Want To Create A Viral Brand Name? Beware The Literalist.

 

 

This is the most overlooked, counterintuitive truth in naming – the difference between the way an internal naming committee will evaluate a potential brand name and the way a target audience will receive it. 

Every viral name is a provocation: Slack, Virgin, lululemon, Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google,  Oracle. To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people would call “negative messages” for the goods and services the name is to represent.

Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages positively. 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.

A viral name must contain negative qualities.

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.

Potential names must be judged on how well they map to positioning, memorability, stopping power, emotional impact, connections to the collective consciousness, distinction from competitors – the sum of which answers the most important naming question, “Is this name interesting?“.

Instead, on a naming committee, the literalist will negatively critique names based on dictionary definitions or a singular association, reliably in the form of an objection. Their claim will be that a word’s negative meaning or association(correlation) means that the value of the word as a name will also be negative(causation). The evidence they cite in their efforts to kill a name is irrefutable fact, yet irrelevant and counterproductive.  

Here are the types of objections a literalist will use to kill great name, attacking the very essence of what makes these names powerful – the tension created by positive and negative forces:

Slack

-In business, Slack means “characterized by a lack of work or activity; quiet.

-A Slacker is someone who works as little as possible. A terrible message for our target audience

– Slack means slow, sluggish, or indolent, not active or busy; dull; not brisk. Moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or water.

 

lululemon

-We are an upscale brand for women, lululemon sounds like a character from a 3-year olds’ picture book: “lululemon and her best friends annabanana and sallystrawberry were climbing Gumdrop Hill, when suddenly from behind a rainbow the queen of the unicorns appeared…”

 

Virgin Air

-Says “we’re new at this!”.

-Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and professional.

-Investors won’t take us seriously-Religious people will be offended.

 

Hotwire

-It has one meaning, “to steal a car!”

-Crime is the last thing we need to be associated with.

 

Yahoo!

-Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew!

-Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!

-Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a bunch of “Yahoos”.

 

Oracle 

-Unscientific.

-Unreliable.

-Only foretold death and destruction.

-Only fools put their faith in an Oracle.

-Sounds like “orifice” – people will make fun of us.

 

Caterpillar

-Tiny, creepy-crawly bug

-Not macho enough – easy to squash

-Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?

-Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine

 

Banana Republic

-Derogatory cultural slur

-You’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries

 

Target

-Target of an investigation

-To have a Target on your back

-A Target gets shot; killed; slaughtered.

-The Target of a manhunt

This is a family show, so you’ll have to create your own misguided, literalist list of reasons that In-N-Out, Dick’s, BJ’s , Cornhole and LoveSac should fail as brand names.

No sane person cares about any of these literal negatives, because people process these ‘negative’ connotations either positively or not at all. 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 make it more memorable and engaging.

These literal, negative objections are not reasons to abandon a name, rather they have demonstrably positive effects on a target audience. They’re what make a name engaging, differentiating & unforgettable.  Consumers don’t process names literally, they process them emotionally. Getting your committee to acknowledge this difference and to interact as the public does with names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential.

If you encounter a literalist, keep your distance, maintain eye contact, and take the threat seriously. Do not run in any direction. Don’t bend over, crouch down or go fetal. Wave your arms in an alpha manner. Throw any toxic item you can find – Keurig pods, inspirational posters, focus group data, etc. If attacked, fight back. If this doesn’t work, your last chance for survival is to enlighten the literalist:

 

Slack

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, naming the problem we solve!

-Qualities:  Interesting! Confident, different, focused on solving the target’s problem.

 

Hotwire

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, a travel hack, exciting, fun.

– Hotwiring a car is a hack, Hotwire.com is a travel hack. That’s why this name works.

-Qualities: Interesting! Exciting, different, memorable, viral.

 

Virgin

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, exciting, alive, human, provocative, fun. The innovative name forces people to create a separate box in their head to put it in.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.

 

Oracle

-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, superhuman, evocative, powerful, forward thinking.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally, deep well.

 

The common wisdom that naming in large groups will discourage a literalist attack is nothing more than urban legend. In fact, the larger the committee, the more likely an attack will be.

 

 

 

 

How To Create Names Like Facebook, Instagram & Snapchat

 

Instagram and Snapchat are identical constructions. Each simply substitutes new words from an accepted utility name: Instant Message. Insta & Snap are synonyms for Instant, and Gram & Chat are substitutes for Message.

Since Instant Message is already a universally adopted name, you know that Instagram and Snapchat will be accepted as well. If what you’re naming doesn’t map to a two-word generic, break it down into one first.

