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Why brand interactions are kind of like The Avengers

In the Avengers comics, several superheroes have to team up to beat a single, super-powerful bad guy.

It’s the same with brand interactions: It takes a lot of positives to overcome a negative.

Bad experiences are powerful. They stick with us. We won’t explore the complex reasons for this here, but the fact is, a single negative can wipe out all the positives that came before it. Any positives that might follow had better be pretty heroic – or the customer/brand relationship is doomed.

A quick story illustrates this:

For months I’d been receiving direct mail flyers from a digital services provider. Bit by bit, their beautifully designed and well-written mailers convinced me I should bundle my Internet, phone and TV service into one product they provide.

My wife and I drove to one of the brand’s retail stores to sign up. The store was new, well laid out, and fun to look around in. We started getting excited about how cool it was going to be to have the service.

But all the positivity building up was about to get knocked out cold by a single negative: The guy signing us up for the service wasn’t knowledgeable.

Maybe he was new, but that doesn’t matter. When we asked a question – whether it was about a promotional discount, options or installation – he either didn’t know or looked very uncertain as he flailed at an answer. (I’ve seen deer about to be flattened by semis that looked more relaxed.)

His lack of preparedness gradually unnerved us and made us question if we were doing the right thing. (At one point during the excruciating process we almost said forget it.)

In the end we ordered the service, but with the caveat that we could cancel the order prior to the installation date. We drove home agitated and confused, leaning towards canceling.

Fortunately for this brand, however, all was not lost. It was about to be rescued by the extraordinary technical support person I called when I got home. She was a marvel. She had answers. She had energy. She took ownership of my problems and solved them. In the end I was so impressed I had her get her supervisor on the phone so I could rave. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wears a cape and tights to work; she was that good.

But here’s the bottom line: Had she not used all her powers to overcome the damage done by the store experience, a customer would have been lost.

So let’s remember that every brand interaction counts. Your agency can produce award-winning work for you, but that’s only part of brand-building. The follow-through has to happen at every touchpoint.

 

50 time-tested brand names, A to Z

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You’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to learn why we think this one is good.

Below are some of those well-known “household” names and a brief description of why they’ve stood the test of time, plus a couple of new ones that are exceptionally well done. (You may also want to check out our previous post on what goes into creating a successful brand name.) 

