In the October 3rd New Yorker, a piece (p. 38) by John Colapinto in The World of Business category: “Famous Names: Does it matter what a product is called?”.

From the abstract:

… about the brand-naming firm Lexicon. In the summer of 1998, a group of executives from a small technology startup named Research in Motion arrived at the California offices of Lexicon, a firm devoted to inventing names for products. The executives had brought with them the prototype for a new device, a two-way pager that could send and receive e-mail wirelessly. Most projects at Lexicon start off with free-associated Mind Maps—large diagrams of words that spread out like dendrites from a central concept. Lexicon employs two in-house linguists and consults with seventy-seven others around the world. In January, 1999, the BlackBerry was launched. Despite heavy competition from the Droid and the iPhone, it remains one of the best-selling smart phones. Lexicon’s most successful names—among them Pentium, for Intel; Swiffer, for Procter & Gamble; PowerBook, for Apple; Dasani, for Coca-Cola—have become immensely lucrative global brands, which collectively have brought in billions of dollars for their companies. Lexicon’s founder and C.E.O., David Placek, maintains that the best name brands, like poems, work by compressing into a single euphonious word an array of specific, resonant meanings and associations.

Much the same territory was covered in Alex Frankel’s 2004 book Word craft: The art of turning little words into big business. Both feature my Stanford colleague Will Leben (for whom Lexicon is a retirement project).

Brand-naming is an art rather than a science — but in the hands of firms like Lexicon it builds on solid information (about phonology and semantics and the psychological and sociocultural associations of both). A kind of applied linguistics.

(As of this morning, Nancy Friedman had not yet posted about Colapinto’s piece on her Fritinancy site. But she probably will soon.)


One Response to “Branding”

  1. Fritinancy Says:

    I just published a post about the New Yorker story:

    Overall impression: disappointing. The story has a couple of big errors (what happened to the New Yorker’s famous fact-checkers?) and a weirdly antiquated slant. I recuse myself from the discussion of applied linguistics, as that is not my specialty.

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