Lexicon® Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Naming Trends’

When the Language is the Message: Premium Skin Care Products in the Brazilian Market

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, Linguistics, Naming on July 13, 2016 at 2:58 pm

banner_physiolift_web_homepage_1400x670
00002662.jpg

People often fall into the trap of thinking that a message’s utility is a simple function of its contents. However, in his now famous aphorism, Marshall McLuhan first asserted that the medium is the message. In other words, the mode of expression used to transmit an idea is a contextual lens through which we interpret and understand the idea, thus influencing our perception. This holds true for the brand naming work we do here at Lexicon Branding, and is key in reaching the most strategic and efficient linguistic form for a given project. This point becomes especially important for products competing in today’s global economy.

In some cases, the medium can actually trump the content of the name, particularly when it comes to the language of expression. I was taken aback when I first noticed that many premium skin care products in Brazilian drugstores are not named in the country’s official language of Portuguese. At first pass this made sense because many of the products in this category are imported. But to my surprise, even country of origin could not account for the names’ language of origin. So where are these names coming from?

To answer this question, I took to the shelves of local drug stores to survey the selection of premium skin care products in Brazil. I found that English forms like Skin, Care and Age appeared in some skin care brand names, but French-sounding ones were much more prevalent, especially if the product had a clear cosmetic use (e.g., Dermage, Avène, Vichy, L’Oréal, L’Occitane). Brands that had a French or French-like name, such as Dermage or Vichy, were generally followed by supporting nomenclature in Portuguese to describe the product’s use. This is in keeping with the traditional notion in Brazil, and many other countries worldwide: that the French are leading cosmetics experts. This is found in the USA as well, where premium American brands include Estée Lauder and Clinique. Across the globe, many people who use these products speak little or no French and are completely unaware that Estée Lauder was an enterprising American business woman in the early 20th century, or that a clinique is a private hospital (hardly where I would look for beautification). It seems these surface level references to French culture are enough to convince plenty of consumers of the brands’ authenticity.

BrazilSkinCare_Nivea

Indeed, some manufacturers go so far as to hide the names of parent companies if they are not consistent with the desired product image. For instance, German-sounding names like Bayer, Stiefel, Beiersdorf, and Daudt, tend not to feature prominently on packaging. Instead, the parent companies’ names are generally placed inconspicuously on the back of the bottle in fine print. Take, for example, the world-famous NIVEA skin care brand, owned by the German company Beiersdorf. As the company explains, the word NIVEA is derived from the Latin word nix, nivis meaning “snow.” So NIVEA means “snow white.” Thus, its German identity is completely effaced. Likewise, their popular Q10 Plus line of skin care creams give the consumer no hint at all that its original maker is German: Beiersdorf is buried on the back of the packaging in tiny, barely-legible print while the brand NIVEA is center-stage on every surface.

This pattern emerges in other lines and sub-brands as well, where French and English are used to sell anti-wrinkle facial cream. This time, they combine the French word Visage with an English descriptor, Expert Lift, followed by detailed information in Portuguese.

Why is it that the German identity is practically erased? One possibility is Brazilians’ lack of familiarity with the German language itself. More likely, though, it’s the prestige that French carries in Brazil. In the past, the upper classes would often study French, especially the daughters of well-to-do Brazilians; it was considered the language of “civilization,” and as such, it was often used for the branding of sophisticated personal items for women and of stores that sold them. German, on the other hand, has often been associated with heavy industry, precision tools, pharmaceutical products, and musical instruments. It also doesn’t help that Brazilians tend to think of German as sounding a little harsh, partially due to certain consonants produced farther back in the mouth, and the sheer length of the words. These cultural biases, together with the legitimate heritage of French expertise in cosmetics, help to explain the preference for French or French-sounding monikers for premium skin care products in Brazil. It’s the language itself that conjures up these images in the minds of regular consumers, even if they don’t actually speak a word of the language at all.

– Aurora Neiva, A member of Lexicon’s World Brand® Team

Advertisements

Uncanny Similarity

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, Consumer Goods, High Technology, Linguistics, Naming on March 4, 2016 at 9:24 am

Robots-Blog-Piece

Life imitates art. It is a foregone conclusion for futurologists that much of the technology that lies ahead will have been somehow imagined in the past. Yes, futurology – it’s an actual thing. Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the helicopter, was inspired by Jules Verne’s 1886 sci-fi novel, Clipper of the Clouds. The Smithsonian catalogs ten inventions inspired by science fiction, including the rocket, the submarine, and the cell phone. Much of the technology we live with today had once been just a dream in the mind of novelists and stargazers.

Robots certainly fall into this category. A question we had at Lexicon was whether real robot names reflect the nomenclature of fictional robots. A brief analysis of about 300 robot names from science fiction revealed a few major themes.

One theme was a reliance on individual letters and/or numbers, often in the form of alphanumerics and acronyms. Some classic examples – R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 – hail from one of the most famous sci-fi franchises, Star Wars. Others include SI-9 from the 2011 film Eva, EDI from Stealth, or even further back, L-76 from the 1964 novel The Rest of the Robots. In this context, the alphanumerics seem to represent a sort of model or ID number, highlighting the robots’ systematic industrial production; they’re consumer products.

Interestingly, another major theme we found was human names. Lenny, Jessica, Ava, Helen, Louie… the list goes on. This makes sense since many robots are androids (a word coined from Greek parts roughly meaning “human-like”), and in some imaginations, they’re virtually indistinguishable from actual people – think the Replicants from Blade Runner. Some names even combine the human and industrial elements. A few examples: Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit films, MARK13 from the 1990 film Hardware, D.A.R.Y.L. which stands for “Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform” from the film of the same name, and R.A.L.F. “Robotic Assistant Labor Facilitator” from Flight of the Navigator.

Possibly because of these two opposing domains, some authors opt for ambiguous “futuristic” coinages, neither readily recognizable as a human or product name. These run the gamut from sleek and smooth to just plain uncomfortable in the mouth: Aniel, Alsatia Zevo, Zhora, Zat, Weebo, Trurl, Dorfl.

It’s not hard at all to find some of these same naming tropes in the real world: Apple’s Siri is actually an acronym that stands for “Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface”; Alexa is Amazon’s take on the concept. An even more explicit fictional borrowing is Microsoft’s Cortana, named after an AI character from the Halo games. The full categorization of these voice interface platforms as robots is up for debate, but there’s no question the naming conventions are a matter of life imitating art.

KATIA, which stands for “Kick Ass Trainable Intelligent Arm” is an example of a real robot whose name takes a cue from sci-fi. The same is true for LS3, which stands for “Legged Squad Support Systems.” On the other end of the spectrum – human names – are Jimmy, Buddy, and Lucy.

Meanwhile, the names Jibo, Rokid, Bolide, RHex, and Erigo easily fit the image of strange inventions of the future.

A final theme to note is the use of classical languages and figures. This seems to have been more common in earlier (pre-1980s) sci-fi, with names such as Rex, Colossus, Kronos, Talos, and Proteus IV. And this is yet another domain exploited by real world robots: Alpha 2, Atlas, da Vinci.

So it seems that real robot names do tend to resemble those of their sci-fi predecessors. But what do these themes mean?

On the one hand, we logically understand robots as products; but the more human-like qualities they take on, the more we feel the need to humanize them. Strange coinages are a way for us to process the sheer weirdness of robots and AI. And references to the classics may stand for the dawning of a new era, one that is uncannily similar to the beginnings of our own modern world.

Greg Alger, Director of Linguistics