Thursday, February 25, 2016

Big Brand Theory

Real story. A famed venture capital fund once beseeched us to come up with a meaningless name for an apparel start-up. We tried reasoning with them and presented them some crispy, creative names with a whiff of an idea. In their infinite wisdom, they declined them all and went on to buy a 4-letter domain name that rhymes with Bowie. Years later, when someone asked them to explain their name, they put out a story that it’s the Russian word for ‘call me’!

Come to think of it, I have no beef with nonsensical sounding names. There are plenty of them around. The more successful ones have an iota of logic embedded somewhere. When George Eastman devised ‘Kodak’ in 1888, he was clear that he wanted a name that starts and ends with K, with no scope for mispronunciation or misspelling. After experimenting with many combinations, he and his mom hit upon the name that sold a million cameras.

The triumph of Kodak gave rise to a deluge of coinages. Businessmen started exploring newer possibilities in the genre of minted names. In 1903, Caleb Bradham developed a drink for upset stomachs. He named it ‘Pepsi-Cola’ as it was a remedy for dyspepsia. The London Rubber Company fused ‘Durable, Reliable & Excellence’ to birth ‘Durex’ condoms in 1929. The Van Melle brothers hit upon ‘Mentos’ in 1933 probably inspired by the peppermint flavour of their candy. Chester Carlson created ‘Xerox’ in 1949 from the process of ‘dry writing’ or ‘Xerography’. Sam Walton took a piece of his surname and launched ‘Wal-Mart’ in 1962. Around 1968, Intel was carved out of ‘Integrated Electronics’ as it sounded a lot cooler than NM Electronics.

The mad rush for coined names actually began in the late nineties with the explosion of dot coms. The pressure to create something unique led to the ‘altered spellings’ movement and that’s how we got Google, Flickr, Tumblr, Reddit, Digg, Segway, Ffffound, Myntra, Zomato and Qwikr. For those who love their history, La-Z-Boy recliners began this fad way back in 1927!

Another trick used by start-ups is the ‘odd words’ jugalbandi. Pepperfry, PepperTap, Urban Clap, Urban Ladder, Freshdesk and LimeRoad are popular examples. But I am a sucker for puns. So the one coined name that caught my eye in recent times is Nearbuy. When it’s as catchy as that, you don’t need to settle for gibberish like Grofers!