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Naming Steve Rivkin

Irreverent Brand Naming

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Brand Naming Brand Strategy Big Ass Fans

Big Ass Fans is a new national advertiser. They sell the world’s most efficient ceiling fans, in diameters from 5 to 24 feet. The company started life as the High Volume Low Speed Fan Company, before adopting an irreverent new moniker. (The company claims it changed names after repeatedly hearing customers say, “Man, that’s a big-ass fan.”)

Christian Dior went against the grain of romantic, flowery perfume names with its Poison brand.

A Louisiana pharmacist concocted a soothing diaper rash balm that worked so well, local athletes started using it. He called it Butt Paste. Now you can buy it at Wal-Mart.

Redneck Bank, based in Mustang, Oklahoma, is the online banking division of Bank of the Wichitas. (As the first line of their website says, “Yep, we’re a real bank.”)

When you pick an irreverent, outlandish name for your brand, is it a desperate way to call attention to yourself? A clever way to differentiate yourself? A tactic only for a fringe brand?

Or something else?

We went to our panel of experts for their points of view, and they cautioned that this approach is by no means for everyone.

JACK TROUT, renowned marketing strategist, best-selling author and founder of a consulting firm with partner offices in 25 countries: 

“We are indeed in an era of crazy names that people are using as a way to attract attention. The reason is that in category after category, more and more names are born as categories divide. (It’s the Immutable Law of Division.) Successful brands such as Google, Smucker’s and Roach Motel have encouraged others to get a little crazy as a way to be more memorable. But beware, your product has to have a good story behind it, not just an attention-getting name. (With Roach Motel, the roaches check in but they don’t check out.)”

FRASER SEITEL, public relations expert, consultant, frequent TV talking head and co-author of Rethinking Reputation:

"Edgy product names are neither for the squeamish nor the solidly entrenched. The reputation of a well-known company is too dear to risk with a name that evokes controversy. But for a little guerrilla marketer mixing it up with the big boys and little to lose, bring it on."

ERIN McKEAN, lexicographer, founder and CEO of the online dictionary Wordnik, formerly the principal editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary:

“Irreverent names only work if they are authentic, and have a real origin story. Otherwise they can seem out-of-touch and desperate (like Poochie, the cartoon dog ‘with an attitude,’ from the episode of The Simpsons where the producers of ‘Itchy and Scratchy"’ decide the show needs an ‘update’). I think it's harder for a big multinational to come up with an irreverent name — they work best for mom & pop or small operators who can show a direct involvement with the story of the name.”

DEAN CRUTCHFIELD, independent brand consultant, former executive for global brand consultancies within WPP and Omnicom, and Forbes.com columnist: 

“In our era of reality TV, there's plenty of bandwidth for evocative brand name strategies, especially if it literally speaks to a company's central premise. The best names communicate who, what, why or an attitude. They're a cornerstone of a brand — so any which way, but stand out! As long as it's sustainable.”

CAROL MOOG, PhD in psychology, and president of Creative Focus, an advertising consulting firm:

“These are the times for the so-called irreverent product name. Consider the criterion for going viral: being as wild and crazy as humanly possible. Consider the benefit of going viral: priceless. Consider the power of going viral: unstoppable. Nobody wants to admit that they’re not able to handle the in-your-face brand that is willing/wishing to go viral. (Nobody wants to admit to being that old.) Go ahead. Start with and never forget to engage and convey a sense of humor. Then create the best story to rationalize the most outrageous name for your most excellent product. And by all means — by all means — infect your consumers with an unquenchable thirst for your irreverent brand.”

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Steve Rivkin

Sponsored ByBrand Aid

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1 Comment

BIG_ASS_FANS on August 29th, 2012 said

Thank you for the discussion! Our brand name always raises eyebrows. We receive quite a bit of feedback from people who aren’t thrilled with the name Big Ass Fans. We decided to take a few of those disgruntled voice mails and have a bit of fun with them: link to youtube.com

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