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For more guidance about company and product naming, check out Catchword’s Resources.
Who does multimedia powerhouse Collective Hub turn to for advice on brand naming? Catchword co-founder Maria Cypher, of course!
Nothing like prospect of a recipe change to get brand loyalists all hot and bothered. Coke has rebranded Coke Zero to Coke Zero Sugar, promising that Coca Cola Zero Sugar will have an “even better unique blend of flavors” … and riled up they got.
At first glance, the change can be a head scratcher. Coke Zero, as the name suggests, has zero calories. Calories can come from either fat, sugar, or protein. So there is no way that Coke Zero had sugar in it to begin with. In fact, Coke Zero and Coke Zero Sugar list all the same ingredients (though perhaps the proportions were slightly changed), and preliminary blind taste tests suggest that die-hard Coke Zero fans can’t really tell the difference.
So what’s up with the rebrand? Why foment a fizzy fracas?
The first thing to note is that dietary focuses are changing faster and faster (paleo, kale, GF, Whole-30, ancient grains, La Croix, etc.), and it would appear that consumers are amending their purchasing habits more quickly as well. As such, food and beverage companies have learned to become incredibly responsive to trends. If you haven’t looked into the history of sugar in the food and beverage industry (specifically the big fight the sugar lobby had with the fat lobby, once upon a time), you should — but suffice it to say, sugar is out. And this consumer shift has happened relatively swiftly.
Further, it has always been the case that shoppers don’t want to have to look too hard at the labels. That’s why name brand drugs like Zyrtec and Tylenol still sell even though they are next to the cheaper, exact replicas Wal-zyr and … whatever the Walgreens version of Tylenol is. That’s also partly why foods that don’t contain gluten, and never have, now are labelled gluten-free. (Of course, the gf label is also a promise that there has been no cross-contamination.)
So Coke needed to make sure people knew without having to think too much that Coke Zero has no sugar. That explains the primary goal. But why did they need to change the whole packaging and name? Why not just add a short little “Does not contain sugar” line?
With soda, acquiring customers often takes the form of launching a new product rather than marketing an existing product. It’s relatively easy to switch around the packaging for these big companies; soda makers crank out new varieties that are more or less gimmicks all the time. (Remember when men weren’t buying Diet Dr. Pepper, so they made Dr. Pepper 10 to make them feel better about buying something lo-cal?)
What’s interesting in this case from a naming perspective is, this is a rare example of a major brand rebranding a less descriptive name into something more descriptive. There are plenty of instances of companies rebranding from more descriptive to less — e.g., RadioShack becoming The Shack, Research In Motion (RIM) becoming BlackBerry, or Overstock.com becoming O.co. But the other way round is rare.
It speaks to the pace of change in the food and beverage world. It speaks of a more fungible industry, and faster consumer spending habits. And in industries where the cycles can be short (like, say, naming mobile games), names have to get to the point and hop on the trend as fast as possible to make money. There’s no time to mess around, and they’ve found it’s easier to introduce an apparently new product to consumers than clarify something about an existing offering, even if they are, for all intents and purposes, the same.
What’s interesting in this case from a naming perspective is, this is a rare example of a major brand rebranding a less descriptive name into something more descriptive.
Catchword partner Mark Skoultchi offers some insights into the naming biz in “13 Secrets of Professional Naming Consultants,” which recently appeared in Mental Floss.
Mark tells it like it is regarding practitioners of our profession,
“‘The notion that namers are hippies and poets jotting down names on cocktail napkins couldn’t be farther from the truth,’ says Mark Skoultchi, a partner at Catchword, the agency that named the Fitbit Flex and Force and Starbucks’s Refreshers line.”
and our process,
“So before namers get together to present feasible ideas to the clients they’re working with, they come up with hundreds, if not thousands, of potential options. ‘At Catchword, 200 names is scratching the surface,’ Skoultchi says.”
Great work, Mark!
