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