Mortal peril: the unholy temptation of descriptive names

My family and I walk by this tiny church on our way to the grocery store all the time. And while I’d always noticed the odd architecture of the place, advice it was only recently that I took a second look and was struck by the name.


Big promise + tiny package = big let-down

Now I know that a “cathedral” is technically where the bishop has his headquarters, viagra so in the case of a little splinter denomination like this, this really is their cathedral. But for the neighbours, calling this a “cathedral” stretches the bounds of credibility. As a matter of fact, in referring to this building, I’d never use the term “cathedral” unless I wanted to make someone laugh. Cathedrals are massive, ornate, and architecturally significant features in a cityscape; this is just a little local church on a quiet side street.

But that’s just an example where the descriptive name doesn’t fit…

Why would you choose a descriptive name?

On the plus side, when such a name really does describe your product, you can expend less effort explaining it. So if your company is called “International Ball Bearings” and your competitors are “MMT Inc.” and “ACME Inc.” and your target happens to be in the market for ball bearings, you have a quick leg up on the others, even if they make the same product.

A descriptive name can also convey corporate seriousness and solidity. A company named “American Apparel” will have to go a long way to damage that respectable first impression: although give them credit for trying.

The downside

The problem is: what if all three companies mentioned above also made carriage bolts, and that’s what a customer was looking for? They’d probably assume International Ball Bearings wasn’t for them, right? So while a descriptive name communicates more information faster, it’s also much less flexible. You can’t sell toothpaste if your name is Canada Shipping Lines.

“Purely descriptive” is also a bad word in Trademark law, as it essentially means “cannot be protected”.

But there’s a time and a place for descriptiveness

In my naming work, I have often recommended descriptive names: Canada Business for example as a name for a government service for business. Descriptive product names are also appropriate for companies using a corporate  “master brand” model. Recently, Bell very wisely dumped its Sympatico and ExpressVU names in favour of “Bell Internet” and “Bell TV”. And the world breathed a sigh of relief.

The trick as always, is balance. So how do you achieve this? The easy answer is hire Brandvelope Consulting. But whatever you do, look at the brand in its complete context, and particularly how it fits into the bigger “brandscape” that your customers are facing.

2 thoughts on “Mortal peril: the unholy temptation of descriptive names”

  1. Great article, and I would agree with your conclusion on balance. A good combination of both is no doubt the best way forward. But it seems there is mostly a tendency in a company to go either more for the descriptive names, or either fully for brands. While the first scenario offers the restrictions you mention above, the second also has some disadvantages. I personally like to concentrate strength behind a brand – and that means having some descriptive brands next to that lead brand.

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