Linguists Useful in Brand-naming Industry

ABSTRACT: THE WORLD OF BUSINESS 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. Describes the history of brand naming. Placek grew up in Santa Rosa, California, and graduated from U.C.L.A. with a political-science degree. He worked at Foote, Cone & Belding, a prominent ad agency, before moving over to another agency called S&O. In 1982, he launched Lexicon, which was among the first companies in the U.S. dedicated solely to brand naming. Lexicon’s first big success came in the early nineties, when it named Apple’s first laptop, the PowerBook. Until 1992, when Lexicon came up with the name Pentium for a computer chip made by Intel Corporation, microprocessors were identified by number. Naming experts agree on several universals of great names. It’s probably best to keep it short. Names that display a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern are often easiest to say. Pleasantness of sound—the use of alliteration and assonance—all play a part. The real goal, Placek says, is to determine what “story” a client wishes to tell about his product and then find a word that evokes it—and spurs the impulse to buy. Mentions Will Leben. The very best brand names, Placek asserts, can help a company gain a near-monopoly. He cites Google, iPod, and Amazon as contemporary names that have come to define a product or service. Mentions the Swiffer mop.