Choosing a brand name is one of the most important components in launching a new product, service , or company. Brand names can be descriptive, telling consumers exactly what it is being sold. Examples: CARTOON NETWORK, HOTELS.COM, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, THE WEATHER CHANNEL, eFax.
Brand names can also be arbitrary, having no real connection with the product or service or even being a made up term. Examples: EXXON, KAYAK (travel site), YAHOO!, PANDORA, STARBUCKS.
In between descriptive and arbitrary names are suggestive ones. They tell the consumer something about the product or service. But in a creative manner so that they are not plainly descriptive. In my opinion, suggestive brand names are the best. While arbitrary or coined terms can get even stronger legal protection, they are harder to market. Consumers may not connect the dots (absent a gigantic advertising campaign) and know what the name arbitrary/coined name is for. As a result, I advise those launching new brands and new businesses to chose suggestive names.
Here are some examples of great suggestive names:
LOX STOCK & BAGEL
THAI THE KNOT
TOSSED (salad restaurant)
BEAN AROUND THE WORLD
Versus (sports TV network)
BootLeggers (footwear store)
What are your favorite suggestive names?
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Thanks for the blog post, Erik! I totally agree with you on suggestive vs. arbitrary names. There’s power in connecting to ideas outside the functional aspects of the product. Let me posit, though, that Pandora and Starbucks are actually suggestive names, not arbitrary.
Pandora, a figure from Greek mythology, is best known for opening “Pandora’s box,” which unleashed all manner of evil into the world before the lid could be replaced, after which the only thing left in the box was hope. Other versions of the story has it that the box was full of good things for mankind. Whichever version you prefer, the box was magical and irresistible. It demanded to be opened. That’s an interesting metaphor for a service that fills the user’s device with music–magical and irresistible and demanding to be opened.
Starbuck was the name of the first mate on the ship that went after Moby Dick. While the founders considered the name arbitrary, choosing it solely on how it sounded, their shops were full of coffee grown around the world: Guatemala, Kenya, Jamaica, etc., and the geographically based names of those beans have always been front and center for customers. World geography is a natural connection to seafaring, resulting in a suggestive name by chance rather than by design.
That said, making these connections back to Moby Dick and Greek mythology requires a fairly well-read customer. There must be many discussions at the USPTO as to how to define marks under review. If few people understand what the name is suggesting, does that make it arbitrary?
Thanks for your great comment. Yes, those names have a story and a link, but like you say if the average consumer wouldn’t immediately grasp that then, to me, it is not really ‘suggestive’ and more arbitrary.