Copywriting tips – good, bad and ugly brand names

472px-Häagen-Dazs_LogoThe quest for the perfect brand name can be challenging. If you get it right, your company/product/service has a head start on success. If you get it wrong, you’ve potentially just killed what you’re trying to promote.

My last copywriting tips article looked at the main considerations for freelance copywriters when embarking on brand name generation. This time I’m looking at a selection of brand name hits and misses to emphasise why the quest is laden with gargantuan gains and ravine-sized pitfalls.

The good


Founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos chose the name “Amazon” for two reasons. Firstly, it was “exotic and different”, just as he wanted his online retail store to be. Secondly, the Amazon River is the largest river in the world by volume, and Bezos planned to make his store the biggest in the world—which he’s since managed to do.

Bezos said himself, “A lot of it comes down to the brand name. Brand names are more important online than they are in the physical world.”

Apart from its exotic connotations, the other good thing about “Amazon” is that it’s a broad name that doesn’t specify the types of products being sold. Amazon began as an online bookstore, but later expanded its offering to DVDs, CDs, video games, furniture, homeware, toys, food, electronics and jewellery. A name connected with books or reading might’ve limited the company’s ability to diversify. That’s something else copywriters need to consider—whether a brand name has enough scope for future growth and change.

Interestingly, however, Amazon wasn’t always “Amazon”. Its original name was “Cadabra”, but Bezos changed it to Amazon a year later when a lawyer misheard it as “cadaver”!


American entrepreneur Reuben Mattus named his ice cream brand “Häagen-Dazs” because he wanted something Danish-sounding as a tribute to Denmark, and believed a foreign-sounding name would help position it as a premium product. It worked. Decades later, Häagen-Dazs is still regarded as a posh, luxury ice cream and the company has franchises all over the world.

Funnily enough, “Häagen-Dazs” isn’t actually Danish. The Danish language doesn’t feature the umlaut “ä” or the diagraph “zs”. In fact, it doesn’t mean anything. Reuben Mattus sat in his kitchen for hours spouting nonsensical words, till he eventually came up with a combination he liked!

This is an example of why invented words have huge advantages in the world of brand name generation. No other company is likely (or legally able, if you trademark it) to copy your brand name if it’s a word you’ve made up. That’s because an invented word is intrinsically linked to the product, service or company it was created for.

The Bad


The problem with iTunes is that the brand name no longer matches the product. When the name was invented, it was a platform for downloading music, but you can now download movies, TV shows, books and apps. Unlike the broad name “Amazon”, “iTunes” specifically relates to one product. Whoever came up with “iTunes” wasn’t thinking big enough. They weren’t thinking about the future of the platform, which has now outgrown the name.

The continued success of iTunes is more to do with having the powerful Apple brand behind it, and a now loyal customer base. However, iTunes could increase its market share if it had a name that non-customers were able to associate with everything it offers, rather than just music.

Choco Krispies

This is the name Kellogg’s tried to replace “Coco Pops” with in Britain in the late 1990s. They basically wanted to bring it in line with the way the cereal was branded in the rest of the world, as the chocolate counterpart to “Rice Krispies”.

However, sales quickly declined after the name change. Kellogg’s undertook a telephone poll of the British public, in which 92% of voters wanted the name changed back to “Coco Pops”. So Kellogg’s relented and changed it back.

There were two problems with “Choco Krispies”. One, the cereal had been “Coco Pops” in Britain for nearly 40 years. Two, “Choco Krispies” just isn’t as good a name. “Coco Pops” has three syllables, and the most popular brands have names with a maximum of three syllables. “Choco Krispies” has four syllables, which instantly makes it less snappy and more difficult to remember.

The Ugly

HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition

Ever heard of the HTC One M8 Harman Kardon Edition smartphone? No, neither have I. This model came with an overly long, tongue-twisting mouthful of a name, always a problem if you’re trying to build a recognisable brand. Again, short and simple is best.

And The Unfortunate


Here’s an example of where a strong name isn’t always a guarantee of success. Ayds was a type of candy that enjoyed strong sales in the 1970s and early 1980s and was supposed to reduce eating. Its name was a sharp, one-syllable play on the word “aids”. However, as public awareness of the disease AIDS grew in the 80s, the phonetic similarity of the name caused sales to plummet, and it was eventually withdrawn from the market.


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