the product naming blog

June 8, 2012

When it Comes to Brand Naming, You Really Need to Know Sh#t from Shinola

I'm fascinated to see the arrival of Dallas-based company Bedrock manufacturing in Detroit.

They are setting up an upscale watch company at Detroit's College for Creative Studies A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in New Center.

Shinola-watch.jpgThe watches look great and they plan on making half a million of them a year. This may actually be the revival of the American watchmaking industry. But the thing that has really caught my attention is the brand name...


Now, some of you may recall that Shinola used to be a shoe polish that saw its heyday in the 1940s. The shoe polish has since disappeared (although it has a Facebook page) but a classic expression that incorporates the name has lived on: "He doesn't know sh+t from Shinola."

The phrase even made it to the big screen in Steve Martin's The Jerk.

Now, one might think that the people who chose the name overlooked this expression, but interestingly enough, they liked it so much it was the inspiration for the name. The expression came up in a "heated brainstorming debate" and it, well, stuck.

Made-in-Detroit-Logo.gifJust as interesting is the equity the Detroit name has. The company chose to set up production of the watches there because they found that "Made in Detroit" actually means something.

The car ads have obviously paid off and brought a certain gritty panache to the city. In fact, Detroit seems to be slowly becoming aware of the value of its name.

When consumers were given a choice between a $5 pen made in China, a $10 pen made is the US, and a $15 pen made in Detroit, they preferred the more expensive pen "Made in Detroit."

Behind all this strategic planning is the founder of the hugely successful Fossil Watches, Tom Kartsotis, so this is no stab in the dark. Apparently, people like Kartsotis really do know sh+t from Shinola.

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June 6, 2012

End of an Era: Sara Lee Brand Naming Changes to Hillshire Brands

After renaming their international coffee and tea division D.E. Master Blenders 1753, Sara Lee has now renamed its North American business Hillshire Brands Co., which will trade on the NYSE as HSH.

The name comes from the Hillshire Farm brand that was acquired in 1971, which Sara Lee says represents the company's "ambitions for growing our portfolio of iconic brands in the future."

Meanwhile, the name Sara Lee will be maintained for the food service division as Sara Lee Foodservice.

As one would expect, the company will have a new visual identity for its "meat-centric brand and snack solutions."

Obviously the Sara Lee name meant "bakery" to many people, but the Hillshire Brands portfolio includes meat brands, such as Jummy Dean, Ball Park, Hillshire Farm and State Fair as well as two "artisan" brands: Aidells and Gallo.

Hillshire Farm was established in Wisconsin in 1934 by Friedrich (Fritz) Bernegger in New London, just northwest of Appleton. The name still stands for "quality, integrity and superior taste" according to Sara Lee.

This is not the first time Sara Lee has embraced a name change. The Sara Lee name dates back to 1939, but the name itself was changed in 1954 to Consolidated Foods, only to switch back in 1985 to Sara Lee.

I think this marks the beginning of the end for the Sara Lee name as we know it, ushering in a far more streamlined approach to a greatly transformed company. Yet, I am glad the Sara Lee name will remain in some capacity even if I am not expecting to see it on retail shelves anymore.

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February 13, 2012

Falling in Love With Product Names

AppleLove.pngThe word "love" has a special place in the heart of advertisers. It signifies both recognition and a strong emotional attachment, as well as brand loyalty.

And some brand names are feeling some serious love as Valentine's Day approaches.

In fact, one group conducted a survey asking the consumer "What brand do you love most" and "Why?" The list includes popular brands consumers easily recognize due to their immediate appeal such as Apple, Sony, and Coke.

At the beginning of the month another group generated a "brand love" index score, with Apple once again on top, followed by Porsche, BMW and Ferrari. Note how they are aspirational brands.

Ad Age is quick to remind us that "Love just isn't enough anymore. In brand relationships, good customer service, high customer satisfaction and even professed brand loyalty won't keep consumers from ditching a product for the competition. In fact, more than half of U.S. consumers did so last year."

Why? Because a whopping 44% of consumers surveyed say they expect more from their brands this year and are willing to switch if there is no delivery.

So, loving a brand and being faithful to it are two very different things.

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December 20, 2011

Chinese Brand Name Just Doesn't Travel Well

li-ning-logo.jpgToday is a grim day in the world of brand naming.

I was tempted to write about the final demise of the Saab brand name, because I have followed the story for a few years now.

What actually caught my eye was another piece of bad news.

Despite an endorsement from Shaq, the Chinese apparel company Li Ning Co. failed to break into the American market.

The company is named after the towering Chinese athlete you may have seen at the last Olympic games. Their aggressive bid to take up headspace with the American consumer seems to have fallen short.

The fact is, beyond Chinese borders, Chinese brands are a challenge to establish. Studies show that 83% of consumers outside of China are unable to name one Chinese brand or company.

China's most valuable 50 brands have a combined value of $325 billion. Compare that to Apple's $153 billion, Google's $111 billion and IBM's $101 billion. Yup. Those three companies alone have more brand value.

The Asia Times, published an article entitled, China's Brands in the Shadows, which quoted a marketing professor referring to the top Chinese brands as "invisible dragons."

There are many reasons for this. From a lack of creativity in the "command-control" structure of Chinese companies to the typical North American reluctance to attach value to things "Made in China" despite the popularity of companies like Apple and Nike who sell Chinese made products.

Another problem may be China's inward looking marketing.

But I might add that there are clear naming problems here.


Think about it. Would you buy sneakers from a brand called Li Ning? It sounds like Lining. As in, "the sidelines."

The country's biggest Internet service portal is called Tencent. Yeah, Ten Cent.

And China's largest casual clothing retailer? Metersbonwe. Try saying that ten times fast or slow.

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November 28, 2011

Cyber Monday Naming Not As Cool as Magenta Saturday or Camo Thursday

Cyber Monday.pngCyber Monday commences and sales may hit a new record. Think a projected $1.2 billion, up from $1 billion last year.

Black Friday, of course, was a a commercial success this year.

But did you know that the origin of the Black Friday name came from the headaches caused by the traffic jams and crowds in Philadelphia? The police hated the day, and dubbed it accordingly, and only recently has it been repurposed.

The name "Cyber Monday," of course, came about when The New York Times noted that "millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday and buying what they liked." 

The Feds have took notice of this day, too, and have nabbed 130+ domain names as part of "their continued crackdown on counterfeit and piracy-related websites."

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have carried on with "Operation In Our Sites", nailing the bad guys who sell and trade counterfeit merchandise unfairly online.

Or, as Gawker puts it, "The federal government has once again made it harder to find the best online shopping spots for all your counterfeit sports jersey and fake Louis Vuitton bag holiday shopping needs. Why? Because they want your family's holiday gift-giving experience to be authentic."

So protection of brand names remains a priority today, rightly so.

But just recall that there are more days to look forward to, and they have even more creative names. Try "Magenta Saturday," created by T-Mobile, who on November 19th were selling cell phones at a discounted price.

Matel's Pink Friday.jpg

Mattel has already held a "Pink Friday" and "Blue Friday" to reach girls and boys respectively.

And one outdoor chain is offering us "Camo Thursdays."

Heck, Amex has even held "Small Business Saturday."

But Green Tuesday is one of the more interesting days. This is from Green America, who offers us environmentally-friendly gifts made from, among other things, recycled nuclear bombs.

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