“The Principle of Negativity”

All the best names are provocations: Virgin, Yahoo, Spanx, Caterpillar, Pandora, Apple, Oracle, Banana Republic, Hotwire, Crossfire, Typo, et al. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call “negative messages” for the goods and services the name represents.

As long as the name maps to one of the positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally, and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth. The negative becomes an engaging positive.

Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one of all.

Caterpillar is the most effective name in the earth-moving equipment sector precisely because it is not “Bull” or “Elephant” or “Workhorse” or anything else that is linear and obvious. Caterpillars are weak and easily squashed, yet Caterpillar is the most engaging name in its industry. And of course the word “Apple” is the antithesis of high tech, and an “Oracle” is not scientific nor reliable.

Here are some of the strong, specific negative images that were instantly overcome by powerful, provocative names:

Abbott Labs’ Inexplicable Explanation For ‘AbbVie’

Via WSJ:

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) on Wednesday unveiled the name of its planned pharmaceutical company spinoff, “AbbVie,” which Abbott says evokes its heritage and the Latin word for “life.”

Of course ‘Vie” is not the Latin word for “Life”, but hey it is only one letter off. Like “Dead” and “Deal”, or “Good” and “Goop”. What’s one letter? Everything — not to mention the crazy notion that Abbott believes we all speak Latin.

The Naming Agency of record on this one? None have dared to come forward.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Inside the AbbVie naming process:

Kraft names separate snack business “Mondelez”

Quick, what does “Mondelez” mean to you? Does it even infer anything? Conjure any imagery? No. Will you remember it five minutes from now? No, you won’t.

But you needn’t put Mondelez through any such tests to know how truly bad it is. The surest signal of a really bad name is when the company feels compelled to explain it.

Via USAToday:

The company says the name (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ) was inspired by the suggestions of two Kraft employees. It is intended to evoke the idea of a “delicious world” as “monde” is derived from the Latin word for “world” and “delez” as an expression of “delicious.”

Kraft is claiming the name has meaning. The difference between “Having a meaning” and “Being meaningful” makes all the difference.

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