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.

 

 

 

 

Need A Brand Name? Pick Igor’s Brains

 

Are your brand name brainstorming attempts long on storm and short on brains? Igor has plenty of brains in stock, ready to help you name whatever needs naming.  Most have very low mileage, are hardly ever driven during the week, and are used only sparingly on weekends to scan refrigerator contents and such. Jump in and pick our brains!  

Tips for picking a brain:

– Do not pick if the skin is too green–it’s not ripe yet.

– The brain should be viscous and phlegmatic, yet hold up to a good thumping. Not too firm, not too soft.

– The end that was twisted from the brain stem should be pliable when you poke your thumb through the outer membrane. If you can’t break the membrane with your fingernail, the brain was picked prematurely.

– Smell is the most reliable indicator of freshness.

– Have fun with it, but keep it platonic.

 

Our collection of brains can be picked through right here, at the Igor Brain Depository:

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