Medical device product name – Heartstring
Guidant Heartstring

In 1997, the medical device manufacturer Medtronic introduced a vacuum cardiac stabilizer called "Octopus," an evocative, intuitive name that referenced the arms and suction elements of the device. The announcement of the name brought laughter and derisive comments from competitors, "No one wants an octopus holding their heart, it's suppossed to be stabilizing, not dangerous!" At the time, Guidant's competitive product was called "Axius," a typical Greek/Latinate morphemic-constructed type of name common to surgical equipment.

The Octopus name began showing up in lectures and in quotes from surgeons in articles, even when the Guidant Axius was the product being referenced. In just a few short years, Octopus has become the default name for all similar cardiac stabilizers, much like FedEx, Kleenex, Xerox, etc. became synonymous with their products. Without employing a huge marketing budget, Medtronic captured the hearts and minds of their target audience and made it impossible for anyone to steal them back, no matter how many advertising dollars were thrown at the problem. The long-standing wisdom (fear) that a surgical device needed a "serious sounding" name to appeal to surgeons had been laid to waste. Medtronic has proven that, contrary to popular belief, surgeons are human. Shocking.

Guidant was not only determined not to let this happen again, they wanted a name that would be a category-killer for the new product they were soon to release. Our assignment was to come up with a name that would achieve common, default usage. A name that would, pardon the pun, spread virally. And thus "Heartstring" was born, and did just that.

The Heartstring is a coiled string that is used in place of a clamp when making a graft to the aorta during heart surgery. Besides being descriptive, we chose Heartstring because it has a secondary emotional context, and because when the procedure is complete the surgeon simply "tugs on the Heartstring" to uncoil and remove it from the aorta. Since the name had three points of connectivity with the audience, we knew the chances were great of it attaining the Holy Grail of default usage. And indeed it has.