– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

Last year I wrote a “Change Your Name Already” blog post about Overstock.com on DuetsBlog which described the painful way that Overstock.com was trying to communicate that their name did not fit what they were doing as a business…”we are so much more!” My response was to politely suggest that they call me to help them find a new name that did fit their business model.

Recently MailChimp launched an ad campaign that approached the “our name does not fit our business model” issue from a different angle. In this effort, they celebrate the fact that they have outgrown their name and tell prospective customers that they would like to help them do the same thing.

Brilliant…simply brilliant. Both Overstock.com and MailChimp have outgrown their names, but Overstock.com communicates it in a way that makes the potential customer feel stupid (“you thought we only sold overstock items but you are stupid…we actually do more!”). MailChimp admits they do more than what their name implies and desire to have the same impact on the prospective customer’s business, thereby leaving prospective customers feeling hopeful. Big difference.

So the CEO of Overstock.com should still call me to initiate a name development project…but the CEO of MailChimp can just take a bow!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Mark Cuban held a variety of jobs in his youth including selling garbage bags door-to-door and being a bartender, a disco dancing instructor, and a party promoter. But one thing that frustrated him was bank overdraft fees. Now he’s helping to fund an app that claims it can help people avoid them by predicting incoming expenses and comparing them with the person’s spending habits.

The app is called “Dave.”

“We named the company Dave because we wanted people to think of the app as a friend they can turn to when they’re in a financial bind,” said Dave’s CEO, Jason Wilk.

“Dave” is another example of people trying to anthropomorphize their brand. To anthropomorphize means to attribute human form or personality to things not human, and I noted this trend in my 2015 book The Science of Branding. Giving your product a name that enables consumers to attribute human qualities to it can be a very memorable way to develop your branding, and it is proven to be a successful branding technique.

Please note, this is not the same as using the founder’s name in the business name. The name Ben & Jerry’s reflects that name of the founders, not an attempt to attribute human form or personality to things not human. Some people might have a favorable opinion of Ben & Jerry’s because of the use of the founders’ names in the business name, but this was not a deliberate attempt to anthropomorphize the brand.

Alexa, Siri and Cortana are good examples of an attempt to anthropomorphize a brand name in technology. If you are going to launch a digital assistant, shouldn’t the name sound like a real person (albeit with a techie feel)? Wouldn’t you want a user to develop a relationship with the device/service in the same way that you would develop a relationship with a friend?

Of course this naming approach is not without risk. Developing a personal relationship with a consumer requires authenticity that leads to trust and a deeper connection. If “Dave” is able to develop that connection and build on it over time, then the approach can be a success. However, a few missteps along the way can cause Dave users to start thinking of Dave as their goofy brother-in-law rather than as a respected friend they can turn to when they are in a financial bind.

—Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlashSM Name Development

Naming contests. Sounds like a good idea, right? A company needs a new name and it decides to engage its employees to come up with a new name. What could go wrong?

Well, you could end up with a name like Mondelez.

Just to be clear, I’m a professional name developer, so you might think I am against naming contests because they take dollars out of my wallet. Not true. If you are a small 5 person startup, by all means “talk amongst yourselves” and figure out your name. Chances are you will do a good enough job if you follow some basic rules. I’ll even give you some free advice! And the big company that buys you someday will likely change your name anyway.

But if you are a billion dollar global company, holding an employee naming contest is just about the dumbest thing you can do. And yet, that is what Kraft Foods did to identify a new name for its Snack Division. Mondelez International will be the corporate home for existing brands like Oreo, Cadbury, Nabisco and Trident. Kraft said in a statement that the new name — pronounced “mohn-dah-LEEZ” — comes from a combination of the words “monde,” derived from the Latin for “world,” and “deliz,” short for “delicious.”

