• The 10 Best Brand Names Ever

    by  • January 8, 2012 • Branding, Marketing, Strategy

    With the approach of every new year comes the rankings by major periodicals on a variety of measures from most valuable global brands to the most innovative companies. My ranking of the “Best Brand Names”  is not constrained by time. If fact, every quantitative measurement has been removed from my assessment. I have purposely ignored a brand’s reputation, its place within the market, even its package design. Fundamentally, the judgment criterion for the “10 Best Brand Names Ever” is one of clearing the slate and imagining the brand at inception, before advertising, promotion and packaging. That is the brand name acid test.

    For the most part, the common thread connecting my choices is product association, imagery, character (personality) and differentiation conveyed by the name. That may seem a lot to ask in a word, or two. With few exceptions those on the list provide every one of these attributes before a dollar need be spent in advertising and promotion. Yet, because some of the brand owners failed to prudently invest in their asset, a few of my top ten have not withstood the test of time.

    10.  Wrangler

    With product features that were designed to appeal to cowboys, Wrangler Jeans were quintessential western since introduction in the 40’s. Sadly, Wrangler faced mounting competition, closed its last American sewing plant in 2005 and slipped from the apex of consumer esteem.

    9.   Southern Comfort

    Created in 1874 by a New Orleans bartender, the Southern Comfort name delivers cult-like imagery and promises a taste pleasure unique to the American south.

    8.   Mike’s Hard Lemonade

    The brand and vodka lemonade category was invented by Vancouver’s Dossier Creative and positioned as an emotionally-engaging, anti-marketing, irreverent brand. One of the most creative brand names ever, Mike’s became a phenomenal success years before it was advertised.

    7.   Champion

    The name smacks of power and accomplishment. At one time, the spark plug maker was a Fortune 500 Company. While Champion’s awareness remains high amongst auto and racing enthusiasts, the brand has fallen to the canvas and is unlikely to get up.

    6.   Wonder

    Rumor has it that baking executive Elmer Cline was filled with wonder by the scene of hundreds of red, yellow and blue balloons at the 1921 Indianapolis International Balloon Race.  I’ve always loved this brand name, although I’m the first to admit that Wonder Bread failed to deliver the wonderment of taste, texture or nutrition.

    5.   Dove

    Dove is superficially the most simple and unimaginative brand name on my list. Yet emotionally, it is hard to beat. A dove symbolizes peacefulness, gentleness, purity and softness – that’s what women want when it comes to their hair and their skin.

    4.   Haagen-Dazs

    This name shatters the “product association” rule. Häagen-Dazs is two made-up words meant to look Scandinavian to the American eye. The name is so strong on imagery, character and differentiation that description is unnecessary.

    3.   Walkman

    The original Sony Walkman audio player transformed music listening habits by offering the convenience of portable music. Walkman did not describe the product; it told you what you could do with it. The name trumps iPod. The lesson, of course is that there is far more to a brand’s success than the name.

    2.   DieHard

    DieHard is an outstanding brand name whose best years are behind it. The battery’s promise was a lifetime guarantee – that is, for as long as the original owner owned the car in which it was originally installed. Inherent in the name was rugged masculinity, a “never say die” personality and memorability.

    1.   The Beetle

    The most fascinating aspect of the bug is that its name came from the people. Through word-of-mouth, The Käfer (Beetle in German) became the Volkswagen Beetle worldwide. The absurdity of this iconic name is that it never appeared in advertising or in Volkswagen materials until 1968 – a half century after its introduction.

    So there you have my subjective selection. Now it’s over to you. Tell me the brands you think I’ve overlooked and why they should be on the list.

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    6 Responses to The 10 Best Brand Names Ever

    1. srp
      January 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm

      ReaLemon was such a good brand name that the government considered it an antitrust violation. In 1982, the Sixth Circuit ruled that Borden’s advertising of the brand name caused “induced brand preference.” Now that’s a brand name!

      • John
        January 17, 2012 at 10:47 pm

        I guess we’ll just have to admit that the name stands out more for its misleading inference than for its creative brilliance. Thanks for weighing in.

    2. January 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm

      Xerox — I grew up in India and we didn’t talk about photocopying then. We were ‘xeroxing’ material! Or we called them Xerox copies. Arriving in the US a couple of decades ago, I found it was used as a verb here as well. I enjoyed the creative wordplay in your comments about each brand name above and look forward to your take on Xerox!

      • John
        January 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm

        Thanks for your comments, Subha. Within the criterion I set, Xerox would have a tough time making the list. The point you make elevates the value of great marketing. Without marketing we would never have said “Zerox a copy”, “pass a Kleenex”, “put it in the Fridge” Frigidaire or “Hoover the carpet.” The criterion I used was no marketing. Interesting way to look at brand names, no?

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