What’s in a name?


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

A classic Shakespeare quote that may have held true in yesteryear Verona, but in this modern world a name can be the most powerful force in branding with the ability to make or break a brand.

Some brand names acquire such market dominance that they eventually become the common name for the product themselves. Everyday words, such as sellotape, tupperwear, velcro, hoover, asprin, butterscotch, escalator and thermos all started life as trademarks that ultimately evolved to be the generic name for their product type.

Company’s spend millions trying to gain consumer awareness of their brand’s name, so why, after all of that do they change them?

Do you remember when Marathons could be finished in minutes? That was before they were called Snickers. Or, when the sweets formerly known as Opal Fruits were re-branded Starburst? Or, when Oil of Ulay and Jif morphed into the curiously similar sounding Oil of Olay and Cif? These are just some of the products that have had name changes long after the original had become a popular household brand.

Some sceptics believe that name changes are just a way for a company to get people talking about their product. In 1985, Coca-Cola decided to change their formula and name to New Coke in response to sluggish sales. The backlash from consumers was enormous. Three months later Coca-Cola restored its original formula, re-named it Coca-Cola Classic, and saw a massive increase in sales. Some conspiracy theorists claimed it was what Coca-Cola had planned all along.

It is also true that when Coco Pops changed its name to Choco Krispies there was huge consumer uproar. Just under one million people in the UK protested against the change, and a few months later the name Coco Pops was reinstated. Was this an example of consumer power triumphing over big business, or just a cunning PR ploy? After all, they do say all publicity is good publicity.

Most names are changed so brands are known by the same name worldwide. This creates stronger brand awareness, and saves money on global promotion and advertising costs. But, not all names are changed to create one global brand. In some cases names are specifically changed from one country to the next to create one that is more suitable for that market. It is said that Jif was changed to Cif as the ‘J’ was harder to pronounce than a ‘C’ in certain languages. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone changed to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, believing that Americans would be unsure of the term ‘philosopher’. Similarly, in the US you’d be wondering where Waldo is, whereas in the UK it’s Where’s Wally? And, it’s not just in America that Wally is given a different name. You’d be looking for a Holger in Denmark, a Charlie in France, a Hetti in India, a Valli in Iceland, a Walter in Germany, Hugo in Sweden and an Effy in Israel.

So, in answer to Juliet’s pondering, there is clearly a lot in a name. A rose by any other name may smell the same, but its sales margins might not be so sweet.


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