I am sure Kraft used the following rationale to sell the idea of a naming contest internally (remember, I was a corporate insider for 25 years so I’ve heard this stuff before):

  1. Holding a naming contest will engage our valuable employees – No it won’t. Kraft said they received over 1700 names from their 1200 employees which is slightly more than one per employee. Typically in naming contests you get a few diehards who submit hundreds of names and the other “99 percent” of people ignore it. I’m willing to bet this happened in this case.
  2. Because the name came from within, our employees will rally behind it – Chances are, the only people who think “Mondelez” is a wonderful name are the two employees who came up with it. The other 1198 employees hate it and think other names were better. One of the other suggested names was “Tfark” and I am pretty sure the person who thought of that still thinks it was a better name than Mondelez.
  3. Nothing says “our Management cares about employees” like holding a naming contest – Actually, I am pretty sure a 10% raise would make everyone feel better than holding a naming contest. The act of holding a naming contest is a sad attempt to demonstrate that Management cares about what the employees think.
  4. Hey, Google came up with its own name and it worked out OK! OK, it is hard to disagree with this rationale and Google is a lot better than their working name for their search engine, which was “BackRub.” But if Google were looking for a new name for their company today, do you think they would hold an employee naming contest? I doubt it.

Developing a great name is hard work. Sometimes you get a stroke of genius (like Apple), and sometimes you spend weeks trying to get to the right combination of creativity, emotional impact, consumer understanding, branding/marketing potential, etc. Done properly, a great name will reflect a clear strategic positioning, a deep consumer understanding, and an ability for the consumer to “get it” without explanation. This is a pretty tall list for the average employee to consider.

There is also a lengthy process involved in checking and validating the name availability. On a typical name development project, I spend hours evaluating the availability of trademarks (working with a trademark attorney), domain names, common law usage and “native language checks” (to ensure a name like Mondelez does not mean something inappropriate in a foreign language). Apparently someone at Kraft forgot to do the latter, as I hear Mondelez has an inappropriate sexual connotation in Russian.

In this instance, I can point to the end result and thank Kraft for making my blogging life easier.

I have a general rule about names. The more you have to explain the name, the worse the name is. Kraft knows this is a lousy name because their explanation is lengthy and contrived. Sorry, Kraft—you could have done so much better. This name change still has to be approved by shareholders on May 23rd. Let’s hope they have more sense than the people who decided to hold a naming contest!

Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlashSM Name Development

If you have kids, you know that they all pass through the “Why Phase,” where they keep asking “Why?” until you ultimately resort to the conversation-ending phrase “Ask your Mother (or Father).” You probably are also familiar with the “5 Whys” technique of asking “Why” at least 5 times to get to the root cause of an issue. So why do most marketers decide on the “What” instead of understanding the “Why” behind the “What?” Why don’t marketers work harder to understand the fundamental consumer insights that are represented by the “Why behind the What?” and use those as a basis for decision-making?

Here is a real world example (names and ingredients changed to protect confidentiality). I recently helped a food company develop and test a multitude of concepts for new flavor combinations on a traditional product line. In consumer testing, flavor combinations that contained a certain ingredient (let’s call it “chocolate”) blew everything else away. The client was happy and quickly said “thanks, now I know what to launch.” But that was deciding on the “What,” and not the “Why.”

They were not interested in conducting additional research to understand why consumers felt this way, but I felt that this was a mistake. The inclusion of “chocolate” in these products was unusual, and I, for one, was curious as to why consumers responded to it so positively. The research I designed captured consumer comments, so we had a little bit of guidance, but I wished we had had the opportunity to learn more.

I did some additional digging on my own and found some “food trend” syndicated research that established “chocolate” as the new hot ingredient, which helped support the case. I also explored some recipe forums and observed that “chocolate” was a hot topic of discussion. However, that was simply additional support for the “What,” not the “Why.”

