to believe its promise.

So I bought the salmon. And then I messed it up.

In fairness, though, I didn’t follow the directions. Next time I won’t try to heat up a meal and be on a conference call at the same time.



Shredded Names from Outdoor Brands

Aaron Blunck wearing the Ceptor jacket at the X Games halfpipe in Aspen, Colorado. (Courtesy USSA/North Face/Ryan Wachendorfer)

Naming is hard—and if you don’t know how to evaluate a name, it can also be extremely subjective. That’s how global sports marketers can end up with product names like Arakys, Rarig, Alligare and Repko. (See “Why Your North Face Jacket is Called a ‘Ceptor'”)

We know from scientific research what kind of information the brain is more likely to notice and remember. The above names fail to meet the most important criteria: instant meaning. If someone doesn’t know what a word means, none of the other important aspects of a name—emotional trigger, visual concrete image, approachability, connection to brand promise/differentiator, personality traits, etc.—can apply.

Compare those names to Stumpjumper—a mountain bike mentioned in this same story. Because you understand the word, the name is packed with connections: It’s energetic. Athletic. Daring. It alludes to mountain terrain. It speaks to high performance. It has a great sound, and even though it’s a little long, it still looks visually interesting because of the repeating “ump” letter pattern.

Some names are just better than others. It doesn’t have to be a mystery why. 

If you’ve got a naming project coming up, please contact Pollywog. We’d love to help you create the best name possible.

How Do You Know When To Rename Your Business?

When to Rename Your BusinessSo, you’ve determined that you need to rebrand. (Maybe you saw your situation in 10 Signs That You May Need to Rename Your Business.) Whether it’s something you’ve thought about for a while or a response to a new change in circumstances, rebranding may be on your horizon, and now you’re wondering when to rename.

How do you know when to rename your business?

1. When you’re about to relocate.  It only makes sense to create your new brand first if you will be investing in new branded materials that include your address. You’ll make a big splash launching a new brand and location in one fell swoop.

2. At least nine months before your industry’s biggest trade show. Give yourself ample time for your rebranding project. It’s best to allow three months just to create your new brand name—longer if you try to do the renaming yourself. Be sure you have time to rebrand your trade show booth and to print all the materials you intend to hand out.

3. After you’ve fixed the problems that had led to a negative image. You’ve been unable to shake negative perceptions that arose from issues you’ve now resolved. Rename your business, and relaunch with a new brand to show that you’re serious about real change. (Just make sure those issues really are fixed, or you could be in for a branding rollercoaster. See Time for Blackwater to Change Its Name Again.)

4. After you’ve received an influx of venture capital. Set aside a portion for the rebranding that will propel your advertising and marketing going forward. Then seek help from the pros.

5. In a strong economy. If your business needs a new name, chances are that won’t change. What will change, though, is how you’ll feel about the cost. In a downturn, you may think rebranding is a luxury that can be put off, but that will just prolong your branding issues. Rebrand now so your business will be well positioned during the next downturn.

6. In a weak economy. A stronger brand helps you compete more effectively in good times and bad. But your distinctive, compelling new brand name will especially stand out when competitors are slashing their marketing budgets. Take advantage of that lull in competitive noise to exploit what opportunities there may be, even when customers are purchasing less.

Renaming Helps Open the Door to Success

In 2013, entrepreneur Jamie Siminoff  pitched his idea for a smart doorbell to Shark Tank as the “DoorBot.” The one shark who showed any interest made a low-ball offer that Siminoff rejected.

Today, Amazon announced that it had purchased the company — which had been renamed to “Ring” — for $1 billion.

Now, I’m not saying that the name change made the difference, but it was certainly an improvement.

“DoorBot” was generically descriptive and cold, and it reflected only the product’s functionality. “Ring,” however, has some great connections to a number of relevant ideas. It’s instantly warmer and more human, with more emotional connections.

  • It evokes the sound of a doorbell, of course, and those feelings of anticipation, curiosity, or even dread when you know someone’s at the door.
  • You “put a ring on it” as an expression of commitment—a subtle suggestion of reliability.
  • The company chose this name primarily, though, to allude to the “ring of security” the device offers for the home and community.

On its blog, the company wrote, “The name is as important of a change as anything else we are doing.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Naming Lessons from “This Is Us”


Almost 50 years ago, Rival Manufacturing acquired a new product design: an electric crock, which they unimaginatively named the Crock-Pot. As descriptive names tend to do, “Crock-Pot” became the go-to word for all similar products, even though there are many more brands of slow cookers on the market.

Rival’s poor naming choice came back to haunt them last night when an episode of the popular TV series “This Is Us” featured a malfunctioning, generically branded slow cooker as the cause of the fire that killed Jack.

Suddenly Twitter is abuzz with people saying they’re going to toss out their Crock-Pots and remove them from their wedding registries. And they’re calling them “Crock-Pots” (or crockpots or crock pots), not “slow cookers.”

Such is the hazard of descriptive names. When a brand name describes the form or function of a product, it risks becoming generic. In addition to losing trademark protection (or not being able to trademark it in the first place), a generic-sounding brand lives or dies based on the fortunes of the entire category.

The Crock-Pot brand took a hit last night and the manufacturer is mobilizing PR for damage control, although I think this flap will quickly be forgotten.

But let the lesson be remembered: Avoid descriptive, functional names, especially if you’re first-to-market.

Be the “Apple” in the personal computer category, or the “Red Bull” in energy drinks, or the “Häagen-Dazs” of premium ice cream.

And not the “Kitty Litter” of cat litter.

Testing Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

After the firestorm last year following the release of beauty products with offensive brand names, you might think cosmetics makers would reel it in a tad.

Instead, Wycon Cosmetics doubled-down by releasing nail polish with a name so repugnant, it has to be masked out in headlines.

This is a name that decent creative people would be embarrassed to utter even in the safe environment of a brainstorming session. How did it make it all the way onto a package and into stores?

Digging into the background of this branding debacle, we learn that Italy-based Wycon had made a practice of deriving product names from song lyrics. Instead of going through the effort of honest ideation, they just dipped into the creative work of hip hop artists and stole their words, labeling their products with names such as:

  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” (Snoop Dogg)
  • “Candy Shop.” (50 Cent)
  • “Bootylicious.” (Beyonce)
  • And the name that created the uproar: “Thick as a Nigga” (from “Thick Nigga” by DBangz)

The company initially responded to complaints with this tepid statement: “They’re made-up names that are a bit crazy.”

But, see, that’s the problem. Wycon didn’t make up the name. These words aren’t theirs, and they don’t understand the culture they sprang from. Taken out of context and slapped onto a product, they lose their intended meaning. They become a slur said by outsiders, rather than an expression of camaraderie between people with a shared experience.

Now, I’m no fan of name testing. More often than not, audience testing eliminates good names because they’re not perfect. Testing asks people to seek out flaws that would be barely a blip if they were introduced to the brand in a natural setting. Testing is usually the kiss of death for names that have any negative connotations—even when those negative connotations actually help a brand be noticed and remembered.

Audience testing should be used only as a disaster check—to prevent the kind of debacle that can happen when creatives and decision-makers are too far removed from the target audience.

Wycon could have saved themselves a lot of grief if they’d run these names past a few black people. Or better yet, if they’d had a more diverse creative team that actually, you know, created names instead of pilfering phrases from a culture they didn’t understand.

Pollywog is a naming company. We create story-rich names that draw people to brands. 612.326.4207