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Malcolm Kushner Headshot

What's in a Name?

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A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but would it sell as well? That's a fundamental question which consumes countless hours and dollars as marketers search for perfect product names. From brainstorming to focus groups to aha moments in the shower, the creative process underlying commercial success has never been easy. And it became even tougher last winter. That's when rock-and-roll legend Chubby Checker sued Hewlett-Packard for permitting his name to be used for an app that ran on one of their operating systems.

Here's the background. According to The Guardian, a company called Magic Apps created an app for guessing the size of a man's penis based on his shoe size. It's not hard to see how the creators must have felt. An indispensable item for co-eds in the college bar scene. The hit product of spring break. A gold mine, right? Maybe -- if it had the right name. That's where the marketing team comes in.

I once heard that Buns of Steel, a mega-selling videotape exercise program back in the day, was a flop in an earlier version. Same videos; different name. Someone bought the tapes, changed the name to Buns of Steel and the rest, as they say, is history. This may be apocryphal, but it sure sounds true.

So you can appreciate the mindset of the creative types at Magic Apps. When they had to name the penis-size guessing app they probably had dollar signs in their eyes -- million-dollar signs. If they could just come up with the right name, they'd be rich high-tech luminaries. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. The name just had to be catchy and concise. It also had to explain what the app actually did.

It's not difficult to imagine their thought process:

"The app guesses penis size. So it's a calculator, monitor, processor, computer, analyzer, checker, auditor, investigator, scrutinizer."

"Hey, how about the Screwtinizer?"

"Nah, it's not clear. You need to read it to get the pun."

"What about the penis processor?"

"It's too vague. But what are some words related to penis?"

"Johnson, schlong, pecker, woody, manhood, rod, tool, boner."

"The Johnson calculator."

"That's not bad."

"What about the Magic Johnson calculator?"

"It's too long, so to speak. Change calculator to checker. It's less syllables."

"The Magic Johnson checker?"

"Wait I've got a shorter one that's alliterated - the Chubby checker. It checks how long your penis is when it's longest."

"Yeah. That catchy and concise. We're gonna be millionaires!"

Well, I've condensed the process. It probably took days, weeks or more, but you get the idea. After a lot of hard work, they eventually produced a name that was a winner. And it might have been if Chubby Checker hadn't already had it trademarked and sued.

So what can we learn from this? Three things. First, think through every implication of a product's potential name. Second, no matter how great a name might be, don't ever infringe on a trademark. And third, regarding my brilliant new product -- splashguards for men's urinals -- there's no way I'm going to name them Brooke Shields.