So what could be the consequences of focusing on the “What” and not the “Why?” Well, we all know the statistics on new product launches–over 80% fail within the first six months. What if “chocolate” was a fad just like those teeny cupcake shops? That could mean that the fad could be over just as your new product shows up on the shelves. What if people liked “chocolate” in these products as a novelty item, i.e., “I’ll buy this once just for fun, but I won’t make this a regular menu item”? That could lead to a quick spike in sales for the novelty effect but a severe drop-off as the
number of repeat purchases approaches zero. What if people were picking the flavors with “chocolate” because they were the “best of the worst” choices that were offered to them? That is an accident waiting to happen!

Deciding on the “What” is dangerous. Understand the “Why” behind the “What,” and you will make better decisions. You need to understand the consumer insights behind the actions, or
you are taking a significant risk!

—Mark Prus, Marketing Consultant at NameFlashSM

I received a lot of terrific feedback on my recent Duets Blog post “When Should You Change Your Name?” Consider this Volume 2 in the series.


After you have decided to change your name, “How Do You Know When You Have Identified a Great Name?”  This could also serve as another checkpoint before you change your name—if your name meets the criteria below, then don’t change it!

In my NameFlashSM name development business, I usually present 30 – 50 names for a company’s product/service, so picking a great name from the assortment of terrific names we present is often a challenge.  Smaller companies usually pick a name and run with it while larger clients often have a series of Management/Board of Director reviews, and sometimes they do consumer research in order to get additional input.


So how should you determine if you have identified a great name?  There are some obvious keys—one is that the name should be easy to pronounce, read and spell. It should be simple, concise and protectable. However, there are some other things you should consider.


Great names will have:


1.      Powerful differentiation – This encompasses two related thoughts. First, the name must clearly be differentiated versus those of the competition, and second, it must differentiate in a highly relevant manner that is consistent with the strategic positioning of your product or service.  

2.      Strong associations – One of the founding principles of my naming business is that names must connect to ideas that consumers already have in their heads (unless you have unlimited funds to create meaning).

The power of associations was acknowledged in Vannevar Bush’s seminal essay “As We May Think,” written in the July 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly. Bush identified that the most pressing problem facing science and technology was humankind’s growing inability to efficiently access what it already knew.  He stated that the human mind “operates by association” and foretold the development of “associative trails” in documents—these are now called links that we use to follow from one document to another on the Web.

A similar problem exists in today’s barrage of advertising toward consumers, as studies show consumers are exposed to thousands of messages per day. A name that connects with positive associations that are already in consumers’ minds is a very strong name.


3.      Deep resonance with your Target Audience – I once ran a Twitter Poll (follow me @NameFlash) on the name for an anti-chafing product “Anti Monkey Butt Powder”. The results were overwhelming as 70% of people thought it was a horrible name. However, when I dug into the comments made by a few people, I was stunned. The people who thought it was a good name were people who suffered from what might be described as a “chafed butt” due to extended horseback riding, motorcycle riding, or truck driving. Some of the people who responded were actual consumers of the product and were very defensive about the name—they thought it was perfect! The lesson from this example is clear—naming is not a popularity contest, but rather a search for meaning among the targeted few.


4.      A sense of familiarity – Instant disclaimer: I am not suggesting that a computer-generated name like Exxon is bad!  All I am saying is there is a body of evidence that indicates people prefer names that are familiar.

Further research indicates that “hard to say” names are viewed as “risky.” If the name sounds familiar to consumers and is instantly likeable, you may have a winner on hand, but if the name sounds like it belongs on the back panel ingredient listing of a highly processed food (e.g., calcium stearoyl lactylate) then maybe you are trying too hard. People are comfortable with names that make them comfortable. 

5.      Emotional impact – The Gallup organization measures emotional attachment to brands, and the types of questions they ask are enlightening.

Consider the difference between these two skin care brand names: Olay and Noxema. Olay is a smooth, beautiful name which fits their product offerings and generates warm emotional feelings.  Noxema is a harsh name that has very negative emotional impact…think “noxious” or “obnoxious.”  If your Target Market connects with the name on an emotional level, then you may have a winner.


