Brand naming: when bad names make good brands

Creating new brand names is no easy task. Names have to be short to be remembered and distinctive enough to break through the clutter. Looking for potential negative connotations is best-practice as no global brand manager wants a name that means poop in a relevant language. But are all bad names, or names with some negative association, an automatic no-go?

It’s important to distinguish between offbeat yet viable name proposals and genuine red flags. Think of Poison, Dior’s most iconic perfume. In the weeks following its launch in the mid-1980s, it was reported that one bottle was sold every 50 seconds – in Galeries Lafayette, Paris, alone. Its popularity reached such heights it prompted some restaurants to hang “No Smoking. No Poison” signs at the door – speak of great brand awareness for a name that evokes a lethal substance! And thirty years in, Poison still symbolizes that certain attitude, that willingness to stand out and challenge convention.

No smoking. No poison.

There are two main variables to account for when considering names with shock value – audience and context. For lifestyle products in cosmetics, fashion, or beverage categories, audiences will tend to be more open and appreciative of such names while business audiences in traditional industries, not so much. “Lucifer” would definitely have a better chance making it as a vodka brand than an insurance company. The context a name is used in will also play an important role. Consider the word “death”. Not exactly something you’d feel at ease for a new brand of rock climbing equipment. But in the context of coffee drinking, its meaning can be reinterpreted to highlight product features like flavor and caffeine blends – perfect for an edgy brand like the Death Wish Coffee Company who claims their coffee is the strongest in the world.

Consider audience and context when considering a name with shock value.

Although meaning is somewhat malleable, there are some names so overwhelmingly associated with one negative meaning that they should never be used in name creation. Take “Hitler”, the name of an Indian men’s clothing store. That’s a name blooper by any standard. Click here for other epic naming fails. When used wisely and in alignment with a brand’s positioning, an edgy name can provide just the attention you need to compete in a crowded category.

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Text credits: ARD / agi

Images credits: Albany Business Review / Nö Eelys

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