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From Tampons to Tablets: The Best and Worst Product Names of 2012

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As a naming agency, we're constantly astounded, amused... and, yes, occasionally awestruck by the brand names that naming consultants and other marketers come up with over the course of a year. And 2012 was no exception.

Here, then, are Catchword's nominations for the most inspired—and most misguided—product brand names of 2012.

The Best

Microsoft Surface. Microsoft is hoping to take a bite out of Apple with this Windows 8-powered entry in the exploding tablet market. Since few folks will remember Microsoft's limited earlier use of "Surface" as its multi-touch platform name, recycling is fair game. The name Surface is ideal here, evoking both a thin plane and a wide surface area—a deft allusion to the tablet's screen (which is larger than Apple's) and the functionality of the tablet's entire surface, including its cover/keyboard. It's also a welcomed change in a space infested with names like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime and Ematic eGlide XL Pro.

Chase Liquid. Chase's first prepaid debit card has a moniker that fits handily into its fine portfolio of product names, which includes Ink, a small-business credit card; Jot, the mobile app for Ink; and Sapphire, Chase's rewards credit card. Just as with Chase's other brand names, "liquid" is a real English word and it's short, memorable, and suggestive of liquidity. The word's sound and rhythm evoke both quickness and smoothness. All in all, a spot-on name for a product positioned as the "reloadable card that gets rid of prepaid problems."


McDonald's CBO. Normally, we're not huge fans of acronyms because they require explanation and quickly lose their meaning (anyone remember what BMW stands for?). But when used sparingly, acronyms can add a bit of spice. On a menu stocked with descriptive item names like "Premium Caesar Salad," the CBO stands out, inviting customers to wonder, "Hmm… what's that?" Congressional Budget Office? Chicken Breast Options? They'll be delighted to learn that it stands for "Cheddar Bacon Onion."

PayPal Here. PayPal branched out of the Internet-only payment space this summer with this mobile credit card reader. The name PayPal Here is simple and short, and it fits well with the friendly accessibility of the PayPal masterbrand. One of the most essential words in the English language, "here" is clear yet rich with layers of meaning, and in this context underscores the product's benefit: the ability to do business here and now; here and again; here, there, and everywhere.

Doritos Jacked. Our inner butterball salivates at the name "Doritos Jacked." Though earlier attempts to supersize the beloved chips have failed (Doritos 3D, R.I.P.), this new sub-brand looks promising. The chips are 40% bigger and thicker, and they come in two taste-tosterone-laden flavors: Enchilada Supreme and Smoky Chipotle. The name "Jacked" is aggro in all the right ways—evoking bulging muscles, jacked-up monster trucks, and bigger-than-life flavor: the perfect snack-coutrement for a presumably male audience seeking extreme taste experiences.

Nest Learning Thermostat. Technically, the Nest launched in late 2011, but its second model recently came out, and we love the name so much we couldn't resist including it. A smart home thermostat developed by an ex-Apple designer, Nest is a tour de force of form and function. The inviting name conjures up mama birds snuggling with baby chicks in a warm, cozy abode, and humanizes the clunky product descriptor "learning thermostat." Now that's the magic of a good name: It can even make you feel warm and fuzzy about a thermostat.

The Worst

So.cl. This moniker (pronounced "social") for Microsoft's social "experimental research project"—a sort of Google Plus meets StumbleUpon for storytellers—is a misfit. Sure, misspelling words to create an available domain name can work, if the pronunciation is intuitive (Flickr, Tumblr, and Digg are great examples). But as Del.icio.us learned the hard way, if you have to remind people how to spell and pronounce your name, it makes it much less likely that people will find you. Hmm... social media that doesn't want to be found? Maybe they should have called it anti.so.cl.

Tampax Radiant. Why is it so hard for product managers to talk like adults about menstruation? The branding of menstrual products has migrated intriguingly over the years from the antiseptic (Tampax, Stayfree Dry Max, RepHresh Brilliant) to the romantic (Luna Pads, The Diva Cup, Libresse), and even the defiantly celebratory (Moxie, GladRags, Party in My Pants). But there's such a thing as going over the top. Tampax Radiant—really? Whether you associate radiance with shining happiness or heat or radiation, this name is a disconnect. Last time we checked, most women don't expect tampons to help them get their glow on. They leave that to their cosmetics.

Pepperidge Farm Jingos! From the delicate sophistication of the Milano to those cheerfully crunchy little Goldfish, Pepperidge Farm has generally done an excellent job with evocative names for its cookies and crackers. Which makes its new cracker line Jingos! all the more jarring. Given the crackers' exotic flavors (like "lime and sweet chili" and "fiesta cheddar") and their vaunted "explosive taste," we can kinda see where Pepperidge Farm was going with this. They wanted to create a name with pop and energy. But it's not the best foreign food policy to name your crackers after ultra-nationalism, however "explosive" they might be.

Qsymia. With its bizarre spelling (why the Q? what's it all mean?), Qysmia signals nothing except, perhaps, qonfusion. The pill biz is notorious for cryptic and convoluted names, but even in this space, the name of this new diet drug is a total loss. And FDA regulations are no excuse. It's possible to create an evocative pharmaceutical name that clears legal hurdles: witness Lunesta or Viagra. Parent company Vivus Pharmaceuticals informs us that Qsymia is pronounced "kyoo-SIM-ee-uh." O-K... Now tell us how this coined name relates to weight loss, however remotely, and what the folks who came up with it were smoking.

