How a name can change our perception of a brand

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A recent article by The Guardian discusses how a name can rapidly change meaning. It takes the example of a young girl named Isis after the ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility. A name held by many and once considered unique and interesting, yet now holds a negative connotation.

A name can shape how we perceive a person or a brand, however it’s not always easy to predict how our perception may change.

​For brands, a similar problem can arise. For instance, in the 1970s, Ayds Diet Candy launched ‘delicious cubes of Ayds’ - who incidentally changed its name following the aids epidemic in the 80s.

While you are unlikely to predict all circumstances that can change the meaning of a name, there are certain checks you can put in place. Our Creative Director, Rich, tells us how:

  • Foresight: when coming up with a name it’s important to think 5/10 years to come (not just here and now). Consider the potential changes to audience, products or services.
  • Competition: looking at the competitive landscape, make sure you carve a distinctive position in your marketplace and stand out against others in the industry.
  • Consider your options: assume there will be very few options available to you. Businesses have snapped up every imaginable option, even if the name is available for registration, the URL may not be. Always start with a long list and assume your first option won’t be what you go with.
  • Less is more: keep the name short and as simple as possible, as ultimately it will be more memorable.
  • Ensure it iterates well: this makes it easier for people to remember and pass on through word of mouth.
  • Translation checks: what makes sense in one country may be a big faux pas in another, so ensure it passes the sense check across borders. Mazda launched its ‘Laputa’ car to the horror of Spanish speakers – a direct translation to prostitute.
  • Personality: a name conveys the type of business you’re trying to communicate. However don’t assume the name will work on its own, it will take investment in the brand and marketing to create a personality around the name.
  • Internal buy-in: make sure internally you are all happy with the name – your biggest advocates come from within the company.
  • Support your brand: generally, well-supported consumer brands develop a personality and relationship with consumers, allowing recognition to grow over time. In this sense, the name becomes less important as the personality outshines it – Virgin being a classic example of this.

Some of the best known household brands started life with some extremely banal names that few people would remember. Some great examples include Brad’s Drink (Pepsi Cola), the catchy sounding Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Sony), and equally unmemorable Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (IBM), Blue Ribbon Sports (Nike), and finally AuctionWeb (eBay).

All these renamed brands are now so memorable that they span multi-generations. All have their own unique personality, identity and can work both nationally and globally.