What product used the irritating slogan “Ring around the collar!” in its commercials? If you said Wisk, you are one of the few who remember. Many of us recall the slogan, mostly because it was so grating, but few remember the product that supposedly removed “those dirty rings.”
For the record, there is no longer a laundry detergent called Wisk, which was on the market for more than 60 years, and though the name is defunct, it is actually known under the product name of Persil and top rated by Consumer Reports.
So the slogan was memorable, but the brand name wasn’t. There are still a good number of commercials on television that are appealing, enticing and striking, but you may have trouble remembering which product they are promoting. Catchy, witty and memorable brand names are getting tougher to find, which may be why so many of them are vapid and forgettable.
If you start a business, you’ll likely come up with your own name, and it can pay off big time. Dave Thomas did what a lot of people starting businesses did back in the late sixties. He named it after his daughter, Wendy, and it is now a fast-food giant. However, lots of businesses have been named after the owner, the owner’s spouse, the owner’s kid or the owner’s dog and fallen by the wayside. Sometimes it needs to be a great product first of all, and then the name doesn’t matter so much.
I discovered, in my research of brand names, that a surprising number of businesses, from bakeries and restaurants to gift stores, go by the name “When Pigs Fly” or “Flying Pigs.” It means you succeeded when others said it couldn’t be done —when pigs fly.
Naming is a big business nowadays, and the likes of General Motors, Toyota, Procter & Gamble and Sony will pay these naming companies big bunches of bucks to come up with just one word. It has to be just the right word. There are only so many real words— just short of 171,500 in the latest Oxford English Dictionary, but most of the usable nouns have been used, and many product names, like Oreo and Hulu, don’t seem to be words at all. Yet it’s still a huge challenge to come up with a brand name.
Adobe, which manufactures photo and graphics software, was looking for a name for a user-friendly graphics editing software, and hired a company aptly named Catchword to come up with a single-word name. It took Catchword a month of intense research, analyzing word after word in the dictionary, before they came up with the word “Elements” to add to the Photoshop line.
Fortunately for Nabisco, the company came up with the name Oreo, the most popular cookie on the supermarket shelves for years, without the assistant of naming pros. Turns out the company, which called it the Oreo Biscuit at its inception in 1912 isn’t sure how the name came to be. Their best guesses are spin-offs of the French word for “gold” and the Greek word for “mountain.”
Naming companies take their craft seriously. One of those companies is Albert Dali, and here’s how they describe their epithetical expertise, though their sentence structure and punctuation might lead to a failing mark in a ninth grade English composition:
A name is the shortest story of a brand. Told with extreme economy. You need the precision of a surgeon. And the patience of a sculptor. To get it just right. Overanalysis might lead to paralysis. And under preparedness might result in dire consequences. That’s why, naming is best left to experts.
Although that seems a bit wordy for explaining monosyllabic mastery, it is true that choosing a brand name is all about telling a story, creating a strong image, with just a word or two. Some brand names became so well known that they have become generic words or phrases: bubble wrap, crock pot, Jacuzzi, Chapstick, Kleenex, Scotch tape, Q-tips, Velcro, weed eater, Band-Aids, dumpster, Frisbee, windbreaker, Xerox, power point and Google, to name a few.
Of course, with every great success, there are brand names that suck. As a matter of fact, Starburst released a hard candy brand called Sucks. There was also a brand of orange drink called Suks. There is a brand of soda called Pee Cola, whose name may be forgiven because it was bottled in Ghana. Not so forgivable is a detergent soap called Lemon Barf. There was a diet candy called Ayds, and there was a product (maybe still is) called Frenzied Cat Meat which, thankfully, was not a snack made from cats. Even worse was its boast on the packaging that it included “effective carp attractants.” Would this entice you to buy this snack for your cat? There was a toothbrush called Oral-Me and some brand names that were lewd or erotic by accident or intent.
As for poorly conceived business brand names, I would have to include Killer for Hire, which is the business name for a Louisiana exterminator, and a liquor store in Massachusetts called Bunghole Liquors. A bunghole is a hole drilled into a liquor or wine barrel but is also vulgar slan. Finally, there is the S&M Family Outlet, a discount clothing and housewares chain in Texas that probably should have reversed its initials.