Positive or negative: A polarizing brand name

The name is the figurehead of a company, because it is the first thing the customer comes into contact with. A brand name should be unique and attract attention. However, many companies are split in two at this point: Striking, but not too much? A few thoughts about whether it is positive or negative when the brand name polarizes.


Updated: 2020/5/18

Safety vs. Attention

When asked whether a brand name should be eye-catching or not, most people would probably answer: Yes, it should definitely be eye-catching. Rather, they want it to stand out from the competition. But when it comes to the question of what one's own brand name should be, it takes a certain amount of courage to dare to do something completely different and to stand out completely from the field of competitors. That would also mean meeting with incomprehension and disbelief or even reaping harsh criticism if one does not do it like everyone else. And especially in a phase in which one is perhaps still undecided oneself, criticism usually leads to taking the safe route.

"Don't risk anything" seems to be the motto more often than "attract attention at all costs". But pronounced safety thinking often leads companies to choose colourless, descriptive and explanatory names. In the worst case scenario, the consumer thus creates the equation: colorless, i.e. interchangeable names mean interchangeable products. This does not necessarily arouse the customer's interest in the brand.

The decision for an eye-catching, different brand name is not easy, because the potential of such a name is not always immediately apparent. After all, you would never have come across the name Apple first at a computer company, or with names for an e-scooter on Tier (the German word for animal) or Lime. But just such a name arouses curiosity – and curiosity is more likely to be aroused by things that are unusual or provocative. Psychologically speaking, people remember provocative names better and faster. This is precisely because they first become suspicious and have to think about it again. 

A strong provocative name triggers several feelings: on the one hand indignation "how could they!?" and on the other hand respect, because "that takes some guts!" Once a name is on everyone's lips, i.e. when it is discussed and reported about everywhere, attention rises. And the guesswork about the meaning behind the name can have the effect that as much as possible is discussed about the name.


A Provocative Name as a Targeted Marketing Strategy

However, it is not enough if the brand name is simply provocative. Not only the first impression should attract attention, but in the second step the content and the message behind it must also be convincing.

The fashion label Acne ("Ambition to Create Novel Expressions") hase the same name as a skin disease. At first glance, the name seems inappropriate for a fashion label and one doesn't really suspect a strong brand name behind it. After all, fashion is about being beautiful, wanting to please. Nevertheless, or maybe just because the name is unusual for a fashion label, the brand Acne is extremely successful and popular. And ultimately because the products are convincing.

A provocative or even weird brand name becomes a disadvantage if it only arouses negative associations in the viewer and customer. Once the image of a company is negative, it is difficult to get rid of it. A company that wants to be successful in the long term must manage to ensure that positive feelings towards the brand prevail in the end. Emotions must be directed in a certain direction and the consumers' imagination must be stimulated.

It is also important that the negative meaning does not happen "by accident", for example because one has obviously overlooked a delicate translation in another language or the pronunciation suddenly leads to a completely different, embarrassing or even objectionable word. This recently happened at Audi, whose electric line "e-tron" means "pile of feces" in French. It is hard to imagine that this was intended by the Group as a planned provocation. Once this has happened, one can only say: close your eyes and go through with it. And hope that the damage to the brand will be limited.

From Minus to Plus

But even in this case, you can take an unusual path and cleverly turn the unplanned negative meaning into an advantage. When the Israeli IT software company launched on the German market under the name "Wix", it soon became clear: the brand name is a problem in German. But the company made a conscious decision not to change the name. Instead, the similarity to the clearly occupied German term "Wichs" (= "wank" or "jerk off") was turned into the positive opposite. As early as 2015, a campaign was launched with the title "Ich bin ein Wixer" (I'm a jerk-off) and spiced up with slogans such as "Wixen (Jerking off) has changed my life" or "My wife convinced me to Wixen (Jerk off)". In 2019, new spots followed with the title "The power of Wixen (jerking off)".

Such an approach is certainly not everyone's cup of tea and depends on the company's product and objective. However, a successful, strong brand name can surprise - and polarize. Choosing a provocative brand name requires courage and a targeted, well-planned marketing strategy. In an environment where the right people are addressed in the right way, such a cheeky name can be quite successful - and will definitely do one thing: Attract attention!

Conclusion: It is therefore quite positive when a brand name polarizes because it is not "ironed out" and is more likely to attract attention. What do you think?

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