Parrot Zik. We get that the consumer electronics space is cluttered and it's hard to differentiate... but Parrot Zik? Ick. With their advanced technology, these striking headphones designed by Philip Starck are a gadget guru's dream. But the ugly-sounding, arbitrary black box of a name clashes mightily with the actual product. It's strident and odd—hardly evocative of a high-end audio experience. The latest in a line of puzzling sub-brand Parrot names that are out of tune with the European masterbrand (from Asteroid to Grande Specchio), Zik takes the prize. This Parrot squawks.

Edge of Glory. "The Best Knife Sharpener Money Can Buy!" Granted, the world of infomercials isn't known for class. But even by the lax standards of late-night TV, this campy brand name is groan-worthy. It's unclear whether it was inspired by the Lady Gaga anthem or the Will Ferrell movie. But we snigger just thinking about it. ("Hey honey! Want to julienne some carrots? Lemme just use the Edge of Glory first, so the knife is ready to go.") Well, at least it's not dull.

What can we expect in 2013? We think we'll see more of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And remember, a bad name won't kill a great product, but a great name won't save a bad product!


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Laurel Sutton is a linguistics expert and principal at Catchword, a full-service naming company founded in 1998. For more information, contact Laurel at 510-628-0080 x105.

LinkedIn: Laurel Sutton

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Comments

  • by queenmarketing Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    Worst word used in an article 2012 - snigger! I was surprised to see that it really was a word, but all references say it's a variant of snicker - so why not use snicker instead?

  • by Justine Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    I totally agree with the author about So.cl. It has too much going on for such a short moniker. I have an account with So.cl. (that I've only used twice so far), and I am a bit disappointed that Microsoft couldn't come up with a better name for their first attempt at having a major social network.

  • by Laurel Sutton Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    Norma, I'm not sure I understand why you prefer "snicker" over "snigger". They're both perfectly acceptable English words with long histories. We like to use synonyms to make writing more interesting!

  • by Doris Ganser Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    It would be good if the inventors of new product names thought about at the start what their invented product sound like to foreign ears, when they tell us translators to leave the all the product names in English. When the meaning is really bad, as with the famous "Canadian Mist" (mist = garbage in German) a few years ago, it's relatively easy to explain but there are many cases, where we just can't explain in detail why the names may not come across or even give the wrong impression or simply sound wrong or are hard to pronounce.

  • by Ryan Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    A fun, interesting article but I'm with Norma on this one, I'd prefer "snicker" over "snigger" too. At first I thought it was a misspelling. It's kind of distracting.

  • by Alan Belniak Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    Here's one that is a great use of a double entendre to get a point across. (note: non-affiliate, i-don't-profit-in-any-way link): Duluth Trading Ballroom Jeans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13-Rqjt5kwg

  • by C. Makepeace Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    I remember Ayds -- that chewable diet candy that was on retail store shelves in the late 20th century. Of course, this brand name suffered from negative association after the fact of the sound-a-like disease's rise to prominance. Indeed, the manufacturer itself dug in its heels at one point, stating, "We had the name first, let the disease change ITS name."

  • by Trevor Wed Dec 19, 2012 via web

    I think it should be fairly obvious why one would prefer snicker to snigger, but a few reasons would include commonality, relative understanding of the general audience, and then just the word that's contained within it and the confusion that could result from what an unknowing audience might think it means.

  • by Mary J Wed Dec 19, 2012 via mobile

    Surface *is* a great name for the Microsoft product that launched this year, but I don't agree that the company's use of the name for a different product a few years back doesn't matter. As rare as they were, if you experienced this cocktail table on which the entire tabletop was a multi-user touchscreen you could set drinks on, it was pretty unforgettable. So striking, in fact, that when I heard Microsoft was making something called Surface for the consumer market, I raved to the group I was talking to about how amazing they were. We finally figured out we were talking about a tablet and not an interactive piece of furniture, but it was definitely confusing and a little disappointing, since 2012's Surface is nice, but not the dramatic departure from technology of the day that the Surface of 5 years ago was. You don't want consumers telling the wrong stories about your products.

  • by Gavrilescu Thu Dec 20, 2012 via web

    Great article! Still, I believe that Curiosity is the name of 2012 if we can consider it a product on Mars:)

  • by A Thu Dec 20, 2012 via web

    @Laurel, does it really need to be explained to you why "snicker" is preferable to "snigger?"

  • by Laurel Sutton Thu Dec 20, 2012 via web

    Are the words "titter" and "niggardly" off limits too? "Dickensian"? "Country"? (That last one was a pun for Shakespeare, by the way.)

  • by Alan Belniak Thu Dec 20, 2012 via web

    @Laurel's last comment: Thank you. I agree 100%.

  • by Andris Pone Sat Dec 29, 2012 via web

    Laurel - lovely list. The highlights for me are: Chase Liquid, for capturing the product position while adding to the network effect of the Chase nomenclature (e.g. Ink, Jot); So.cl, for making a social network antisocial, as you put it; Qsymia, for the hubris of its creators in believing we will either a.make the effort to figure out how to pronounce it, or b.find its pronunciation intuitive in the first place.

    My only point of polite disagreement with you is on CBO. Because the acronym does not conjure anything in the mind at all, I don't think it's in the same category as BELT, for example - which, because it is a riff (with an Egg) on the well-known BLT, is immediately suggestive and hooks in the mind. In comparison, CBO feels like an attempt to make attractive what sounds quite the opposite - a sandwich based very much on the unpopular onion.
    My two cents.

    If you are interested, I have developed my own list of the Best and Worst New Brand Names of 2012 (Justin Bieber's Girlfriend included), here: http://coinbranding.com/justin-biebers-girlfriend-fiat-abarth-among-best-an...

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