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February 23, 2006

Product Naming: Looking for Naming Rules in a Cinematic World

Naming a movie doesn’t follow the same rules as naming a product or company.

In Hollywood, "fit to concept", "brevity", and "trademarkability" count much less than the quest for names with cinematic flair and pure evocativeness.

Successful movie names are, as the Oscar nominations demonstrate, eminently suggestive. They don’t have to fit. Rather, I think they tease, they entice, they even confuse. The recent Crash, Collateral, Brokeback Mountain and The Constant Gardener fall in this category – all employing metaphors, similes, personifications or abstractions to draw in their audience.

And since brevity is not the soul of a hit, I find that a good number of successful film names don’t skimp on syllables; as a result, they can be highly descriptive. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory make it on the marquee, but wouldn’t fit on a product package.

Eight BelowWhich brings me to Disney’s successful new movie release. Eight Below could easily have taken the descriptive naming route, resulting in the expository title: Eight Sled Dogs Below the Antarctic Circle.

Instead, the film's marketers liberally dissected the sentence and left us with an adjective and preposition minus the noun and the prepositional object that support them. The resulting Eight Below is so suggestive that I think it literally falls off the map.

Does Eight Below stand for...

  • Eight Degrees Below Zero? (I live in Minnesota and the film was released in February)
  • Eight Feet Below the Surface? (A potential sequel to HBO’s 6 Feet Under)
  • Eight Degrees Below the Antarctic Circle? (I checked a map and this seems feasible)
  • Eight IQ Points Below Average? (Paul Walker may be a hunk, but he isn’t the sharpest blade on the sled)

So, you see by going the suggestive naming route, Disney has broadened its youthful target audience to include Minnesotans, HBO subscribers, Rugged Explorers and Paul Walker fans (the movie even finds a way for Walker to shed his shirt).

Chomsky and PushkinAnd there’s more. Because “eight” is a homonym for “ate” (the past tense of “eat”) this is the first movie name in years that has the ear of my two omnivorous Siberian Huskies, .

Unfortunately, Chomsky and Pushkin have not been allowed inside the theatre to see the film for themselves. This has resulted in a howlingly sad scenario which I call Two Loving Siberians Waiting for Their Master in the Cold Outside a No Pets Allowed Movie Theatre or, more provocatively, Two Outside.

To read more about the marketing of movies, check out these blogs:

To read more about Eight Below and what others are saying about it, check out:

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Posted by Diane Prange at February 23, 2006 10:03 AM
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