True story: when Alex was 5, his parents paid him 2 cents for every dandelion he pulled up from the yard. He probably exacerbated the problem by blowing the seeds off the top of every one he pulled up. But we tell this story not only because it was the first line on his resume, but was a stark lesson in the arbitrariness of what we consider weeds.
Which brings us to Dandelion, a new startup from Alphabet (Google’s parent company) created to offer affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for the home.
The idea is simple — 300 feet into the earth the temperature is always 50 degrees. Send a pipe down that far, and in the summer, the system cools your house with that air. In the winter, when the temperature outside is freezing, water in the pipes absorbs some of the earth’s heat to warm your home.
The system costs 20-25 grand, and is currently available in select upstate New York counties, which is perfect for giving people sweating it out in the city this summer another reason to dream about moving north.
Now, the sticklers out in the sticks will tell you that dandelions are weeds. But dandelions, as weeds go, are great. You can make a salad from the leaves. You can make wine out of the blossoms. Traditional medicine systems used it to treat various ailments. (A pretty useful resource for a weed!)
Dandelions are tough, resilient, and can flourish anywhere — sidewalks and concrete driveways be damned! The yellow flowers are cute as buttons. Plus, it’s downright magical the way the tiny seed umbrellas are swept off by the wind. No wonder we make wishes on them.
As a name, Dandelion gets to a natural, happy thing in your yard. It sounds elegant yet homey, suggests tenacity and strength (of a lion!), and is very pleasing to read and say. People who grew up with the flowers generally have fond associations with the word. It is a bit long syllabically, though not bad simply counting the number of letters.
But how does Dandelion convey geothermal heating and cooling you say?
The company’s approach centers on drilling pipes into the earth to access a steady temperature, much as the dandelion sends it long taproot deep into your lawn to access a steady supply of water and nutrients. And dandelion wishes subtly suggest the company’s aspiration for a future where homes are heated and cooled with renewable resources.
Note that these are beautiful, and apt, metaphors, but don’t directly communicate heating or cooling. One could make the case that the company would be better served with a name that clearly expresses the company’s core functions given that the technology has never been marketed to individual homes before and could be unfamiliar to consumers.
But if geothermal takes off, there will be plenty of Geothermal Citys and Cool Earths around so a name like Dandelion, with its deeper meanings, will really stand out. Plus, the company may want to expand its business down the road.
Dandelion has legs (roots?) for the long term.
(When choosing a name, particularly when naming a company, always think long-term. You don’t want to be limited by it a few years from now. For other company naming tips, see our many Resources. If you need more help, drop us a line.)
When I was 5, my parents paid me 2 cents for every dandelion I pulled up from the yard. I probably exacerbated the problem by blowing the seeds off the top of every one I pulled up. … Which brings me to Dandelion, a new startup from Alphabet (Google’s parent company) created to offer affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems for the home.
Emma is still the top baby name for girls. That’s the third year in a row. (And it’s placed in the top 5 since 2002.) Next come Olivia, Ava, Sophia, Isabella, and Mia. All very old-school European and feminine with that final “a.”
The next four of the top 10, Charlotte (inspired by the young English princess, no doubt), Abigail, and Emily are also old-fashioned and feminine. Harper at number 10 is the only modern or androgynous name.
For boys, Noah tops the list, where it has stood for the past four years. The dignified Liam and William [Irish and English versions of the same name] follow — they’ve ranked in the top 5 for the past five years plus. Like Charlotte, William‘s popularity may also have been influenced by the English royal family’s increased visibility since the wedding.
As with the girls, the majority of the top names for boys are old-fashioned, but unlike the Latin- and Greek-derived feminine names, the boys are largely biblical: Noah, James, Benjamin, Jacob, Michael, Elijah, and Ethan. Mason (number 4) is the only top 10 not found in the good book. Like Harper, it is a given name taken from an occupation-based surname.
See the full list, searchable by name, year, and change in popularity, at SSA.gov.
Emma & Noah still number 1. According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular baby names haven’t changed much from the past few years, with old-fashioned and biblical being common themes.