You can do this by re-purposing an unrelated, well-known compound word, as in Apple’s Wi-Fi base station being called “Airport” – a port accessed through the air. It’s easy to remember and readily embraced because everyone knows the word Airport already.

Proposing a name like Airport to a committee will be met with immediate pushback such as, “Everyone hates the experience of an airport” or, “Last time I was there they cancelled my flight, I had to sleep on the floor and I missed my child’s birthday” or “The first thing I think of is stress, long lines and bad service”- as if any of this will make the name less successful, which of course it doesn’t.

As soon as the name Airport is applied to a Wi-Fi device the primary definition disappears, your audience puts the clever double meaning together in their heads in an “aha!” moment, and they smile at the warmth & humanity you’ve brought to the game. Airport contains all of the ingredients of an unforgettable, best of breed name.

Because this simple concept is inherently difficult for bureaucracies, names like Airport are rare indeed – but they do happen.

 

Double Dutch

When you are in Holland you are always in The Netherlands, but when you are in The Netherlands you are only in Holland about half of the time. Many people make the mistake of using the two names interchangeably, which is considered an insult to the locals, depending on the circumstance, as is clearly explained here:

Calling the Netherlands “Holland” is like calling Great Britain “England”. Holland is the old name of the western provinces North-Holland, South-Holland and the small province of Utrecht. About half of the Dutch population lives in this region, where you can find the “four big cities” Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht.

In summary, Holland is a “Nether Region“, not a country. It’s an area within the country of The Netherlands.

Next time we’ll let you know where all things Dutch fit into the naming architecture, including, but certainly not limited to:

dutch-elm, dutch-elm beetle, dutch-kentucky syndrome, dutch-process cocoa powder, dutch-processed cocoa, dutch-type, dutch 200, dutch and flemish literature, dutch antique marble, dutch arch, dutch art, dutch auction, dutch auction preferred stock, dutch barn, dutch belted, dutch binding, dutch bob, dutch bond, dutch borneo, dutch boy, dutch cap, dutch capital, dutch case-knife bean, dutch case knife bean, dutch chair, dutch cheese, dutch chile, dutch clinker, dutch clover, dutch cocoa powder, dutch colonial, dutch colonial style, dutch colonization of the americas, dutch comfort, dutch concert, dutch corner, dutch courage, dutch cupboard, dutch curacao, dutch cut, dutch disease, dutch doll, dutch door, dutch door bolt, dutch east india company, dutch east indies, dutch elm, dutch elm beetle, dutch elm disease, dutch elm fungus, dutch euro coins, dutch famine of 1944, dutch flat, dutch florin, dutch foil, dutch football league, dutch football league teams, dutch genever gin, dutch gilt papers, dutch gleek, dutch gold, dutch golden age, dutch government in exile, dutch guiana, dutch harbor, dutch harbor–unalaska, dutch hip hop, dutch hip roof, dutch hoe, dutch iris, dutch island, dutch john, dutch kentucky syndrome, dutch language, dutch lap, dutch leaf, dutch leonard, dutch limburg, dutch liquid, dutch literature, dutch lunch, dutch marble, dutch master, dutch metal, dutch mineral, dutch monarchy, dutch monetary unit, dutch music, dutch myrtle, dutch national flag, dutch nazi party, dutch new guinea, dutch nightingales, dutch oil, dutch oven, dutch oven furnace, dutch paper, dutch parliament, dutch people, dutch pink, dutch politics, dutch process cocoa, dutch process cocoa powder, dutch processed cocoa, dutch pudding, dutch railways, dutch reformed, dutch reformed church, dutch republic, dutch revolt, dutch roll, dutch royal marines, dutch rush, dutch school, dutch schultz, dutch settle, dutch sewing, dutch shepherd dog, dutch terms using, dutch tile, dutch tilt, dutch treat, dutch type, dutch uncle, dutch war, dutch war of independence, dutch wars, dutch west india company, dutch west indies, dutch wife, early dutch renaissance, east India company dutch, fancy dutch marble, first anglo-dutch war, first anglo dutch war, fourth anglo-dutch war, fourth anglo dutch war, german or dutch brass, go dutch, going dutch, high dutch, hope dutch, in dutch, isle of hope-dutch island, isle of hope dutch island, kitchen dutch, klm royal dutch airlines, low dutch, middle dutch, my old dutch, old dutch, old dutch marble, pennsylvania dutch, pennsylvania dutch language, royal dutch shell, second anglo dutch war, south african dutch, the dutch monarchy, third anglo dutch war, united dutch provinces, upsee dutch…etc.