I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about labels lately and questioning how much impact they have on behavior. What I’m wondering is if names can be the harbingers of action or if that’s just a shallow and ultimately worthless supposition. About a year ago I wrote a blog post titled “The Problem With Newspapers Is The Word Paper.” My point was that if media companies spent more time concentrating on selling us what we want – the news – and less on delivering what we only thought we wanted – the paper – they might not find themselves in the troubled spot they’re in. But unfortunately the title newspaper put equal significance on both of their offerings.
When Tom Cruise was ranting and raving about psychiatry not being a science, Lewis Black pointed out that the actor knew what he was talking about because Tom Cruise belongs to a religion “that’s got science right in its name!” (The video is hilarious. Click here to watch.)
So my question is whether there’s any correlation between the label and the action.
Sure I know that it’s a joke of convenience to point out that every time you see a building on fire it’s always surrounded by fireman therefore it’s likely that fireman caused the fire itself (after all, they’ve got fire in their name). But let’s look at a more timely and relevant example – the damage done to both personal fortunes and the world economy by Wall Street and the real estate industry, both of which employ people called brokers.
If playwrights write plays and house painters paint houses then doesn’t it stand to reason that real estate brokers would break real estate and stock brokers would break stocks? Or is the argument as fallacious as assuming that just because olive oil comes from olives and peanut oil comes from peanuts then baby oil comes from babies?
Would Ralph Lauren have been as successful if his eponymous company used his given name, Ralph Lifshitz? Can you imagine bringing home or receiving an expensive perfume bottle branded “Lifshitz” for Valentines Day? (Hey Ralph, if your Lifshitz does your tuchas talk?)
I’m not suggesting any of this makes sense, only that labels do have enormous value and perhaps important consequences if only because of our perceptions of what the labels stand for. And while it may appear to be a shallow argument, there’s a lot to learn from the way we name products and people.