Best and Worst Brand Names of 2009

D TT | Branding,Naming,Retrospectives | Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

BEST

1. Ghost

Who would give a new product a name that reminds people of haunting, horror and death? Rolls-Royce bravely did when it introduced the 2009 Ghost. Though the name is likely a nod to the British automaker’s 1906 “Silver Ghost,” it still carries a host of negative connotations–as well as positive ones. And that’s what gives it such impact. This is a car for the unapologetically intimidating, with a ride that’s smooth as mist drifting over a moor. Rolls-Royce calls the Ghost a “powerful presence.” And from a branding perspective, we have to agree.

2. Droid

Verizon licensed this name from the “Star Wars” universe for the cellphone it hopes will lead a rebellion against the iPhone empire. This is the first phone running Android 2.0 (the latest version of Google’s operating system) and the similarity of the names is a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s a powerful link between hardware and software; on the other, it’s a bit redundant. Still, “Droid” was probably worth whatever Mr. Lucas charged. It communicates extremely advanced technology, yet it’s familiar and a little bit cute–it makes the phone seem like a pocket-sized C3PO or R2D2. How could gadget geeks resist?

3. Fling

At 85 calories per serving, Mars’ new candy bar aimed at women promises a brief, mostly harmless indulgence. Summed up by its fitting tagline, a Fling is “Naughty, but not that naughty.”

4. Hunch

This online decision-making tool learns about you through your answers to a series of preference questions. Then Hunch makes suggestions about what you might like–from movies to travel destinations to what you should eat for lunch. The name is apt, human and engaging, and it refreshingly under-promises the service’s accuracy.

5. Shard

Looking like a small, pointy chunk of metal, this new multifunction keychain tool from knife manufacturer Gerber is appropriately named the “Shard.” Though the Shard has no actual blade and is officially airline-safe, the danger implied in the name adds to its appeal and is likely a key factor in the flurry of online chatter from customers who can’t wait to get their hands on the soon-to-be released tool.

6. Envy

Only a laptop as slim, sleek, smart and sexy as this glossy-screened beauty from HP could pull off the name “Envy.” Even Apple may be turning a little green.

7. Fever

The first in a new category of drinks dubbed “stimulation beverages,” Fever claims to enhance feelings of euphoria and even stimulate the libido thanks to its mix of several herbal ingredients. The name communicates excitement and a physical effect on the body, without crossing into the risqué.

8. Thinair

Thinair is a wind turbine with just one blade. In severe weather, the Thinair turbine parks its blade horizontally, with the narrow edge to the wind to minimize damage. We like the slightly mysterious quality of the name and how it communicates the blade’s ability to effectively vanish from destructive winds.

9. Peek

The Peek is a pocket-sized device that sends and receives email and text messages. That’s it. No phone, no calendar, no music, no camera. A device with such limited capabilities needs a proportionately modest name. Suggesting a quick, casual look, “Peek” hits just the right note for customers who don’t want to fuss with complicated hardware.

10. SweetLeaf

Three stevia-based sweetener brands–Zevia, Truvia and PureVia–made our Top Ten Worst Brand Names of 2008 list because of the similarity of their unimaginative, contrived names. So it was nice to see SweetLeaf enter the market this year with a name that conveys “natural sweetener” using–duh!–natural words.

WORST

1. Bing

Is it a cherry? A Crosby? No, it’s Microsoft’s new search engine. Reportedly chosen because it was a one-syllable word that could be used as a verb–a very low bar for such an important brand–“Bing” is equally meaningless in every language. The problem with this type of wholly invented brand name (sometimes called an “empty vessel”) is that it costs a fortune to endow the name with its intended meaning. But if anyone can afford a meaningless brand name, it’s Microsoft. They spent an estimated $80–$100 million on advertising to teach people to “Bing and decide.” Maybe the slogan should have been “Ka-CHING and decide.”

2. iSnack 2.0

When Kraft Australia needed a name for its new cheese and Vegemite spread, they held a contest and received 48,000 suggestions. Their winning pick? “iSnack 2.0.” Never mind that their product is food, not technology, and there was never an “iSnack 1.0.” Apparently Kraft thought they could make their product trendy by referencing a naming convention that originated in the early 90s. After a thorough thrashing by bloggers worldwide who called the name an “epic vegefail,” the product was renamed “Vegemite Cheesybite.”

3. Syfy

In an attempt to secure a trademark and shed its geeky image, the Sci Fi Channel changed the spelling of its name to “Syfy.” Network management reportedly felt hip and cutting edge when a teenage focus group informed them that the invented spelling is “how you’d text it.” But does making a name textable impart coolness? Hardly. Syfy’s reductive and juvenile spelling dumbs it down, contradicting the intelligence of the channel’s core audience.

