When I was in college, I had an eight-dollar-a-week cereal habit. The box was blue, rather than cornfield yellow or new-start white, and it had the narrow footprint of something precious. And it was, to me, but the most striking thing about it, apart from its addictive nuggets of almond, sugar, and evaporated milk, was its name: Temptations.
More appropriate for an after-hours lounge, this presumably hard-fought and hard-won name had nothing to do with cereal and was barely relevant to the morning hours. It was a disruptor on the shelves of oats and nuts and grains and bunches, and perhaps for this reason, it disappeared from the market after one year.
I was heartbroken but clearly better off for the sake of my lean student budget and straining waistband. But I’m still reminded of the Svengali-like hold Temptations had over me when breaking up with boyfriends, swearing off dessert or mulling over word choices.
It turns out Temptations wasn’t alone. Last week I spied Complexions, Horizons and Definitions, common plural nouns that lend an inordinate amount of intrigue in a single verbal stroke. On a global scale, one might encounter Compliments (a salad company); Sensations (a potato crisp); Whistles (women’s clothing); Reflections (hot beverages); Refreshers (cold beverages); Happenings and Departures (both magazines), Signals and Signatures (both gift companies) and so on, with nary a definite article or an apostrophe to dampen the effect.
These sorts of names — real-word but not descriptive, and, most importantly, plural, but not possessive — transport me to the 1980s, when every other product sounded like a band. Remember Multiples and Units, both clothing brands? Were Cabanas, Spangles, Nips and Pacers your favorite candy brands?
These carefree handles represented the naming approach de rigueur, perhaps signaling the ‘80’s laissez-faire economy, but not yet fully globalized market. Or perhaps they served as the business world’s one-word love letter to a burgeoning MTV generation and its shrinking attention span.
To a brand consultant, the return of these sorts of names indicates a shift in consumers’ willingness to accept a heightened narrative, an even higher-order translation of the value proposition, or an even greater distillation of the brand positioning. Whether abstraction or essence, the sense of elevation is the same: the conferring of emotional value to a commoditized category.
It’s proof that a single word can say many, many things. “This gym will give me muscles that resemble cut glass,” or, “This bar feels like the revenge of every high school outlier,” or, “This candy is a chic accessory that merits flaunting in public.” And, of course, “This cereal is actually a dessert.”
Whatever niche is being filled, whatever desire being fulfilled, a simple, evocative name can do wonders to tell a story and transfix an audience—in some cases, for years to come.
Can you think of other similar examples? Post a comment or come chat with us on Facebook.
Brenda Natoli is an Associate Director of Verbal Identity at Interbrand, New York.