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Should Average Joe Name Your Product?

by Drew McLellan  |  
June 21, 2007

The Super Bowl seemed like the national debut of the notion that agencies don't have all the smarts and you might just get a good idea by running a contest and letting Mr. or Mrs. Consumer craft your Doritos message. Well, here comes the next wave.

An e-marketing agency has announced that on behalf of their client Phytolabs Solutions - they are holding a contest to invite consumers to create a brand name and tagline for a new over the counter immune-booster.
According to the official press release, the marketing company is confident in this "crowdsourcing" method will generate the right brand for their product. The contestants are given some superficial information about the product. Potential customers are identified as busy moms and dads, traveling teens, seniors who want to get the most out of life–and pretty much everyone in between.
Two other things of note before I pose a question or two:

  • There's a payday attached to this. The winning name earns $15K and the winning tagline $7.5K.
  • No pros allowed. So don't start sharpening your pencil.

So, what do you think? Can Average Joe create an effective brand? If the company did a side-by-side comparison and let the pros compete against the consumers .... what would be the differences? Similarities?
Which of course leads me to .... does a product's name/tagline matter or are they just empty vessels that are given meaning by what the company does with them?

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Drew McLellan's a 25+ year marketing agency veteran who lives for creating "a ha" moments for his clients, clients' customers, peers and audiences across the land.

Drew writes at his own blog, Drew’s Marketing Minute and several other hot spots. He authored 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing, co-edited the Age of Conversation series of books with Gavin Heaton, and he launched his own firm McLellan Marketing Group in 1995.

LinkedIn: Drew McLellan

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  • by Gavin Heaton Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Sure an Average Joe can create an effective brand. It happens everyday, and it happens all around us. From corner shops to local franchises, the average and not-so-average are building businesses, forging relationships and creating value. But you are going to get an awfully large number of entries. You might find a nugget of gold, but when it comes down to naming -- there really is an art. And if you want to save TIME or create something that truly is unique, then you need a professional. And a lawyer. Those trademark infringements can hurt ;)

  • by Andrew B. Clark Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    That's taking "consumer-driven" into a focus group arena. Now, my question would be what is the criteria for judging? Will it be an open vote on the internet of the top 10 or does the "agency" pick the best and present them to the client. And on top of the $15K and $7.5K for the results, how much does the client pay for this "innovation?"

  • by Nic Darling Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    It seems to me that the name and tag are secondary to the positive buzz this sort of promotion creates. If they are smart about it and use professionals wisely in the filtering/adjusting system, they can probably end up with a similar name and tag to what an agency would have produced for them. It is actually a bit more work this way and will take more time, but the word of mouth benefits seem worth it. I wonder how many people followed the outbound link from this post alone.

  • by Paul Barsch Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    I second Gavin's comments. There's not too many good and available names for a brand these days. Even made up and Latin names are just about gone. Round up the lawyers, I wish them luck.

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Gavin, Well first...we have to recognize that when this marketing company says brand, they mean name and tagline. (I couldn't disagree more but that's another post!) So do average Joe's create real brands by how they run their companies etc.? I agree with you 100%. They do every day. But, really the question there a value that agencies bring to the naming and tagline creation that's different from what a typical consumer might offer? Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Andrew, With a focus group -- you give them something to react to. This situation calls for the focus group to create the creative...and then the company reacts to it. As I understand it, a "panel of judges" will make the determination. I suspect that panel is a blend of agency and client types. And beyond the prize money, there is no other pay out. Other than to the lawyers etc. But they'd have those expenses either way. Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Nic, So you're saying that the viral up side is worth the risk? I'm sure that's their ultimate intent. Especially since this is an over the counter remedy. What do you think of the "no pros" rule? I'm not sure why they wouldn't open it up to everyone...potentially get someone who does this for a living play for a shot at the money. Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Paul, I wonder if there is a Greek God of Immune systems? ;-} When in doubt, name it after a God! Look what it did for Nike. Drew

  • by Cam Beck Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Gavin - You hit the nail on the head. I wonder if they would consider opening up the contest to rename "Phytolabs Solutions."

  • by Bill Gammell Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Nice post and discussion. I do think that names and taglines are lifeless until the breath of life (actions) gives it life. However, this doesn't mean that the lifeless skeleton of a name and tagline does not lend to the strength of the brand. The name and tagline still have to be very strong. My thoughts as to why this is not open to professionals: 1. Imagine the outcry from the average Joe if a professional won? They would think that they were in on it from the start. 2. Some average Joes may not even try knowing that they are up against professionals. Thanks again Drew!

