Consumer Behaviour,Marketing
• 9 minute read

One Product, Two Names

Lam, Howard Pong-yuen(林邦源)

Marketers around the world have always struggled to come up with a sound branding strategy whenever a new product is introduced. How do companies optimize their marketing dollars without sacrificing the stickiness of a new brand?

By Louisa Wah Hansen

When Procter and Gamble (P&G) introduced its shampoo Rejoice in the Hong Kong market back in the 80s, it adopted the Chinese name (飄柔), which means ‘soft and smooth’. Later on, when it introduced a new product line for styling and sculpting hair, it had a dilemma. The new products were supposed to make the hair hard – the opposite of ‘smooth and soft’. It became apparent that the name Rejoice could not be used to launch a new product line. A completely new brand name, Pantene (潘婷), was introduced as a result. Massive amounts of advertising and marketing money had to be spent to bring the brand to consumers’ consciousness.

This anecdote illustrates the marketer’s continuous challenge — what kind of branding strategy should they use to launch new products? Is there a better way to do it? These were the question asked by Howard Lam, a marketing professor at CUHK Business School, when he was the brand manager in charge of Rejoice.

After he joined The Coca‐Cola Company in 2002, he continued to ruminate about this question, when he was put in charge of launching a new juice drink in mainland China under the brand Minute Maid.

Thinking back on his experience at P&G, Prof. Lam says, “As a long‐time marketing practitioner, I don’t think I would propose a name, which becomes successful, only to find that a few years later, I would have to go back to management and tell them we need to reposition the brand. Management would ask me why I had not thought of a better name in the first place. Of course I could follow the [multiple‐brand] model of P&G and Coca‐Cola and launch a new brand for a new product line each time. But I prefer to think outside the box.”

This quest to break out of the existing branding models used by established marketers has led Prof. Lam to an entirely new realm. He came up with a strategy so intuitive that one wonders how come it had never been used before.

All in the Family

“Just as every person has a given name and a family name, why can’t we have a given name and a family name for every product?” asked Prof. Lam when he was going through the branding exercise for Minute Maid. He came up with Guo Li Cheng (果粒橙), which translates into Fruit Pulp Orange, as the given name—or sub‐brand for the product, and chose Mei Zhi Yuan (美汁源) as the Chinese translation for the family name of Minute Maid. Mei Zhi Yuan translates into ‘good juice source’ and positions Minute Maid as a juice‐based wellness brand. Both are suggestive names, which means that they are descriptive enough for the consumers to quickly grasp the product’s benefits and what differentiates it from competitors.

Thanks to the successful naming strategy, Minute Maid achieved the No. 1 or 2 position in AC Nielsen’s market share in each of the four lead markets in China – Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xian – just 12 months after the product launch.

“It’s quite amazing that nobody ever thought of this [branding strategy] ever,” says Prof. Lam. “Marketers sometimes spend so much money and energy to negotiate joint‐venture, co‐branding deals. In my mind, why not focus on getting the best name for your brand instead of borrowing a name from the partner?”

Given that many new products fail in the market even after companies spend huge sums of money to launch them, it is imperative that marketers consider a more effective and efficient branding strategy, he says. As such, why not keep the family name to cover all brands from the same category, and create various given names when new product lines are introduced, treating them like brothers and sisters in a family? This would certainly be more cost‐efficient than using a number of unrelated brand names for products in the same category.

Thinking Outside the Box

Going against the grain always requires some effort in persuasion. When Prof. Lam introduced his dual‐branding strategy for Minute Maid, he first used “establishing a new product’s presence in the market” as a key point to persuade the stakeholders. Having everyone agree on that, he then went on to propose focusing all the marketing and advertising money on promoting the sub‐brand of Fruit Pulp Orange (Guo Li Cheng) and not spending anything in advertising for promoting the family name Minute Maid (Mei Zhi Yuan). At first there was some hesitation from the stakeholders but Lam quickly convinced them by mentioning the basic principle of advertising, which is being single‐minded. He reasoned that consumers do read labels and the name Minute Maid would eventually seep into their awareness.

“First, get people to remember Guo Li Cheng. Then after a while, they will notice Minute Maid,” he says, comparing this to how people first remember a new acquaintance’s given name, followed by the family name in due course.

