Want To Create A Powerful Brand Name? Beware The Literalist.




This is the most overlooked, counterintuitive truth in
naming – the difference between the way an internal naming
committee will evaluate a potential brand name and the way a target
audience will receive it. 

All the best names are provocations: Slack, Virgin, lululemon,
Target, Yahoo, Caterpillar, Hotwire, Bluetooth, Google,  Oracle.
To qualify as a provocation, a name must contain what most people
would call “negative messages” for the goods and services the
name is to represent.

Fortunately, consumers process these negative messages
positively. As long as the name maps to one of the positioning
points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning literally,
and the negative aspects of the name just give it greater depth. A
viral name must contain negative qualities.

Nothing is more powerful than taking a word with a
strong, specific connotation, grabbing a slice of it, mapping that
slice to a portion of your positioning, and therefore redefining
it. This naming strategy is without question the most powerful one
of all.

Potential names must be judged on how well they map to
positioning, memorability, stopping power, emotional impact,
connections to the collective consciousness, distinction from
competitors – the sum of which answers the most important naming
question, “Is this name interesting?“.

Instead, on a naming committee, the literalist will negatively
critique names based on dictionary definitions or a singular
association, reliably in the form of an objection. Their claim will
be that a word’s negative meaning or association(correlation)
means that the value of the word as a name will also be
negative(causation). The evidence they cite in their efforts to
kill a name is irrefutable fact, yet irrelevant and
counterproductive.  In fact, a powerful, viral name must contain
negative qualities.

Here are the types of objections a literalist will use
to kill great name, attacking the very essence of what makes these
names powerful


-In business, Slack means “characterized by a lack of work or
activity; quiet.

-A Slacker is someone who works as little as possible. A
terrible message for our target audience

– Slack means slow, sluggish, or indolent, not active or busy;
dull; not brisk. Moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or



-We are an upscale brand for women, lululemon sounds like a
character from a 3-year olds’ picture book: “lululemon and her
best friends annabanana and sallystrawberry were climbing Gumdrop
Hill, when suddenly from behind a rainbow the queen of the unicorns


Virgin Air

-Says “we’re new at this!”.

-Public wants airlines to be experienced, safe and

-Investors won’t take us seriously-Religious people will be



-It has one meaning, “to steal a car!”

-Crime is the last thing we need to be associated with.



-Yahoo!! It’s Mountain Dew!

-Yoohoo! It’s a chocolate drink in a can!

-Nobody will take stock quotes and world news seriously from a
bunch of “Yahoos”.





-Only foretold death and destruction.

-Only fools put their faith in an Oracle.

-Sounds like “orifice” – people will make fun of us.



-Tiny, creepy-crawly bug

-Not macho enough – easy to squash

-Why not “bull” or “workhorse”?

-Destroys trees, crops, responsible for famine


Banana Republic

-Derogatory cultural slur

-You’ll be picketed by people from small, hot countries



-Target of an investigation

-To have a Target on your back

-A Target gets shot; killed; slaughtered.

-The Target of a manhunt

This is a family show, so you’ll have to create your own
misguided, literalist list of reasons that In-N-Out, Dick’s, BJ’s and LoveSac should fail as brand

No sane person cares about any of these literal negatives,
because people process these ‘negative’ connotations either
positively or not at all. As long as the name maps to one of the
positioning points of the brand, consumers never take its meaning
literally, and the negative aspects of the name just make it more
memorable and engaging.

These literal, negative objections are not reasons to abandon a
name, rather they have demonstrably positive effects on a target
audience. They’re what make a name engaging, differentiating
& unforgettable.  Consumers don’t process names literally,
they process them emotionally. Getting your committee to
acknowledge this difference and to interact as the public does with
names, rather than the way the dictionary does, is essential.

If you encounter a literalist, keep your distance, maintain eye
contact, and take the threat seriously. Do not run in any
direction. Don’t bend over, crouch down or go fetal. Wave your
arms in an alpha manner. Throw any toxic item you can find –
Keurig pods, inspirational posters, focus group data, etc. If
attacked, fight back. If this doesn’t work, your last chance for
survival is to enlighten the literalist:



-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, naming the problem we solve!

-Qualities:  Interesting! Confident, different, focused on
solving the target’s problem.



-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, a travel hack, exciting, fun.

– Hotwiring a car is a hack, Hotwire.com is a travel hack.
That’s why this name works.

-Qualities: Interesting! Exciting, different, memorable,



-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, exciting, alive,
human, provocative, fun. The innovative name forces people to
create a separate box in their head to put it in.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally,
deep well.



-Positioning: DISRUPTIVE, different, confident, superhuman,
evocative, powerful, forward thinking.

-Qualities: Interesting! Self-propelling, connects emotionally,
deep well.


The ‘common wisdom’ that naming in large groups will
discourage a literalist attack is nothing more than urban legend.
In fact, the larger the committee, the more likely an attack will

Further reading: Outwitting





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