Friday, April 28, 2006

What's in a name? A lot of work and money.

There's a ton of press today about Nintendo's announcement of the Revolution's official name: "Wii"

I'm not going to link to all the stuff, there's just too much. Just Google News it.

Instead of making fun of or supporting the name, I'm going to give you guys something else. What is the origin of a name like this? How does a brand like Nintendo choose a name like this, good or bad? Well, I don't know the exact process they went through but I'll give you a likely scenario:

Launching a product is an incredibly complex process and companies spend a lot of time internally and with their partners (usually ad and PR agencies) to define almost everything about a product. No detail is ever missed (at least not purposely). The name can be decided at the very beginning or at the very end, right before launch (as was the case with the Wii). It is usually one of the most important steps.

But where does the name come from? Well for some companies, they figured out way before the product is finalized. For other companies, they have no idea and use a codename as a temporary proxy (Longhorn for Windows Vista is an example). Either way, some companies don't even come up with the names themselves.

Have you heard of "name consultants"? Yes, there are consulting companies out there that do nothing but create names. Two examples with websites are "Igor International" and "Catchword". Created between them are some familiar names: Pepsi Blue, Petopia, Tickle and Wynn Las Vegas. Pharma companies are huge customers of name consultants; taking a chemical name like Sildenafil and turning it into Viagra. This is a very lucrative and hot industry.

The consultants use a mix of business, liberal arts and creativity in their trade. As far as I know, the process starts with the consultants spending a significant amount of time immersing themselves in the product or product information. They discuss objectives with clients and do research on the market. Finally, a list is created and clients approve or reject options.

With this list, more research is done (such as current trademark conflicts). If you've ever wondered why companies like creating all new words or obscure words, it's not only because they want to be unique but because of trademark conflicts. If you create a whole new word or new application for a word, you don't have any problems: eg. Yahoo!, Google, Starbucks, iPod, DreamWorks, Song, JetBlue.

Finally, a short list is created and market tested with the public. They usually don't outright ask, "Do you like this name?" Instead, they test the exact same product but with different names and ask the usual focus group questions, "How does this product make you feel?"

This entire process could take days, weeks or even several months. At some point, a final name is selected. Sometimes the name consultants even help create the logo treatment or marry the name to a tag line. One thing is certain, they always provide a fluffy description. Here is Nintendo's:

Wii sounds like “we,” which emphasizes this console is for everyone. Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii. Wii has a distinctive “ii” spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play. And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video games that sets it apart from the crowd. So that’s Wii. But now Nintendo needs you. Because, it’s really not about you or me. It’s about Wii. And together, Wii will change everything.

I have no doubt many hours of blood, sweat and tears were shed to create the name "Wii". Again, I'm not going to get into the debate about whether or not this is a good name. I will say that my initial reaction was of shock and I found myself stumbling while trying to use the name. In a few months, after the name enters full circulation and practice, we'll see if these consultants were brilliant or failed miserably.

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