The Strange Science and Magic of Naming your Product or Company

The announcement came in the 1990s – Ericsson of Sweden, working in collaboration with HP, had developed a new wireless innovation that would change the way we share files over mobile telephony. The Swedes developed the technology and the Americans recommended that it have a brand name, but they did not have a creative advertising agency assisting them in coming up with a winning name.

Scratching their heads, the Swedes aligned behind a couple of possible names: one famous, one not, or at least not yet. The famous name was passed over for the not-yet-famous name that had its roots in Scandinavia going back centuries.

The process to get behind this legendary name that would go in to brand this new experience was mental gymnastics. Beforehand there was a lot debating among the technicians. Afterwards reviewers said it was “appropriate,” “mind-­blowingly cool” and an “exciting preview of the future.”

They settled on Bluetooth. It was so novel that it had been hard to think of a word to label it. Its inventors had wanted a name that would become part of the public consciousness the same way Dolby and Imax had. An iconic name. A timeless name.

“Bluetooth” is derived from the nickname of King Harald Blåtand a legendary Viking who (somewhat violently) brought together warring factions in what are now Denmark, Norway, and Sweden into a single kingdom. King Harald reigned from 958 to 986 and got his nickname from his penchant for eating blueberries – although the less charitable claim his teeth were dyed blue from chewing the (presumably frozen) flesh of his slain enemies.

Likewise when we were hired as an advertising agency for rising tech superstar company from Waterloo, Canada, at the time named RIM, we led a project to create the framework that landed on the name BlackBerry.

On the surface both of these world-famous names seem obviously perfect in every way. Beforehand they were seen as ridiculous, lightweight and not serious enough.

Finding such names is not easy. Naming a new technology, a new product, a new company or two companies that merge is hard, and can be made a lot easier with the help of a top advertising agency.

The process itself to get to a name goes through a fairly standard development story for tech start-ups or entrepreneurs or VCs alike. The founders or investors, typically computer scientists, entrepreneurs or finance people, begin with a big idea that leads to a software, hardware, something to wear. Then, once the product is evaluated as something worth investment, the founders fast forward to raising capital to bring the company to life. In the process they initially deprioritize the name for the product / company.

Then when it’s time to raise money they realize it’s a critical complement to how their innovation will be evaluated. They pull all nighters to come up with a new name. “How hard can it be?,” they boast. But they can’t come up with a name. At least not one that feels right, is breakthrough, can be registered legally.

Very quickly it becomes apparent that the entrepreneurs aren’t going anywhere and that coming up with a name is very hard. Then they realize they need help from a top advertising agency. This is typically when EvilPotatoes is called in and given the assignment. EvilPotatoes is the name of our naming experts who were part of the two tech naming projects above. They help entrepreneurs shepherd their production process to the marketplace, and it is EvilPotatoes that gets them to the solution.

Arriving on a great name requires a process. One part of the process is level setting expectations on the kinds of names that we will likely end up with. You don’t need to be a naming expert to know that most simple and oftentimes great names have already been registered by tech companies, entrepreneurs the world over, or by the pharmaceutical industry which has been busy the past few years coming up with loads of new brand names. The other part of the process, once a few powerful names are identified, is convincing the entrepreneurs that the name is fantastic. People have a thought in their heads of what the name should be and when a name is discovered it often falls short in their mind if it’s not what they expected. This is not to say that the new name isn’t awesome, it’s just different from what was expected. EvilPotatoes works to level set expectations from the start to increase the winning conditions to identify and come up with a name.

Case in point is the name Orange. The famous name for one of the world’s great mobile operators in Europe. The story goes that when the CEO of Hutchison Telecom was shopping around for a new name for Hutchison Telecom Mobile company, he tasked his team to find a name that was modern, felt fresh, environmental. They went to the market in the UK and researched names with consumers and came back with confirmation that indeed consumers really liked Hutchison Telecom Mobile as a name. The CEO courageously declined the name and resent his team back out to research groups with a short list of more progressive names. Orange was on the list, a name fee took seriously. Instead of asking consumers what name they should give to Hutchison Telecom Mobile, they asked if you hear the name Orange, how does it make you feel? The answers confirmed that the name was exactly what the CEO was out after, and he bought it on the spot.

Naming is essential. Naming is important. Given our expertise as a creative advertising agency, we recently worked with the government of Dubai on city branding, to name the great new city being built along the border with Abu Dhabi, to the south of Dubai. At the start, we felt strongly that the city, at the time named DWC (Dubai World Central), deserved a name that helped brand the city to the world but should also help people know instantly where it was located in the UAE. We landed on the name: Dubai South. Two years earlier we had worked on the branding the center of Dubai, which was crowned Downtown Dubai, Centre of Now.



For more information on how to name your product, company or geographical location please contact EvilPotatoes.

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