  1. Ajax: Even if you don’t know the mythology – Ajax was a Greek hero known for his size and strength – the name’s construction and sound still convey a sense of power and authority (hence the tagline that Ajax is “stronger than dirt”).
  2. Armor All: These two words flow like one when spoken, succinctly conveying the benefit this product offers: the ability to protect many items from dirt and deterioration.
  3. Axe: The epitome of brevity. A manly name with a youthful edge (pardon the pun).
  4. Brillo Pad: “Brillo” is a coined name that sounds like a combination of “bristle,” “brush” and “quill” (with an added “o” for energy and lift). Upon hearing the name, who could doubt its ability to scour away even the toughest guck?
  5. Cascade: A perfect name for dishwasher detergent, conjuring images of a crystal clear waterfall leaving everything it touches sparkling clean.
  6. Cheer: A product named Cheer brings a smile to the chore of laundry. It’s a “bright” word you automatically associate with brighter clothes.
  7. Clorox: Combining a root term (in this case a stylized spelling of “chlorine”) with an “x” suffix is a common tool for creating a word with a “scientifically formulated” flavor to it. (Windex and Tilex do it too.) It doesn’t hurt that “ox” sounds hardworking too.
  8. d-CON: It doesn’t matter if no one knows what this name actually stands for. It sounds scientific and just a little dangerous/intimidating. The no-nonsense nomenclature signals that this is serious stuff.
  9. Dove: The name hits just the right note for women. What could be softer, whiter, more beautiful or more soothing than a soap called Dove? (Of course, a male version would need to be called something like “Hawk.”)
  10. Downy: Like a baby bird’s feathers, this name is soft and fluffy too, which is how the maker hopes you’ll envision the product leaving your laundry.
  11. Drano: Like “Brillo,” this name gets forward momentum from the “o” (which could be symbolic of an unclogged pipe too). The name also serves as shorthand for “drain opener.”
  12. Duracell: Eveready and Energizer are solid names, but Duracell is unrivaled in creating an image of a power cell that lasts. Combined with the phrase “the coppertop battery” and the tagline “no other battery looks like it or lasts like it,” the moniker makes for a powerful sales message.
  13. Easy-Off: Easy to say too. The name credibly promises to make the hateful chore of oven-cleaning almost effortless.
  14. Fantastik: Changing the “c” on the word “fantastic” to a “k” transforms an over-the-top boast into a more playful coined term with a sense of “magick” and quickness.
  15. Formula 409: This scientific-sounding name implies that substantial research went into creating the cleaner. (Perhaps it took 408 failures before they finally perfected the solution.) Aided by the “For- and Four” repetitive device, it rolls smoothly off the tongue – much better than, say, a Formula 827 would – despite its six-syllable length.
  16. Fresh Step: A nicely conceived name that’s easy to say and remember, and instantly creates an image of the product benefit.
  17. Glade: This simple name subtly triggers the imagination. Fresh greenery, pleasing aromas, a natural setting…these are the images the company wants the name to create in the consumer’s subconscious mind.
  18. Goo Gone: Not the most artful name ever devised, but its straightforward communication of the product benefit can’t be questioned.
  19. Gorilla Glue: The repetitive G’s are fun to say and the imagery of a gorilla implies that this is strong stuff.
  20. Gumout: Like “Goo Gone,” this name tells you exactly what the product is going to do for you, plus it’s easy to say.
  21. Huggies: Parents want to feel their babies are cuddled in coziness at all times. This name conveys this pleasant notion – plus the more literal benefit of a gapless fit that keeps teeny little messes contained.
  22. Irish Spring: The adjacent “sh” and “sp” sounds are a little tough to say, but what other name could convey the notion of springlike freshness in such a merry manner?
  23. Ivory Snow: What could be cleaner, whiter, or more pure? This romantic, metaphorical name even sounds soft when spoken.
  24. Just For Men: This straightforward name successfully mitigates the self-consciousness older men may have about buying hair dye.
  25. Liquid Plumr: This name lends the product the personality it needs to stand out from the crowd. (One also wonders if Liquid Plumr is friends with Janitor In A Drum.)
  26. Method: The latest addition to this list of names. The “method” name is a stroke of inspired understatement that conveys “practical,” “modern” and “economical” with a simple sophistication and “green” implications. It is unlike other names on this list in that it is more abstract (doesn’t say what it is or does; doesn’t convey a benefit). Yet the thought of working with a “method” implies completing a task quickly and efficiently. And it doesn’t hurt that the packaging clearly reinforces this notion.
  27. Miracle Gro: This name instantly has gardeners envisioning “Jack & the Beanstalk” type results.
  28. Mop & Glo: The floor isn’t just clean or shiny; it actually glows. That’s quite a promise.
  29. Neutrogena: A nicely coined word with numerous word associations: “Neutro” is akin to “nutri,” conveying health and wholesomeness. The second half of the word, “-gena,” is feminine sounding, alludes to “genesis” (life) and imbues the name with clinical credibility (through similarity to words like collagen, estrogen, antigen, etc.). Is it any wonder the word “rejuvenating” springs immediately to mind when you hear the name?
  30. Off!: A perfect name for insect repellent. The exclamation point is a stroke of genius that makes the name active and energetic rather than merely descriptive.
  31. Oil of Olay: Oils are natural and moisturizing. Olay is exotic sounding. The two words sounds soothing together. According to Wikipedia, the name is a spin on the ingredient “lanolin.” And a clever one at that.
  32. Old English: “Old” implies enduring quality, timeless appeal and an air of gentility. “English” implies class and refinement. Together they evoke images of wood-paneled rooms in country estates. (Old Spice is another name that benefits from the “Old” moniker.)
  33. Palmolive: Combining the words “palm” and “olive” creates a single word that embodies soft, supple and organic. Even the way the two words blend together creates a sense of fluidity.
  34. Pampers: Your baby’s backside deserves all the pampering it can get.
  35. Quaker State: Like “Keystone State,” this name is a nickname for Pennsylvania, where the brand was long headquartered. The “long-a” sounds and the order of the consonants allow “Quaker State” to flow smoothly when spoken. (Try saying “Puritan State” instead and you’ll hear the difference.)
  36. Quikrete: Need concrete fast? This is the product for you.
  37. Resolve: This name assures the user that the product has the strength and tenacity to remove tough stains. Who could question that kind of resolve?
  38. Scotchgard: This name capitalizes on the equity of the Scotch brand. The stylized spelling of “guard” is a pleasing phonetic follow-up (much better than, say, “Scotchshield” would sound).
  39. Scrubbing Bubbles: A fun, rhyming name that says exactly what the product is and does. Cartoon “bubble” characters on the can and in the TV spots help reinforce the name too.
  40. Sea Breeze: This name sounds so refreshing you almost expect a gentle puff of cool wind to hit your face when you open the bottle. 
  41. Secret: There’s something about the word “secret” that appeals to women. (Right, Victoria?) Despite the advent of the internet and “Girls Gone Wild” videos, the vast majority of women gravitate to a name that alludes to modesty and feminine mystique.
  42. Slime: Hats off to the person or team who had the guts to approve this unconventional brand/product name. Their gamble has paid off. Who doesn’t love Slime?
  43. Shout: This product avoids the “me-too” naming pitfall by not trying to mimic its competitor Spray-N-Wash. Of course, shouting has absolutely nothing to do with stain removal, yet the tagline “Want a tough stain out? Shout it out!” has been effective. (The word “out” being a part of “shout” helps.)
  44. Slick 50: Like Formula 409, this name uses a word/number combination that slides smoothly off the tongue and indirectly conveys the product benefit. (Slick 49 wouldn’t be the same, would it?)
  45. Swiffer: This is a fun name that sounds lighthearted and promises to take the drudgery out of floorcare. Compared to sweeping, “swiffering” sounds effortless, perhaps because its “wiff” component conveys a light and airy feel. Ending the name with an “er” (as in worker, cleaner, scrubber) makes it sound like it’s doing the work, not you.
  46. Tilex/Windex: There’s no mistaking what these two products are used for. Like Clorox, they benefit from the “scientific X” suffix that connotes a lab-perfected formulation and clinical efficiency.
  47. Ultra Brite: On the brightness scale, ultra bright probably represents the highest end. This is a solid promise of dental dazzle conveyed in a fun-sounding name.
  48. Vigoro: This plant food brand name combines vigor with grow, and rhymes with “Figaro” so although it’s a coined term it isn’t unfamiliar sounding.
  49. Wisk: This name implies that, like a “whisk broom,” the product will remove dirt quickly, completely and without much effort from you.
  50. Zest: Despite the “Z” (typically associated with sleep) this product names implies a refreshing sensory awakening.

