Is It Game Over for Naming Consultants?

Blog Post Image

At the end of the day, crowdsourcing for names is just another thing coming down the path that looks like it will threaten name consultants but ultimately won’t do much other than provide them a useful tool

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

If you’re worried about robots of the future taking over your job, please spare a thought for me and my fellow naming consultants who have apparently already lost ours to basically everyone else on the planet.

Google has joined the list of organisations who have decided to crowdsource their latest name for the temporarily monikered ‘Android N’. The rules are simple; the new name must begin with the letter ‘N’ and be sweet and edible like the previous versions: Gingerbread, Marshmallow, etc.

Usually it’s the public moaning on Twitter about how bad branding is (oh hey there new Instagram logo) but this is a rare chance for the branding agencies to strike back with a moan themselves. Well I say rare but Boaty McBoatface has barely sailed over the horizon so maybe opportunities are becoming a bit more frequent.

So what’s so bad about Google, or anyone else, taking to the internet to ask for suggestions for their latest products? The arguments go:

•    Most of the names will be of low quality and unusable
•    Trolls will hijack the contest with ridiculous suggestions
•    Any acceptable names will be obvious and likely to be legally unavailable
•    Without proper review they will probably be difficult to understand for a global market.

Phew. It looks like I don’t need to brush up on those juggling skills and fall back on my once budding circus career.

So the amateurs should all just go away and leave it to us pros right?

Erm, not quite.

Not a single one of those issues magically go away whether it’s the public creating names or a team of naming consultants. The creation of names is just part of the naming process and that process is there to stop the problems that can, and will, arise.  

Most of the names will be of low quality and unusable

I appreciate that some naming professionals might have their own way of working here but many, myself included, will go heavy on the creation to get everything out before refining them to realistic options. Those of us who go through this process find that many, if not most, of our names are unusable too. Many will be there for exploring ideas, testing things out, or simply to get out of our heads, but only a small percentage would be considered serious contenders.

Those of us who go through this process find that many, if not most, of our names are unusable too.

I quite often create names with a small team of people and I always remind them that naming can be a team sport. Something I write down might not work but someone sitting next to me might pick it up and run with it beautifully. It might be something simple like a different spelling or it could be taking the concept and exploring it a bit deeper to find a better solution. Why would this concept suddenly not work when it’s the public creating the names? The final name might not be there but what’s to stop someone at Google tweaking one of them to fit what they’re looking for?

Trolls will hijack the contest with ridiculous suggestions

People put funny names into lists of name creations all the time. Even clients I’m working with who are naming their own product do it. Sometimes they are creative, sometimes they are crass but they are there to laugh about and move on. Humour is often a valuable part of the creative process so I don’t see the problem with it just because it’s on a larger scale with crowdsourcing. It might take slightly longer to weed out the joke names but that’s pretty much it. 

The Android N is currently seeing a lot of jokes made at Android’s expense, things like ‘Nope’ and ‘NowBuyAniPhone’. Apparently some people didn’t bother reading past the first rule! So has this whole process been hijacked and ruined just because a few people are making jokes about it? Of course not. The battle between Android and Apple users rages on every day and both companies are doing OK so I don’t think crowdsourcing a name was ever going to be the thing that pushed the tide into Apple’s favour. 

Any acceptable names will be obvious and likely to be legally unavailable

Find me a naming consultant who is so good at creating names, that they’ve never had one fail a trademark check, because I want to ask them to pick my lottery numbers!

I don’t care who creates a list of names, some of them are going to fail at the legal checking stage. If you think that getting an experienced naming consultant to create names for you will stop the need for checking, then you are very mistaken. At best, their experience might stop them putting a few options forward as they intuitively know that they won’t work but having a trademark lawyer look over a crowd-sourced list of names will have the same effect.

Without proper review they will probably be difficult to understand for a global market

All names that make it to the latter stages of selection should be linguistically checked regardless of who created them. I’d be mortified if a client didn’t want to check a name I created just because I’m a naming expert and not a random member of the public. Many brand names have to work across so many nations that it’s impossible for someone creating to know the intricacies of all of the relevant languages. But they shouldn’t need to because that’s what the checking process is there for.

Maybe the assumption here is that because the names are coming from a global source they are already globally acceptable but I’ve not seen anything that suggests that is actually the case. If all previous version names were linguistically checked, why wouldn’t this one be?

All names that make it to the latter stages of selection should be linguistically checked regardless of who created them.

So is crowdsourcing brand names a good idea?

Crowdsourcing is just another tool that the naming consultant can use. It can become part of the process but it cannot replace it. The suggestion that it could is ludicrous. Somebody, preferably a naming consultant, will always have to oversee all of the other parts of the process that surround the creation.

But I’d like to argue that even if naming requires an expert, there is still a part that can be played by the public and even that it can enhance the process.

Massive groups of people as a whole might not be overly creative but if you open up to that group you will find that many, many individuals within it are. If you’re on Twitter and pay any attention to the trends I doubt you’ve managed to avoid one of the seemingly endless topics where people are invited to change the name of a film or a song to fit a particular subject. So for example, ‘MillionaireSongs’ results in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany and Co’ and ‘MomMovies’ gives us gold like ‘I’m not Mad Max, I’m Just Disappointed’. A lot of people out there who aren’t naming consultants would be brilliant at creating names if they wanted to do it and were given the opportunity. Crowdsourcing names taps into this awesome resource and does it at very little cost.

As I’ve already hinted quite strongly, there is a massive limitation to this public inclusion and one the Boaty McBoatface debacle highlighted perfectly. There is a massive difference between asking the public to create names and asking them to vote on them. Getting involved on the creative side creates fantastic levels of engagement, but turning round and shooting down the majority’s opinion destroys it completely. Get the public to create names and even get them to vote for a winner from a shortlist that has been checked and cleared by an expert but don’t ask them to pick from the raw creation…that is asking for trouble.

Getting involved on the creative side creates fantastic levels of engagement, but turning round and shooting down the majority’s opinion destroys it completely.

A massive benefit that Google is seeing is the access to such a wide variety of different cultures and involving them in their process. Obviously any final options will still need to be checked in the relevant locations but to have people from different backgrounds contributing new ideas is fantastic. Even as an observer it’s brilliant; I’ve learned of something called ‘nastar’ which is a pineapple tart from South-East Asia and definitely now on my list to track down and try!

At the end of the day, crowdsourcing for names is just another thing coming down the path that looks like it will threaten name consultants but ultimately won’t do much other than provide them a useful tool. It’s like internal employee competitions to choose the new company name; people always used to tell me how that was going to replace me but the success stories of that concept are very few and far between. I think that part of the negativity comes from a general lack of understanding as to what a naming consultant actually does, which isn’t to just sit there and come up with some cool names (I imagine every consultant has had the clients who have said “how much for just coming up with one name?!” as if it’s really just that simple). But to be fair, that perception hasn’t killed us off yet so you’re probably stuck with us for quite a while longer. The circus will just have to wait.

This article was written by our own naming and brand strategy specialist Kevin Taylor, who has been naming for some of the world's biggest brands for 15 years.

If you would like to discuss naming, branding, sumo wrestling or squirrels, then please get in touch with Kevin.

How to Influence Your Clients and Not Just Sell to Them

Design Week recently published this article we worked on with influence coach John Scarrott