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Cam, LOL! I thought the same thing! Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Bill, Interesting points, thank you. I always find this kind of conversation very interesting. No one is going to argue that a strong name and tagline gives a new company or product a serious boost. And yet when we point to the world's most remarkable brands, very few of their names are remarkable. I think the pro or no pro decision was probably a no win situation. No matter what you do, someone is going to accuse you of either discrimination or favoritism or a rigged contest. But as Nic has suggested, maybe it doesn't matter as long as it adds to the buzz. Drew

  • by Nat@Nudge Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Agree with Bec on this one. It seems the viral process would be the best upside on this one. Brand names and taglines are "knock-out" factors. A good brand name does not make a brand successful, but a bad brand name can surely hurt. The brand is about all that other business stuff as well. But with the company willing to engage consumers in this interactive dialogue, seems to me they are building good foundations. cheers

  • by Drew McLellan Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Hey Nat, So, let's assume the contest is going to produce mediocre names. Nothing horrific. But nothing tremendous either. Then...good idea or bad? Drew

  • by Nat@Nudge Thu Jun 21, 2007 via blog

    Yeah lets say it will produce a mediocre idea. Them i doubt Phytolabs Solutions are potentially no worse of than if the let the professionals handle this naming and tag-line exclusive. Remember the Ernst & Young and McKinsey & Co. study that basically said The number of branding failures, many based on "positioning," exceeds 90%. I would like to think my fellow marketers are not responsibly for this - but I also like to believe in Unicorns and elves! I guess what I am saying is, so long as the brand name and tag-line do not deter consumers - then this allows the company to build its brand through the things that will ultimately sustain it. Of which, I think listening to consumers in an open transparent way is a good start and provides some good viral marketing karma at least. Then again, i don't know what level of traction a viral campaign for an immune-booster will get. what do you think. cheers

  • by Matt Hamilton Fri Jun 22, 2007 via blog

    It's a good thing they aren't blindly taking the top vote getter. A similar promotion ended badly for the FleetCenter - when they offered naming rights, bought it at auction and elected to use an infamous inside joke.(

  • by Shelley Ryan Fri Jun 22, 2007 via blog

    Have you ever visited the MarketingProfs forum, the Know-How Exchange? It's become an insanely busy place for soliciting free ideas for product/business names and taglines. Occasionally effective. Always fun to participate in, as long as you don't let all the realtors get on your nerves. ;]

  • by Doug Morneau Fri Jun 22, 2007 via blog

    Thanks for your feedback Shelly, I did post the in the MarketingProfs Know-How Exchange. See

  • by JakeNudge Sat Jun 23, 2007 via blog

    Did Google hire an expensive agency to come up with their company name and tag line? No, they got a couple of computer nerds (Larry and Sergey) to come up with the name (which incidentally is a typo ). Apple did the same thing, to my knowledge Steve Jobs chose it cause thats what he had in his hand at the time. Richard Branson's Virgin (probably the most recognized brand out side of the US) got a bunch of teenage hippies to come up with the name (Branson being one of them)! Many of the brands that we are so comfortable with today are nothing more than the surname of whoever started the company! For this reason I agree with those who have said its what the company does that makes the "brand".

  • by Drew McLellan Mon Jun 25, 2007 via blog

    Matt, I had forgotten about the incident. It sounds like this contest is not quite so loose. They've retained the rights to select the final winner and I suspect also to decide that no one wins. So...get a bunch of ideas for free and reward someone if they come up with a good one. And as many commenters have suggested -- a name is an empty vessel until you give it meaning. The question really is, does it matter at all what kind of vessel you start with. Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Mon Jun 25, 2007 via blog

    Shelley, Yes, I have been there on several occasions. You're right, sometimes some great ideas are grown from those discussions. But sometimes it also feels like I am asking my plumber why my arm hurts. I think it just requires the asker to be smart about thinking through the advice he/she receives. Which certainly isn't specific to asking average joes for their help. It's always a good plan. Drew

  • by Drew McLellan Mon Jun 25, 2007 via blog

    Jake, You make a compelling argument. So...if a potential client came to you and wanted to hire you to name their new company: Would you do it? Would you recommend they do it themselves? How would you answer the question -- why do I need a pro's help on this? Questions we'll all need to be ready to answer, I suspect. Drew

  • by Doug Morneau Thu Jun 28, 2007 via blog

    WOW .... We have received some very good feedback and different points of view from our peers. Q. But as marketers what is missing from these discussions??? A. Basic tombstone data on those who entered along with details of what they think of the space, existing products used along with frequency of buy, budget, rational for using this type of product and so on– Numbers higher than expected; Time on site in many cases is over 9 minutes. Not bad for a "new site" with a "new product" yet to be launched showing a lot of interest in the science and product. This data regardless of the name or brand should provide some insight on media and channel spend. Site Blog Blog This dialogue is much appreciated Doug Morneau ... 1.877.605.7022

  • by Andrew Fri Sep 7, 2007 via blog

    Well no one one any of the cash prizes. This company is just sleazy. First it can't decide by its own deadline. And then it says no one won. I would never buy their product and I hope the media that hyped their contest will now rip them apart. Just sleazy if you ask me.

  • by Andrew Mon Oct 22, 2007 via blog

    Are they ever going to tell us what name they came up with? If it is so much better than the ones we sent in, how come they are not forward with it? This was nothing but a publicity stunt all along. That's fraud. To have a contest knowing that you are never going to award prizes.

  • by Marc Mon Oct 4, 2010 via blog

    I don't agree about that all good names are gone. The .com/org/net domain might be quite occupied for shorter names, but the names are still there. The are allmost unlimited variations of made up names, try for instance GlobalNamings name generator and you'll find some of them. The problem is that people are struck in old naming trends instead of thinking outside the box.

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