Why having a great tagline is so important (and having a lame one is self-defeating)

Great

As a word guy I’ve always been intrigued by taglines…how a handful of words could encapsulate the essence of an entire brand.

Even as a kid I thought they were cool. I liked knowing that G.E. was where they would “bring good things to life.” That Pizza Hut was where you could “let yourself go.” That you could feel “The Heartbeat of America” in a Chevrolet. And I took comfort in knowing that “when it absolutely, positively had to be there overnight,” Federal Express was fueled and ready.

Such is the power of a well-crafted line of copy. (Of course, millions of dollars in advertising helps too.)

Sometimes that line of copy is a single word (Coke just used “Always” at one point). But typically it’s two to six. (Making a strong case for your brand with just one word can be a little dicey.)

So what are the guidelines for writing a tagline?

Great

At our agency we believe a tagline must be:

• Simple
• Concise
• Memorable
• Easy to say
• Appealing to the human being reading/hearing it
• An accurate representation of the brand promise

Beyond that, it’s wide open. Depending on the brand, a tagline can be stoic, straightforward, heartwarming, humorous, whimsical, sexy, provocative, inviting, dramatic, open-ended or specific.

A well-crafted tagline that resonates with an audience can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years, even decades.

Not great

Just for fun, see if you can name the brand these phrases go with:

  1. Think Outside the Bun
  2. Get the door. It’s ______.
  3. I’m lovin’ it.
  4. When you’re here, you’re family.
  5. Let’s Build Something Together
  6. More saving. More doing.
  7. It’s everywhere you want to be.
  8. Better ingredients. Better pizza.
  9. Eatin’ Good in the Neighborhood
  10. That was easy.

Okay, now for the lightning round. Here are some classics:

  1. Like a Rock.
  2. The quality goes in before the name goes on.
  3. Don’t leave home without it.
  4. Have it your way.
  5. Finger lickin’ good.

(If you’re stumped on any, the answers are below.)

How’d you do? Did you know the brand associated with the line? Or had you heard the line but couldn’t quite identify the brand it went with? Were any completely unfamiliar?

Although it’s not entirely fair to judge a tagline outside the context of an adjacent logo or brand environment, how well the taglines above resonated with you can give you at least some insight into their effectiveness.

Which ones above achieved any/some/most of the following?

• Made an emotional connection
• Encapsulated the user experience
• Differentiated the brand from others
• Reaffirmed the brand promise
• Conveyed smart thinking
• Staked out territory, category niche
• Described/clarified the product or service
• Acted as a call to action

Naturally, no phrase can do all of those. But good ones can do more than one.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a few tagline projects:

• “The Seal That Solves It” – for NAPA Gaskets by Fel-Pro
• “Made to Fit. Built to Last.” – for MTD Genuine Factory Parts
• “As Good As I.T. Gets” – for MRK Technologies (a local information technology company)

They use phonetic/mnemonic devices such as alliteration, parallel structure or just a slight twist of a familiar phrase to help them “stick” in the reader’s mind.

Two of them continue be used. The third had a run of several years. (All of which is great, because it means they did their job.)

Of course, there are plenty of taglines out there that don’t work. They leave no impression and are easily overlooked, forgotten or mistakenly associated with another brand.

