Many new product names aren’t tested thoroughly enough, if at all. 80% of each year’s 30,000 new consumer products fail and inefficient brand building is partly to blame.

You might be familiar with the usual process: marketers rely on hunches or inefficient brainstorms that might lead to a list of possibilities. That’s all very well and good, but with no system to validate or rank ideas, demonstrating confidence in them is a challenge.

In this blog post you’ll find out why so many naming ideas fail at the first hurdle, plus we’ll show you some of the best (and worst) examples of the names that stick (and suck).

Why do product names fail?

It’s not unusual for product name consideration to be part of a hugely time-sensitive process, which means they can suffer from the debilitating effects of an impending deadline. Of course, some marketers fall so in love with their product’s unofficial ‘working title’ that they can’t see beyond it – and opt for this as its customer-facing identity too.

Contrastingly, some marketing teams try to apply too much logic. There is only so much information that can be conveyed at shelf level (this is the seven seconds a customer spends deciding whether or not they’ll buy your product) – so it’s largely pointless to sacrifice interesting or exciting names in favor of practical, logical ones.

And it’s not always wise to follow one’s gut feeling. Doing away with all the above concerns and choosing something that just ‘feels right’ could land teams with a poor name choice.

It’s also a good idea to consider if other products have similar names, or if the name means anything different in another language. For example, when it was first marketed in China, Coca-Cola was sometimes translated as “Bite The Wax Tadpole.” Not quite as appetizing.

The good: Effective product names

Few product names encapsulate a product’s features and benefits without stating them outright. There’s a certain skill attached to making a name like this stick – usually a combination of creativity, research, and promotion.

Sometimes, this is done so well that product names go on to become the term most commonly used to reference all other products in the field (for example: Hoover, Sellotape, JCB, and Jacuzzi). So, what are some examples of product names that communicate their appeal more effectively than competitors?

Eye-Toy

Sony’s first webcam for the PlayStation 2 boasted a catalog of fun, family-friendly games (cleaning windows or mimicking dance moves). The name managed to highlight the PS2’s impressive new tech while also emphasizing its primary use as a source of play. Launched in 2003, it had sold 10.5 million units by 2008.

Q-tips

With its Q standing for ‘Quality’ – this is a name that stays front of mind. These cotton swabs quickly became the most sold brand in 1920 (originally ‘Baby Gays’) and despite doctors declaring that sticking them in your ears is unsafe, consumers are never dissuaded from seeking their favorite tool for the job.

Innocent Smoothies

The term ‘innocent’ conjures images of untouched nature and youthfulness. It also matches the spirit of this health drink brand’s quirky advertising campaigns, as well as the beverage’s inherent feel-good benefits: they’re ‘innocent’ because they simply aren’t chock full of chemicals.

Cillit Bang

This is a cleaning product that could have wound up with a really bland and uninspiring name. In the short time available to brands at shelf-level, the name Cillit Bang can’t be missed. Combined with a persuasive, brightly colored marketing campaign, customers are never the least bit confused as to what this cleaning product is capable of.

The bad: Product names that miss the mark

Product names are mostly just okay. They’re not all starkly brilliant or awful. Many do their job and that’s all. Product names can fall short of greatness due to one unfortunate glaring fault and still fulfill their overall task of providing some differentiation from competitors.

iPhone X

In the first moments spent with your product – whether at the shelf or via an advert – you do not want to create confusion over how its name is pronounced. Is it ‘ex’ or ‘ten’? A voiceover could likely confirm – but in the digital age, a lot of people watch ads on mute.

Cue

Colgate launched this toothpaste in France without realizing its name matched that of a pornographic magazine – which could create some embarrassment at the supermarket checkout.

Eee PC

Despite the power of their uniquely small laptops, Asus was lacking a strong name for this product range. Three E’s in a row does beg the question: ‘do I say them one at a time or all at once’?

OnePlus One and OnePlus 2

If your brand of smartphones is called OnePlus, do not call your new model ‘One’ or even ‘2’. Mind-boggled consumers do not have an appetite for reciting algebraic equations at the checkout – they’ll just go and make choices that are easier to differentiate.

The ugly: Product names that just don’t work

A quick search online provides plenty of disaster stories about brand and product names that missed the mark – they can’t be pronounced, contradict the product, feature bizarre punctuation marks, or just look bad written down.

There are opportunities to reassert a bad name or to change it – but both are destructive and time-consuming in terms of brand-building. You’re much better off validating product names with your target audience before they hit the shelves.

Cool-er

What is this product? What does its snowflake logo represent? Is this some kind of refrigerator? Is it a device for measuring temperatures? You’re wrong on all counts: its name is supposed to combine the words ‘cool’ and ‘e-reader’. This is essentially a Kindle.

Cocaine

This eye-opening energy drink was loaded with 2.5 times the amount of caffeine found in a Red Bull. It couldn’t maintain positive energy surrounding its name, though. Cocaine was unsurprisingly pulled from the shelves in 2007 due to marketing itself as an illegal drug in liquid form.

I’m watch

Presumably trying to piggyback on Apple’s success with the ‘iWatch’ (the ‘i’ providing never-before-seen intimacy and personalization), this Italian watch company doesn’t quite match the hype. Short of sounding like a knockoff, consumers respond: ‘I’m not a watch’.

Qriocity

Is this name trying to replicate the essence of the word ‘curiosity’ with needlessly science-fiction spelling? Sony’s service is now called ‘Music Unlimited’ instead, which is admittedly bland, but at least it’s a name that can actually be read aloud.

Tips to ensure product naming success

  1. Don’t go for a boring product name that conveys too much practical information
  2. Go for the jugular – make sure your product name is striking and cannot be ignored
  3. Write it down, read it aloud, translate it, and research your competitors’ names
  4. Consult your target audience to avoid having to rely on ‘gut instinct’

We think the best way to avoid product naming pitfalls is to test. Develop a list of potential names, each with their own pros and cons, and screen them with audiences you think will show the most interest.


Download our naming guide outlining a product name’s top priorities, the questions asked by a consumer at the shelf, and the best methods for testing product names – including group focus sessions and DIY research.

A James Hodges

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A James Hodges

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