The Internet is constantly calling. It wants you to browse, buy, zone out and explore. Sitting in class with my other college calculus classmates – note, calculus -- I finally succumbed to the itch to click on my favorite ski site. To my annoyance, with many students in the lecture hall surfing – wonder if the teacher knew? -- the pictures won’t load, and I am left with a screen full of ski names. After a minute of browsing, I find that all of the S90Ws, Kikus, and Mumbo Jumbos fade into the background. Left catching my eye are the names -- Misbehaveds and the Nemesis -- since I only have those to go by.
Left me wondering: How do companies go about creating the great (or not so great) names that attract consumer attention? With cubical and, yes, even lecture hall shopping on the rise, is product-naming a bigger part of the product design process? I can’t be the only inquisitive shopper (or bored calculus student) in the outdoor industry, so I was inclined to check in with a few companies who exhibit at Outdoor Retailer about how their products get names.
Swix and New Balance both said they trust customers to rely on their company’s reputation and customer product experience. “In Scandinavia,” said Kelley Roche, Swix vice president of softgoods, “people refer to their ‘ski stuff’ as my ‘Swix stuff.’ We are developing that same kind of reputation here. When a product is popular, we make updates, but we keep the name. We have a Star, Star Advanced, Star XC and so on.”
New Balance representatives said it relies similarly on its products’ reputations. In the 1970’s the numbering system started as an easy way to identify the product price point. The 990’s were the first hundred-dollar shoe in 1979. By now, as everyone knows, the numbers are just a muddled mess. “We are in the process of making the numbers make sense again,” said Greg Tyndall, technical field representative at New Balance.
Why not just discard the numbers and go for exciting names? Tyndall’s point: Although the GT 2100 series by Asics was the #1 selling running shoe in the United States, he said his company thinks a younger demographic might appreciate names more than techy numbers – and he hinted at a change. “Think of New Balance as an oil tanker,” he said. “We may be heading for names, but it takes 15 miles to turn around.” For now, customers will have to settle for nicknames stamped on the heels of New Balance’s youthful trail shoes like the Berrenger.
Teva told us it takes the question of naming versus numbering with a grain of salt. “We don’t go for a specific age category, instead we focus on a target group,” explained Lucas Martinez, Teva spokesman. “We name them in context for what they are made for.” For instance, The Lynx is named after a park that bike freerider Jeff Lenosky knows will resonate with Eastern bikers. “We’ve definitely had shoes that were great, but after having 10 names shot down by legal, the final names were less than desirable. For the most part, if we can get past legal, we try to help tell the story of the shoe with the name. Numbers versus names is like PC versus Mac. Sure, it would be way easier to use numbers, but we like the creativity.”
Another footwear company, Saucony, wants its consumers to feel the shoe: “We try to capture the shoe with the name,” said Eric Plainte, product developer. Its Mirage is a normal-looking shoe, but it is super lightweight as the name infers. “Sometimes, though, we can’t get a name past legal screening,” he said, “or we just can't come up with anything. Once, while in China, we were struggling to find a name that would get past legal. At one point, we looked at our beer and decided to name the shoe after it.” Not sure if a Chinese beer brand actually captures the shoe but sometimes a company gets stuck it seems.
Yet another company's representative, tongue firmly planted in cheek -- said tequila helps. Asking to remain anonymous, he said they start naming sessions similarly – with a little imbibing. “We open a bottle of tequila, pull out a few maps (its products are all location names), and by the time [the tequila] is gone, we have a name.”
Sometimes, though, it’s the design team that carefully calculates a name (sans beer or alcohol) at Saucony. When the team revealed the Hattori running shoe, it was a spectacle with samurai swords to truly tell a story.
Rather than telling a story Joel Bernbaum, Smith sunglass product manager, said he too tries to capture the personality of the product. “I don't see an age group when I look at a sunglass. I don't see a gender either. I take the product and try to name it appropriately for the people who wear it.” Rather than pigeonholing the Rosewood as male or female, for example, when it could clearly be rocked by both women and smaller faced men, Smith choose that more neutral name.
“If it were obviously girly, with rhinestones, we might name it Diva. But if at all possible, I would rather see girls rock guys glasses or an older demographic rock a younger lens. We make products inspired by certain demographics, but try to accommodate everyone. We don't try to prevent other demographics from using them.”
One company that definitely doesn’t need to worry about male and female branding is Stanley, truly a guy's brand.
“Our biggest theme over the past few years has been our dive bar theme. Just like a dive bar we try to be ageless and authentic to guys. We have the Ink line that targets a younger demographic, and we might use slang in naming the product, but only when appropriate,” said JoAnne Anderson, senior marketing manager of Stanley. “We use as few words as possible. People know to expect products ‘made for life’. We get to the point with product names, then get to have fun with the coffee blocks (display tag lines) at shows.”
Another company that makes a big point of crossing age groups is GoLite footwear. “Our target consumer is in the 30s, but we want to think that anyone can wear our product,” said Douglas Clark, CEO of GoLite. Following this theme, the product name describes the function of the shoe rather than its appearance or marketing campaign.
“Our LavaLite is an approach shoe for climbing, and the TerraLite is named after the thong (sandal) running Tarahumara tribe in Mexico.” After talking about the struggles with avoiding repeated names, Douglas said GoLite might have to switch someday to “Go(name)” rather than “(name)Lite.” Staying true to the product branding and reputation, it appears, is just as important as product naming, we found.
Whether the name is derived from the appearance, the function, the target demographic, Google maps, or it is meant to tell a story, I won’t be able to look at a product again without seeing the legal struggles, the many lists of backup names – or the tequila shots.
--Lorin Paley, SNEWS Youth Advisory & Reporting Team/2009 Telemark World Junior Champion
The SNEWS® Youth Team has been made possible in part by the generous support of Vibram, with additional support from Confluence Watersports: