(This article appeared in Canada's Marketing Magazine's September issue.)
By Alicia Androich
Marc Hershon’s e-mail signature reads “From the creators of BlackBerry, Swiffer, Pentium, OnStar, Dasani and Outback.” No, his company didn’t create these products, but it did craft an invaluable component of their success: their names.
The sole focus of Lexicon Branding, the Sausalito, Calif .-based company where Hershon is a creative associate, is making up brand names. He spoke with Marketing about how he got his simply kick-ass day job.
Where did you go to school?
The College of Marin, which is a junior college in Kentfield, Calif. I was trying to get a broadcasting degree. I ended up getting a job in radio before I got the degree, so I stopped going.
How did you get from radio to creating names for products?
It was a fairly circuitous route; after radio I got into producing live comedy shows. I met David Placek, the president and founder of Lexicon Branding, at a social function in the late ’80s. I came on full-time in 1993.
So what’s your process for coming up with product names?
We use a method of divergent thinking where we work on naming something that isn’t the actual product. For instance, if we had an assignment to name a new red wine from Italy, we might tell our people that they’re naming a new upscale Italian restaurant. If people start focusing on what the actual product is, tunnel vision crops up very quickly and you stop being expansive.
Also, I’m always on the lookout for fresh resources. I found this gigantic Navajo/English dictionary in a record store. A project came along and I started looking through it for inspiration. It was a fresh source of letters put together in a different way and that’s where the Dasani [purified water] name came from.
We also have a network of over 70 linguists around the world. We want to make sure a name doesn’t mean something bad in another language. About 15 years ago, Reebok came out with a women’s running shoe called the Incubus. It was on the market for less than a week when someone told them an incubus is a demon that rapes women in their sleep.
How many projects do you work on at a time?
Ten is pretty typical. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
How can you tell you’ve got a winning name?
Sometimes you get lucky, you go, “Wow, that’s a great name” early on in the process. The BlackBerry name, for instance, came up in the very first briefing session we had with Research In Motion. But it took an eight-week process and literally thousands of names and consumer research and legal clearance to finally have BlackBerry emerge as one of a dozen names that the company could pick from.
What’s it like to get a name passed through the legal clearance process?
It’s difficult, particularly internationally. One of the hardest things we have to do is present names to clients and say “Do not fall in love with any of these” because as sure as anything, the one they fall in love with is not going to make it through legal clearance.
What’s your typical workday like?
My day is almost completely just thinking of names. So it’s okay for me to leave the office, go for a drive, go to a museum, go buy a bunch of magazines and sit in the park. When you’re able to get away from walls and ringing phones, your thoughts have a chance to really fly.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
That it’s easy! I often have friends ask me, “Can you help us name our new baby?” It’s like “Well, no... you’re not going to like me after I show you 30 names you’ve never seen before for your child!”