Should you deliberately choose a bad name for your new company or product?

A week or so ago a couple of friends sent me articles they had seen suggesting that it was actually a very good strategy for getting yourself noticed. The argument went that people will discuss a bad name much more than a good one and therefore get your company in the spotlight.

I actually talked about this kind of thing a few weeks back: the enthusiasm with which everyone discussed Ben & Jerry’s “Schweddy Balls” ice-cream on Twitter. In recent days we have seen people all over the world discussing how bad “Siri” is and the things it means in other languages. There is no doubt that people are keen to discuss a name they perceive as bad (even if it’s not actually a bad name). As the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.

So is it a good idea to deliberately choose a bad name, have everyone talk about you and hope that they will buy from you just because they are now aware of who you are? No, of course it’s not!

I am all for names that people will talk about. Despite the multitude of social media tools available to us it is still rare for a brand name to be discussed by the general public. The laughing at Siri was mainly done by those of us working in marketing while the public at large barely noticed or cared what it might mean or not mean in Japanese.

I loved watching the Twitter discussions on “Schweddy Balls” but I think it showed that there is a big difference between bad names and controversial ones. A controversial name is edgy, stirs up discussion, puts the brand in a very definite position, and makes a strong statement about the brand, which may be polarising for consumers. Humorous names can do this, for example – not all people find the same things funny. Controversial names can be very successful but it is advisable to be careful, get advice and make sure your controversy doesn’t cause you problems. “Schweddy Balls” may well have been accepted by a large number of consumers but the name has had a negative effect too as many supermarkets are refusing to stock it. There are successes of course. The energy drink, Pussy, is a risky name but it is directed at young, edgy clubbers, who are more likely to accept such a term without batting an eyelid. So far it seems to be going well.

Bad names, on the other hand, offend the customer, turn them off the product or make it sound unappealing; Holy Crap cereal for example (yes that’s real). The worst case scenario is that it makes a company look incompetent; if you can’t get the name right, how do I know the product will be any good? Do you want to rely on the fact that people will know you’re joking? Is it worth the risk of the public’s cynicism towards being manipulated when they realise that your awful name was just there to get them talking about it? Personally I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. Whether they really are or not, people don’t like to feel they’re being toyed with. Look around at the thoughts on Phones4U’s recent horror-inspired adverts and you’ll find people complaining that they were only created just to get banned and have people talking about them (not my own view by the way).

So to all the people suddenly claiming that bad names are a good idea (none of whom seem to actually work in the naming industry incidentally), I ask you…“where are the many successes to back up this claim?”

My advice: feel free to go with a controversial name if the situation is appropriate. As for judging whether it is appropriate you should get some expert advice and research your market (I’m surprised that no-one at Ben & Jerry’s didn’t ask the supermarkets whether they would supply an ice-cream called “Schweddy Balls”). A controversial name can work in certain cases but a bad name will always just be a bad name.