Now for the downside: what are some indications that you have NOT identified a great name?  Poor names have:

1.      Negative cultural meaning or language issues – You really do need to consider the various ways you might impact people with your name. For example (and I am not trying to make fun of anyone’s name here), there is a Crapo Insurance company in Indiana – I don’t know about you, but I’m not buying any “crapo” insurance!  My blog has some other interesting “naming faux pas” examples including a few from other countries.

2.      No meaning outside the company – If the only people who understand it are insiders, please avoid it.  Xobni is Inbox spelled backwards but consumers would find it hard to pronounce and use.  Six Apart is a software company that was named because the two founders were born six days apart. What that has to do with their products is anyone’s guess.

3.      No relationship to the family – If the name does not reflect the history of the company and its other brands, you might be making a mistake. The acid test is to ask whether this sounds like something your company might introduce or whether it sounds like a competitor’s product.  Names that appear to be random usually go away or get modified down the road to make them look like they are part of the family.  There is a reason why BMW and Mercedes have well-established naming conventions—it works!


4.      Constraints on growth – I bet the owners of 7-Eleven (which was named as a result of the “7 AM to 11 PM” hours the chain was open) more than once regretted that name choice. Of course if you pick an acronym, you can change the name’s meaning over time (CVS originally stood for Consumer Value Stores, but now the CEO uses it to represent Customer, Value and Service).

5.      Weak trademark implications – One of my favorite posts on this blog is the “Spectrum of Distinctiveness.”  With Steve Baird’s permission, I always present this idea to my naming clients to inspire them to seek distinctive names.  Some clients get it, and they seek names that are rich in meaning without being overly descriptive. Some do not get it, and they tend to fall back into functional, generic names. While there may be a short-term benefit to using a functional name (because consumers will “get it”), there is lost opportunity to create a powerful brand.  

Quick—name a website that you can use to find a job. I’ll bet Monster.com was in your top 3 names. Did anyone think of the generic name JobHunt.com? Probably not. Yes, Monster spent quite a bit of money to establish awareness, but once they did that they truly created a “monster” of a brand, and the distinctiveness of the “Monster” name in the job hunting space was the reason why.

What other things should be considered in deciding if you have identified a great name?  

—Mark Prus, Marketing Consultant at NameFlashSM

In my NameFlashSM name development business, I sometimes get asked by clients, “Should I change my brand name?” From a purely selfish standpoint my answer should be “YES!” because I get paid to generate names! But the reality is that there are times when you should not change your name, despite the negative impact on my cash flow.

So how do you decide if you need a better name? Here are some tips on when you should or should not change your name.

Consider changing your name when:

  1. Sales are declining rapidly/market share is going to competition – An obvious reason to change your brand name is when your competition is doing a better job of attracting customers.
  2. Your customer base is not what you want – Rebranding gives you an opportunity to make a fundamental change in your target audience. Target audience is a key consideration in name development. For more thoughts on target audience considerations see my earlier post on DuetsBlog titled Good Name, Bad Name? It Depends.
  3. Your brand name and brand identity don’t align – If your brand name screams “cutting edge” but everything about your brand (such as advertising, packaging, selling materials, customer base, product positioning, etc.) says “Baby Boomer retro,” then you need to change the name (and probably much, much more).
  4. You want to launch a new, “go-to-market” strategy – If you are changing the overall strategic direction of the product, then you should change your name to allow customers to approach the brand with a fresh perspective. A great example of this was Goldstar, the electronics brand. When they launched, they were known as a quality entry level brand. However, the quick pace of technological change generated numerous low end competitors. The company decided to redesign their go-to-market strategy to create and market new and innovative products, and they changed their name to LG. Almost instantly they became known as an industry leader in technological advancement, which would have been impossible under their previous name.
  5. Consumers are tired of your name – Please note, I said consumers are tired of your name. I did not say you, your boss, your CEO, your spouse or your advertising or PR agencies are tired of your name. When you get signals that consumers have lost the magic in your existing name, then you need to change it.