Sure enough, a few years after Fruit Pulp Orange was launched, the company introduced another product line, a fruit pulp milk drink under a new sub‐brand, Guo Li Nai You (果粒奶优) (meaning fruit pulp premium milk). Because it was launched under the Minute Maid brand, which had already established a strong presence in the market, the spending required to launch the new sub‐brand turned out to be less than it would have been to launch the product with a completely new brand name.

There was one detail that made this sub‐brand work. Before finalizing on the Chinese name for Minute Maid, Prof. Lam ruled out suggestions to include the word ‘fruit’ as he envisioned a name to be so inclusive that any new products to do with juice can be easily introduced, such as smoothie drinks with juice content. “The category would be self‐limiting if we added ‘fruit’ in the name,” he says.

This branding strategy is elaborated in a research paper titled “Dual Branding Strategy for a Successful New Product Launch in China” written by Prof. Lam and his co‐authors.

The authors propose that marketers use the same parent brand to introduce different products to build scale for the brand. This would enable them to differentiate the different product offerings under different sub‐brand names. By the same token, the authors suggest that when a company acquires a brand from another company, it can position the acquired brand as a sub‐brand under the parent brand, provided that the parent brand covers a broad business scope and is suggestive in nature.

To test whether the dual branding concept such as the one used for Minute Maid actually works better than other branding strategies, the authors conducted a test in Shanghai with the help of a global research agency, which quantitatively measured consumers’ reactions to a set of hypothetical product names and brand concepts. The results show that using two suggestive names — one for parent brand and one for sub‐brand — would lead to significantly higher purchase intent and overall liking scores than using any other combinations.

There is More to a Name

The Minute Maid example shows how a new conceptual framework has been successfully applied to name products, with the given name based on the product’s benefits or features, and the family name based on the category benefits.

To this framework, Prof. Lam added a few bits of obvious yet often‐neglected advice: “Make sure the name is easy to remember, easy to recall, and find a smart way to get it registered. Don’t create a name that is difficult for people to communicate or pronounce. If people cannot pronounce it, they won’t be able to remember it.”

Additionally, when naming a company, he warns against using the owner’s name. The reason? “Your name was not created by you, but by your parents or grandparents. It may not fit your company’s definition of business. It may not suggest what you want to suggest to your customers, and it may not be easy to remember.”

He cited Li Ning as an example. “‘Ning’ means quiet and calm. It’s a name given to the celebrity sportsman by his parents, but for sports products you want to convey the idea of being active. So it’s not a good name.”

When a company name is reduced to alphabets, it becomes even less customer‐friendly. Prof. Lam cited J&J and HP as examples, explaining that, compared with the older generation, the younger generation of customers would not immediately understand the value conveyed by the founders’ names, let alone the acronyms, which are not easy to remember.

“For any company, it is necessary to continue to recruit new consumers,” explains Prof. Lam. “My four‐year‐old daughter, for example, would have no idea what J&J means. So it is not good to use alphabets to recruit new consumers. It’s not efficient. But fortunately in China, J&J has adopted a good Chinese name (强生), which means ‘Strong Life’ — a good name for baby products. This is better than its previous Cantonese name used in Hong Kong (莊生), which was just a phonetic translation.”

When in China…

Another important piece of advice from Prof. Lam is to make sure your product or company name does not carry any negative connotations in any major Chinese dialects.

“Check the different connotations of your [company or product] name in different dialects. Check with the local people,” he says. “Even though a name may sound good in Mandarin, it may sound terrible in another dialect. I strongly suggest spending marketing research money on this before seeking out the fortune tellers!”

How should multinationals go about doing this kind of research? Prof. Lam suggests they check with their employees in regional branches in China, or ask marketing research agencies to pose an open question in a quantitative survey in key cities in China, asking respondents if they can think of any bad meanings of a product name in their local dialects. This would increase the chances of detecting any flaws in naming a new product.

He himself was instrumental in stopping a potential mistake in the naming of Coke Zero. “It is logical for a person to directly translate Zero Sugar to (零糖) in Chinese,” says Prof. Lam. However, noticing that this had the same pronunciation of a funeral altar in Cantonese, he used Zero Degree (零度) instead.

“While no bad news is good news, things could suddenly go wrong if you have not gone through a systematic and strategic process of developing and screening,” he says. “For MNCs that are going to launch a national‐wide product, checking the new name in local dialects is the minimum they have to do.”

Want even more insights?

Enjoy the best and most relevant articles monthly with a subscription to CBK's digest.