It’s usually because they’re guilty of one or more of these mistakes:

• Blandness – no reason for anyone to remember it
• Boastfulness – off-putting self-aggrandizement
• Clunky – hard to say, no rhythm
• Triteness – saying what everyone else has said
• Silliness – misplaced or unfunny attempts at humor
• Stating the year founded (e.g., “Since 1910”) – says nothing except that you’ve managed to exist

Taglines that fall victim to the above will almost always fail to connect.

But when a tagline works it’s a powerful tool. One that can anchor a brand’s marketing efforts for years to come.

(This link will take you to a site where you’ll find dozens of well-known taglines and advertising slogans arranged in alphabetical order. Although it’s not particularly current, it’s still very enjoyable to peruse. And what it lacks in timeliness it more than makes up for in volume.)

Tagline quiz answers:

  1. Taco Bell
  2. Domino’s Pizza
  3. McDonald’s
  4. The Olive Garden
  5. Lowe’s
  6. The Home Depot
  7. Visa
  8. Papa John’s
  9. Applebee’s
  10. Staples

Classic tagline quiz answers:

  1. Chevy Trucks
  2. Zenith televisions
  3. American Express card
  4. Burger King
  5. Kentucky Fried Chicken

 

Naming, Part I: It’s hard and all the easy ones are taken.

Occasionally our agency is asked to craft a name for a new brand or product.

It can be a fun project.

It’s also hard as heck.

That’s because most of the simple one-word names are already taken. If it’s a single, cool-sounding word, someone is probably using it.

Here’s a little brainstorming exercise that proves the point: Imagine an automaker in Detroit has asked you to come up with a name for a new car.

(Although in reality cars are marketed towards specific demographic groups, for the purposes of this discussion just imagine a “generic” vehicle and consumer.)

Where do you start?

You could run through a list of animals. You’d come up with Jaguar, Cougar, Eagle, Falcon, Skylark, Viper, Ram, Barracuda, Impala, Bronco and Mustang to name a few. (All kept shiny with Turtle Wax, no doubt.) Those names have all been used. Tiger? Lion? Panda?

Those just won’t work, will they?

So you try, let’s see…how about Zodiac signs? Taurus, Aries…crap, those are taken and the rest are kind of…out there.

Speaking of stars, does the universe offer a solution? Ford has a Galaxy, Mitsubishi an Eclipse. Mercury and Saturn are in use. Milky Way is fine for a candy bar, but not a car. Andromeda is too feminine. (And please don’t suggest Uranus.)

How about mythical names? Well, you’d think there’d be a lot there too, but other than Saturn, Mercury, Aurora and Thunderbird the pickings are pretty slim. You can’t exactly call a car Zeus or Thor.

And Puck is right out.

That leads us to Greek terms. Let’s see, there’s Delta (taken) and…um, not much else.

You move on to names of places: Several sound really great and conjure up cool imagery – Aspen, Daytona, Malibu, Sierra, Milan, Capri – but of course they’re taken. You try picking other cities – Pittsburgh, Flint, Kalamazoo – and quickly realize you should just keep moving on.

What about music? Hyundai has the Sonata. What else could we try? Melody and Harmony would be great if the car were a girl. Octave? Nocturne? A bit technical. Most of the other terms are incomprehensible to anyone who doesn’t speak Italian.

Becoming slightly desperate, you throw caution and political correctness to the wind and begin exploring the hunting grounds of Native American tribal names. Unfortunately, Jeep has beaten you to the punch and grabbed up Cherokee, Apache and Comanche. Dodge took Dakota, and GM has owned Pontiac since General Custer’s time (not to mentioned the misspelled Aztek). Mazda even took the Navajo. You’re left with Cree, Sioux and Hopi, and there’s not much you can do with those.

A-ha! Why not something with just letters and numbers, like Mazda RX-7, Audi A4, Pontiac GTO or Ford F-150? Trouble is, letters and numbers don’t mean much on their own (although some, such as A, V, X, Z and the number 1 have more personality than others). It usually takes a massive marketing campaign to imbue an alpha-numeric name with meaning.

It’s at this point that you realize that coming up with a name, while perhaps still fun, will not be easy.

Barring the use of an existing single word that’s exactly right for your product and audience (Pontiac nailed it with Vibe, Kia with Soul, Nissan with Cube), what we’re left with is essentially three options:

  1. Putting two words together: Grand Prix, Grand Am, Town & Country, Town Car, Fifth Avenue, Ramcharger, Sunfire, Range Rover, Crown Victoria, PT Cruiser (PT isn’t a word, but…)
  2. Putting a prefix in front of a word: Ford Econoline, Pontiac Trans Sport. (This is actually a better option for car parts than for an actual car. Think of Duralast batteries, ThermoQuiet brakes, AutoLite spark plugs.)
  3. Coining a new word.

Option 3 has become particularly popular these days. We’ll talk about the challenges of coining a new name in an upcoming post.

NEXT: Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.