When should you NOT change your name?

  1. The company is under new management or has a new brand manager – If the only reason you are changing the name is to mark your territory, then you are doing your brand a disservice.
  2. You have strong equity in the existing name – Brand equity takes years to develop and can be destroyed by a snap decision to change the brand name.
  3. Your brand has issues that are not caused by the name – If J&J did not change the Tylenol name after the tampering incidents, why would you run away from your name? Fix the other issues and end up with a stronger brand going forward.
  4. You’ve had the same brand name for a long time and think it’s time to change it – No, it isn’t. Beretta Firearms was launched in 1526. Do you think the “let’s change the name” question has been approached a few times since then? Wisely, the management avoided it and the brand name remains strong even today. Fiskars blades and scissors started in 1649. Twinings Tea started in 1706. When it comes to brand names, “change is good” does not ring true all the time.
  5. You can’t afford to change the name – My NameFlashSM name development service delivers tons of great names in a flash for a very reasonable price. But changing the name involves so much more. Make sure you understand the total cost of rebranding including things like advertising cost to generate awareness of the new name. A name change can be very, very costly in the long run.

What is your favorite example of an effective name change?  What is your favorite example of a name change gone bad?

—Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlashSM Name Development

There is a local furniture store in Pittsburgh called Colonial Modern Furniture. Its slogan is “It’s Colonial. It’s Modern. And everything in between.”

This demonstrates one of the biggest mistakes people make in picking a name—developing a name that tries to speak to everyone. I’m sorry, but apart from air and water, I don’t believe that there are products for everyone, and that is precisely why picking your target market is a critically important part of developing a name for your business.

The aforementioned furniture store used to be called Colonial Furniture. I get that. If I want colonial furniture I know where to go. Somewhere along the way they started adding more modern furniture so they decided to change their name to Colonial Modern Furniture. Big mistake. People who want modern furniture (like me) will run away from a store that has “Colonial” in the name. If you really wanted to tell the world that you had every type of furniture in your store, then why not choose a name that says “everything under the sun” (although “Amazon Furniture” might draw an infringement lawsuit).

I had a naming client in the weight loss category who thought his target market was the one-third of all Americans who meet the definition of having obesity, or even the 68% of all Americans who are overweight (imagine the potential market—all we need is 1% and we will be billionaires)!

Through some fairly inexpensive research I conducted, I managed to prove to the client that in fact most of those people are not interested in his product. But I did find a core group who was passionately interested in the product. I ask you what’s better: a) developing a name that targets everyone who needs to lose weight, or b) developing a name that speaks to the people who are most interested in what you have to offer. If you ever have taken a marketing course, you know the answer is b).

So obviously when we begin a name development project we concentrate on key strategic marketing decisions such as target market identification. Developing a great name for the masses is much less effective than developing a good name for the narrowly defined target market you have identified!

And when someone asks me “is this a good name or a bad name?” I always have to consider the strategic marketing foundation of the brand and what the company is trying to do.

—Mark Prus, NameFlashSM

A few years ago, Procter & Gamble launched the Olay Total Effects line, and introduced us to “Anti aging skin care products that moisturize and fight seven signs of aging.” In case you don’t know, the “seven signs of aging” are “look of fine lines and wrinkles, rough texture, uneven skin tone, surface dullness, appearance of prominent pores, noticeability of age spots, and dryness.”

Interesting. And wouldn’t you know it, Olay Total Effects works on all seven signs of aging (imagine that).

The skeptic in me thought that maybe there were more signs of aging that Olay was not designed to work on, but I let it go, figuring that I was not an expert on skin care.

The skeptic came back when I noticed Iams advertising that provided “Seven Signs of Healthy Vitality.” Iams is another Procter & Gamble product. Hmmm.

And guess what…Head & Shoulders (another P&G product) has “Seven Benefits”…fights dryness, calms itching, relieves irritation, reduces redness, controls oiliness, removes flakes, and beautiful hair.

