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I Have a Schwedding Problem: Ben & Jerry’s Shweddy Balls Product Name Review

By Mark Skoultchi

September 12, 2011

I’m a fan of Ben & Jerry’s, both their ice cream and their naming. Clever tributes to music greats (e.g., Cherry Garcia and Phish Food), loser spouses (i.e., Chubby Hubby), and off-beat, if annoyingly self-aware indie films (i.e., Neapolitan Dynamite) have earned the company a reputation for irreverent, provocative and exciting naming. And fortunately for their marketing department, even when they’ve served up a somewhat vanilla flavor name (Americone Dream comes to mind) their product development folks have delivered, and good. I actually like the name Karamel Sutra, but more impressive was figuring out how to keep a caramel core soft when surrounded by frozen ice cream during manufacturing and distribution. Pure genius. You go, geeky science food guys!

So what to make of their newest flavor name, Schweddy Balls, a vanilla based ice cream with a hint of rum and packed with, what else, malt balls? I haven’t tried the frozen concocktion yet (I’ll bet it’s delicious), but frankly, I’m not sure I want to. It was probably inevitable that at some point, in that crazy marketing kitchen, with all those provocative and irreverent names being stirred up, that the otherwise good naming folks at B&J were going to over season a name and end up something too strong and, well, distasteful. For me, this one’s just a little hard to swallow.

For those of you with brain freeze, the name references a hilarious SNL skit in which Alec Baldwin (Pete Schweddy) joins Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon (the hosts of the fictitious “Delicious Dish”, an NPR parody program) to promote his holiday popcorn and cheese balls. That is, his Schweddy Balls. If you haven’t seen the skit, it’s classic, and you can imagine the number of double entendres.

I know representatives for the company have already made statements about the name, indicated that their customers understand and appreciate the humor in it, but I’m a customer, a naming professional, and a dad to two young B&J fans, and I think it’s going too far. I think their marketing folks got carried away and somehow ignored the fact that they were naming a FOOD product, and that their audience is broader than the Vermont late-night pot-smoking scene. Of course many B&J flavor names are provocative, but none evoke associations with perspiring genitals, an image and idea that has GOT put off a good many people, save perhaps folks like Puerto Rican Senator Roberto Arango and Dustin Diamond.

I’m trying to imagine how Catchword might’ve evaluated this name if we had developed it ourselves.

Before we recommend a name to a client we’ll discuss its appropriateness for the brand and fit within their existing portfolio of products, it’s ease of use (i.e., how well it works in a marketing and sales context), its memorability, and its availability profile. That’s simplifying things quite a lot. Of course all projects are unique, with unique name and brand requirements, but in general, a name must be considered against at least those measurements.

Invariably, names don’t perform equally well across all measurements. One that’s highly distinctive and memorable may have a more attractive availability profile, but not be as good a fit with the existing family of products. One that’s simple to understand and intuitive in a marketing and sales context may be less distinctive in the space and more challenging from a trademark perspective. As much as we hate to admit it, in most cases naming decisions require just a little bit of compromise. The one exception being the name CATCHWORD, which is just freaking awesome and great in every way.

I think where Schweddy Balls really glistens is in its memorability. Once there, it’s pretty darn hard to get the image of dripping wet testicles out of your head (try as you might), and so the name succeeds in lodging itself in your mind like a ball in a semen sack.

And, while we haven’t done a trademark screen of the name ourselves, I’m gonna go out on a stiff limb here and say Schweddy Balls looked pretty darn good from an availability perspective.

So that’s the positive. It’s distinctive and it’s available.

Here comes the compromise.

This name does not work well in a marketing and sales context. For many people, it will be embarrassing to order, hard to say (I keep mistakenly saying Shveddy instead of Shweddy), and inappropriate for the younger set. If you’ve been to a B&J ice cream shop recently you know that the environment is very family oriented. My local shop sells kids t-shirts, beanie cow plush toys, frisbees, youth notepads and pencils, and a push and roll kid’s truck! I think I can handle my 9 year old daughter ordering “It’s A Cluster” but might feel the urge to wash her mouth out with soap if she asked for Shweddy Balls. Gross. And so, because the name is inappropriate for my daughter it also alienates me, the dad, who might otherwise not care so much about the reference.

The name’s disconnect with the younger set has implications for its brand fit. It’s somewhat hard to reconcile the apparent effort to create a family focused retail environment with a flavor name like Shweddy Balls. Until now, I’ve felt that B&J has done a great job of walking that line, of developing clever, provocative, mature names that didn’t offend my ideas of good taste and parental sensibilities. Furthermore, the marketing folks have been deft at balancing a myriad corporate brand traits, including fun, funny, socially conscious, irreverent, independent, and again family friendly. With Schweddy Balls I think they’re deviating.

Oh, and remember how I said that all naming projects are unique, with unique name and brand requirements? Well, Catchword’s worked on a lot of food and beverage naming assignments, and one objective that seems to be universal and constant is that the name sound at least somewhat appetizing. That is, even if it doesn’t make your mouth water (for instance, if it’s more abstract) it at least shouldn’t turn your stomach.

Overall Grade: C-

Grade:
C-
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