Blame the name: the tricky copywriting art of successfully naming a product

By Andrew Boulton

March 12, 2013 | 4 min read

If was in a band I would call them ‘The British Crisps’ and our first album would be called ‘Ralph The Dirty Crow’. Then, when I won my Brit Award I’d get smashed on free Lambrini and say something frightfully rude about Coldplay.

But I digress a mere 43 words into this week’s blog, the subject of which is the joyous copywriting task of coming up with names for products.

If cleaning out the Monster Munch crumbs from my keyboard is the worst thing about being a copywriter, naming products is by far the best.

Admittedly, my naming suggestions do not always meet with the unqualified praise and admiration they deserve. My attempts to name a credit card, ‘Squid Card’, was rather poorly received.

I do however fully sympathise with the overwhelmingly cautious approach most clients take to choosing a product name. Get a product name wrong and it will simply flop.

Now, at this stage I would normally point towards examples of a disastrous piece of naming that illustrates my case. I do this largely because some blog readers get strangely furious when I fail to provide examples.

However, in this case I do have a perfectly valid reason for being unable to illustrate my argument. Products that are named badly are, by definition, instantly forgettable.

I could point to the disastrous renaming of the Post Office as Consignia, but that failure was more due to their having the temerity to tamper with something people have known (and been largely disgruntled with) for many years.

In large, the only product names we are familiar with are those that have successfully burrowed their way into our consumer consciousness.

Which helps us establish the absolute core principle of product naming – the name must be memorable.

I doubt very much that insights like that are going to shake the foundations of copywriting, but it is not as simple as it may seem. Honestly.

Words that already exist will have the in-built recognition factor one needs when giving something a name. On the flip side, using a word already in common (or uncommon) parlance inevitably means there will be a certain amount of social and cultural baggage inherent to that word.

The deodorant brand Lynx, for example is named after a species of wild cat that, by all accounts, smells mostly of dead voles. Luckily, those crafty devils have skirted around this potential hazard by bombarding their audience of teenage boys with images of beautiful girls and dubious promises about their sexual appeal.

The alternative is to invent an entirely new word, a course not to be embarked upon lightly. The biggest danger with creating your own new term is that the default methodology for this tends to resemble the creative output of an Apprentice candidate/idiot.

For example, you are launching a deodorant that is refreshing and sleek. Combine the two words and you (and by you I mean someone of Apprentice level mental capacity) have ‘Reek’. Even those saucy, vole-smelling geniuses at Lynx would find it tricky to pull that one off.

I think it probably may be these challenges that make product naming such a rewarding part of the job. It’s also because it is one of the very few aspects of the job where I can get away with justifying what I write on the basis that something is simply a nice word.

Now, don’t forget to go to iTunes and download the latest single from the British Crisps – ‘Cheese Volcano’. With that on your iPod and a blast of ‘Reek’ under your arms, the ladies will be all over you. Honestly.


Andrew Boulton is a copywriter at the Together Agency. He very rarely smells like a dead vole.


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