And there are other P&G brands who have dabbled with the “Number Seven” mystique.

So what is the magic in the number seven?

I will confess, I have no inside connection to P&G and frankly really don’t know why so many brands at P&G are drawn to “seven things.” But I am a pretty good student of human nature and can make some educated guesses.

Let’s roll through the numbers…

ONE OR TWO – No, this won’t work as ONE means you really only do one thing and so that is not enough. Same with TWO.

THREE OR FOUR OR FIVE – Now we are talking. When you can say three to five good things about your product, then you are saying something. What is wrong with 3, 4 or 5? One theory is when you say 3, 4 or 5 things people can remember them and can fact check all of them. Sometimes that is good. But when you dig into the “seven” that P&G brands use, you find that some of them are a little “squishy” and may not stand up to scrutiny.

SIX – We are getting there…but SIX is a funny number. And there are some bad connotations to multiples of six.

SEVEN – Ahhh. Schoolhouse Rock taught us that “three is a magic number” but the reality is SEVEN is the magic number. I will explain in a minute. But from a scientific standpoint, it has been proven that SEVEN of anything is about all that the human brain can comprehend in one chunk, which is why phone numbers are seven digits long.

EIGHT OR ABOVE – More than SEVEN and the human brain shuts down.

So why is SEVEN the magic number? I think it is because of two reasons:

1. It sounds like a lot so people are impressed

2. It is so many that people won’t fact check each one

OK, maybe it is the skeptic in me again. But the proof is in the pudding. Go to the Total Effects page or the Head & Shoulders page and read the “SEVEN”…then go do something else for 15 minutes, then try to recall the SEVEN reasons…I bet you won’t get more than half right.

But SEVEN sounds like a lot of good things, doesn’t it?

—Mark Prus, Marketing Consultant at NameFlashSM

Like many professional name developers, I opened 2010 by making fun of the Apple iPad name. Steve Jobs gave a strong case for naming the “tablet pc” in a way that was consistent with previous Apple naming conventions (iPod, iTunes, iPhone), but many of us poked fun at the similarity of the name with feminine hygiene products.

Who’s laughing now?

Through the first three quarters of the year Apple sold over 8 million iPads and is projected to sell another 5 or 6 million during the last quarter of the year. And if you do a Google search and look for people making fun of the iPad name, you pretty much come up empty.

Was iPad a great name? I still think Apple could have broken the mold and gone with a more inventive name. But frankly I think Steve Jobs could call the next Apple innovation “Poop On A Stick” and it would be successful (side note: as an Apple shareholder I really hope they don’t try that).

From a trademark standpoint, Apple is still not in the clear on iPad. While they bought the “global rights” for the iPad trademark earlier this year, a new dispute claims that “global rights” did not include China. Not exactly sure who needs to go to geography class, but I am sure the Cupertino lawyers will figure it out.

But I suspect a bigger problem may be lurking for Apple. The iPad is the first tablet pc that has been embraced by consumers and in a way it is defining the category. There are iPad competitors but Apple has an estimated 95% market share. So what is the risk of a dominant market position? One risk is a “genericizing” of the product name.

Think about it…when people talk about the portable device that holds thousands of songs they call it iPod, regardless of the actual product. The iPhone has become the “category identifying” name for a smartphone. However, neither the iPod nor the iPhone have anywhere close to 95% market share.

In a previous Duets Blog post, Steve Baird raised some precautions a trademark owner could take to prevent “genericide” of a brand name (Kleenex in this example). According to Steve, if the "majority of the relevant consuming public" (more than half) continues to understand Kleenex® as a brand, the exclusive trademark rights will remain intact.

Is iPad the next “Kleenex?” Well, if you conduct a Google search on iPad you get over 189,000,000 entries. A similar search for “tablet pc” only produces around 21,000,000 results. I’d say with a 95% market share and a 9 fold lead in search results, the iPad name may be on a very slippery slope heading towards genericide!