4. Pre

Palm debuted a highly-innovative smartphone this year and inexplicably named it a prefix: “Pre.” Pre… what, exactly? By itself, “Pre” floats aimlessly, desperate to show its relationship to a concept, any concept. As a brand name, it’s so open-ended, it’s essentially useless. It’s like naming a product, the “The.” On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t give them any ideas.

5. Adamo

A high-design sliver of a laptop, the ultra-thin Adamo was meant to be Dell’s answer to the MacBook Air. The name, however, fails to rise anywhere near the heights attained by Air (which took the #1 spot on our list of the Top Ten Best Brand Names of 2008). “Adamo” is Latin for “to fall in love with.” But to anyone who’s not a Latin scholar, the name looks like the name “Adam” with an “o” at the end–a strong, masculine sounding name that doesn’t fit at all with a laptop whose main features are light weight and a svelte profile. Sorry, Dell, this name is hard to love.

6. Vook

A vook is a new form of media that blends a book with video. Though it confusingly appears in all lower case throughout the product’s Web site, “vook” is the trademarked name for this type of technology. Unfortunately, “vook” lacks punch and makes little allusion to the entertaining, immersive experience we expect a vook really is.

7. Xe

Thanks to its oft-criticized behavior in Iraq, the security services firm Blackwater found their reputation so tarnished that they changed their name to “Xe.” We assume they were aiming for mystery, but like a Northwest Airlines pilot, they overshot by about 150 miles and landed at baffling. Meaningless, unpronounceable and just plain weird, this name may be the perfect cover for a company that wants to disappear.

8. Keas

Former Google executive Adam Bosworth started this online health information and education service, which some experts believe may be a blueprint for the future of healthcare. Which makes Mr. Bosworth’s name choice for the startup all the more lamentable. The name, pronounced “KEE-ahs,” was inspired by the Kea, a species of parrot that Bosworth spotted on a hike in New Zealand. The name is so obscure it’s effectively meaningless, unless you happen to be an ornithologist.

9. The Hut

OMG, what is happening to branding? Pizza Hut is another major player that has adulterated its brand name to make it more textable. Some of their Pizza Hut locations have been renamed “The Hut” as company management experiments with a marketing strategy to toady up to the mobile generation. But these kids grew up on “Star Wars.” Can anyone in this audience hear “The Hut” without thinking of obese, drooling, slug-like Jabba the Hutt? Yeah, that’s appetizing.

10. VIA

Starbucks had a great opportunity to create a fast, exciting name for their first instant coffee. Instead, they chose VIA. We’re not sure what the all-capitals presentation signifies (and based on what Starbucks has said about the name, neither are they), but to English speakers “via” means “by way of”–which is about the most pedestrian of ideas. Even for Italian speakers the name isn’t much better–“via” is Italian for “road.” Here’s hoping the coffee has a lot more flavor than its name.

©2009 Pollywog Inc. All rights reserved. To reprint or reuse this article, please contact us.
Microsoft Word – PR Apani 051109 eng.doc

Verizon licensed this name from the “Star Wars” universe for the cellphone it hopes will lead a rebellion against the iPhone empire. This is the first phone running Android 2.0 (the latest version of Google’s operating system) and the similarity of the names is a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s a powerful link between hardware and software; on the other, it’s a bit redundant. Still, “Droid” was probably worth whatever Mr. Lucas charged. It communicates extremely advanced technology, yet it’s familiar and a little bit cute—it makes the phone seem like a pocket-sized C3PO or R2D2. How could gadget geeks resist?

3 Comments »

  1. Brand names are maybe the more important asset for a company. Great article and welcome to your new online presence via Twitter.

    Comment by Louis Louna — December 16, 2009 @

  2. Hi, Louis! I couldn’t agree with you more. Naming is largely misunderstood and undervalued, especially by entrepreneurs and startups in a hurry to get to market, or unwilling to spend precious capital on something they believe they can create for nothing.

    Mea culpa on Twitter… We’ve had an account for months, but tend to be slackers when it comes to tweeting. I will try to do better!

    Comment by Devon — December 16, 2009 @

  3. [...] for primarily English-speaking audiences (suppose I have to make that distinction now). Upon seeing Pollywog’s list of what they consider the best and worst names of 2009, I realized that most of the “best” names are real English words. In naming lingo, [...]

    Pingback by Do abstract real words make the best brand names? - Semantic Argument — February 2, 2010 @

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