Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Quick -- which of these car names sounds "faster" -- Tarin or Parin? Which sounds more luxurious?

If you're like mist people, you think "Tarin" sounds faster and "Parin" sounds more luxurious. Those were the findings of researchers at Lexicon, a firm profiled in the October 3 issue of the NEW YORKER. Lexicon helps companies find brand names for products. They've made a science of studying how people react to individual letters, to phonemes, and to words. Surveying 500 subjects in Europe, Asia, and the United States, they discovered, for instance, that "c" and "v" and "p" all convey "vigor, liveliness, and well-being."

In the new scientific approach to naming things, you can't call a spade a spade -- or a mop a mop. That word has an image of dirt, limpness, drudgery. When asked in the mid-1990's to name Procter & Gamble's new mop, Lexicon generated thousands of possibilities. They finally chose "Swiffer," because (1) it sounds like "swift," implying that mopping that floor won't take too long, (2) it ends in "er," the suffix of agency (teacher, driver), implying that the mop is the agent doing the work, not you, and (3) "f" is a friendly consonant. Lexicon also named Pentium, Dasani, and Wisp, a portable mini-toothbrush.

I own a Swiffer. Did I buy it in part because I was suckered by a good brand name? Maybe. I'm not immune. George Orwell would have understood -- if not necessarily approved.


Robert Mitchell Evans said...

My sweetie-wife bought a swiffer, but commands me in its use.
Seriously is ther a link to the articale, might be helpful when I try to think of names. Gotta be better for my health than applying forehead to wall repeatedly.

TheOFloinn said...

I dunno. I am less inclined to credit what companies who make a living crafting "good" names have to say about the persuasiveness of those "good" names. As one advertising exec once said, "Only about half of all advertising is effective. The problem is, no one knows which half."

There may be a distinction between people saying "Swiffer. That's a cool name" and zombies stumbling toward a store muttering, "Must. Have. Swiffer."

Advertising, it is said, might convince you to buy a product the first time; but only the performance of the product can convince you to buy it a second time.

Bryan H. Bell said...

Here's a link to an abstract of the article. The full article is available if you subscribe or purchase it.