When I was a kid I worked in one of my parents’ restaurants. We sold pizza and hotdogs and sodas and soft serve ice cream. On the weekends at the busier stores we were go go go from open to close, handing food across the counter and grabbing bills and change to toss in the cash register.
One of our big sellers was a frozen dessert concoction made with orange juice and sugar and water. Besides looking and tasting great it had a great name: O-Joy. The name told you not only what was in the product (OJ) but just how much fun you’d have eating it. People even enjoyed ordering an O-Joy because of the great name.
One day we were playing around with the O-Joy and mixed one with vanilla ice cream. By sheer serendipity we created a delicious frosty treat that tasted just like an orange Creamsicle. It tasted so good, in fact, that we started selling them to our customers before we’d even made the orange and white blend an official menu item. Everyone loved them.
A few weeks later, our genius marketing guy (not me thank you, remember I was a high school kid at the time) asked to create a name for our new dessert. A few weeks later he delivered the marketing materials for the new frozen orange juice and vanilla ice cream product with its new name: Son of O-Joy. His menu boards were designed to look like classic old horror movie posters complete with lurid typefaces, cheesy dramatic images, and lurid colors. The placards were clever and looked great. We hung them up with as much joy and excitement as we had eating the new dessert.
But nobody ordered our new treat.
Every so often, a regular customer would come in and ask for something like, “that vanilla ice cream with the frozen orange thing.” Or they’d just point at the poster and grunt. Even though we had hired a great talent to create a name, nobody would order a Son of O-Joy.
Eventually we gave up on the marketing campaign and renamed our delicious dessert Sno-Joy. After we put up the new poster – a simple line drawing with the product’s name and the price – Sno-Joys sold like proverbial hotcakes.
Today we have a client who’s creating a new national retail concept. He’s got a great idea, a fantastic location, and a highly-efficient vertical manufacturing and distribution system. Thanks to our work he’s also got gorgeous packaging and stunning promotional materials. The only problem is his company can’t create a name.
The first name he brought us was untrademarkable. We couldn’t buy the URL for the second. And each name he’s suggested since is either hard to spell, hard to pronounce, or just plain old embarrassing to pronounce. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to pay us to create a name.
Great products demand great names. Some of the ones we’ve created recently include an app for the private aviation industry (the Uber for private jets) called Personifly, a 1,000-foot landmark observation tower called Skyrise Miami, a restaurant chain that specializes in salads and vegetarian fare called Saladarity, a faith-based medical advocacy program called Advinity, and an outdoor park and concert facility called SoundScape.
Like Google and Airbnb, our new names all sound a bit odd to the ear the first time you encounter them but quickly tell you what the product offers and why it matters to you – either through the actual meaning of the words themselves or thanks to repeated usage of both the product and the name.
But perhaps more importantly, none of the names produce a roadblock to purchase like Son of O-Joy did. Powerful, evocative, and simple naming solutions is a lesson I learned long ago that is even more relevant in today’s world of Internet connections and short attention span consumers.