What's in a Name? A Copywriter's Guide to Product Naming
The early car makers didn't waste a lot of time creating fancy names for their cars. They named them after themselves. Ford. Buick. Chevrolet. Chrysler. Dodge. Ferrari. Porsche. Rolls-Royce.
Soon, however, things changed. Future generations of automobile marketers decided that they could sell more cars if they came up with exciting, evocative names -- names that men, then the principal buyers of cars in America, would find irresistible.
For example, when they were marketing to the upwardly mobile family man who aspired to wealth and class, they offered the Town & Country, the Park Avenue or the Crown Victoria.
The younger, free spirit went for the Aviator, Sunfire, Liberty, Escape or Explorer.
The macho guy with the open beer can, who you never want to flip off when he cuts in front of you, chose the Viper, Marauder or (most ominously) the Crossfire.
That's all well and good. In America, a car is a means of wish-fulfillment as well as a means of transportation, and buying a car with a highly evocative name is A-OK with me.
What turns me off is a new trend in product naming that I find quite repellent. I'm talking about giving everything, from cars to companies, names that don't mean a thing.
For example, today you can go out and buy a Chevrolet Aveo, a Hyundai Elantra, or an Oldsmobile Alero. In my view, these phony names are nothing but pretentious efforts to sound modern, hip and sophisticated.
Let me give you another example. The company formerly known as Phillip-Morris, produces a lot more than cigarettes. They owned brands like Kraft, Maxwell House, Nabisco, Oreo, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia, Post and Tang. Obviously, Phillip-Morris wasn't crazy that its reputation as a cigarette purveyor was tainting its other brands so it decided to put everything under a new umbrella and change its name. What does the company call itself now? The Altria Group.
In other words, it has decided to become invisible and fly under the radar with a non-name. It could be the perfect name for a car . . . The Nissan Altria.
Yes. Sadly, a lot of the marketing language used today is empty language. But you can do better.
My advice? Insist that the marketing materials that you write or have written for you are crisp, clear and compelling. Never settle for clichés and flat, boring prose. And finally, don't be afraid of lighting up your copywriting with personality and emotion.
Let your competitor drive the Aveo.
YOU drive the Porsche.
Ivan Levison is a freelance direct response copywriter who works for companies like Bank of America, Fireman's Fund, Intel, Microsoft and many others. Levison writes direct mail sales letters, e-mail letters and ads. For a free subscription to his monthly e-mail newsletter for software marketers, visit his Web site at http://www.levison.com. He can be reached at (415) 461-0672 or at email@example.com.