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With Billions At Stake, Firms Play Name That Mop

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With Billions At Stake, Firms Play Name That Mop

With Billions At Stake, Firms Play Name That Mop

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The language of advertising in public relations is meant to seduce you into buying or believing something. Step one in that process is the name. In our ongoing look at the public relations industry, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports that what something is called can make a very big difference.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: A really cool name can do wonders for a product's image. Just ask David Placek. He was on the team that came up with Blackberry. Procter & Gamble once hired his company Lexicon to help create them come up with a name for an improved mop.

DAVID PLACEK: So we worked for a little bit with the word of - you know, mop. And then in work sessions with them, we sort of jointly agreed that let's forget about that this is a mop. This is really something - this is a new idea.

BLAIR: So, starting with the obvious...

PLACEK: Clean, wipe, sweep.

BLAIR: They played around, shaping those words.

PLACEK: Swif with one f, swiff with two f's, swiffee with, you know, an e, then there's Swiffer with the er. And then you debate those things.

BLAIR: And Swiffer won.


Unidentified Woman: Swiffer gives cleaning a whole new meaning.

BLAIR: Today, the Swiffer brand is sold in more than 15 countries and is one of Procter & Gamble's biggest sellers.

PLACEK: And when you take the risk of developing something like Swiffer, versus something like, you know, Pro-Mop, it will travel farther and faster.

BLAIR: Plus, Swiffer is easy to pronounce, in any language. And that's really important, but not always true.

Diane Prange is chief linguist for the company Strategic Name Development. She says: What's up with some of those Greek yogurts on the market?

DIANE PRANGE: Oikos, Chobani, Fage.

BLAIR: Actually, I think it's Fage.

PRANGE: And I know they're supposed to be authentic Greek, but they're very difficult to say.

BLAIR: Prange says the name can have an impact on sales.

PRANGE: If you can't say it, it's hard to ask for it.

BLAIR: And if you can't ask for it, you might not buy it.

But even words that are user-friendly can run into trouble. For example, names that start out as trademarks can become so popular, they end up losing their individuality, words like granola, jungle gym, and moxie all started out as brands.

Then there's the Web address. Every product wants one. But if a name is too generic, chances are it isn't available - as a, anyway. Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, says the good parts of the Internet are all booked up.

MILTON MUELLER: There are over 80 million names registered under com.

BLAIR: But they're trying to fix that problem by adding more addresses.

MUELLER: There's supposed to be maybe 200 new top-level domains. OK. And so there will be maybe a There will be a There will be a There will be names in Chinese-language script that I can't even pronounce.

BLAIR: In the naming game, the stakes are high. Diane Prange says your name is a shortcut to your brand, and your brand is your promise. But even the naming experts agree: Keeping a promise takes a lot more than a good name.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about one of the biggest names on the Web right now: Facebook. That's one company that's been massively successful in generating positive PR, but now it's in a major PR pickle.

Yesterday, it emerged that Facebook hired the big PR firm Burson-Marsteller to look for material critical of a new Google service called Social Circle, doing a little opposition research.

Facebook wished to stay anonymous when it hired the PR company, but bloggers and journalists figured out that Facebook was behind the campaign and immediately outed the company. So now we'll see how Facebook handles damage control.


INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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