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The 10 Best Brand Names Ever

The 10 Best Brand Names Ever

By John Bell

January 10, 2012

John Bell

John Bell is the retired CEO of coffee/confectioner Jacobs Suchard, now part of Kraft. As a strategy consultant, he has counseled some of the globe's most respected blue-chip consumer goods companies.

Learn more about John Bell

Now that we are in the new year, you can expect to see 2011 rankings by major periodicals on a variety of measures from most valuable global brands to the most innovative companies. My ranking of the “Best Brand Names” has no time constraint. If fact, every quantitative measurement has been removed. I have purposely ignored a brand’s reputation, its place within the market, even its package design. Fundamentally, the judgment criterion for the "10 Best Brand Names Ever" is one of clearing the slate and imaging the brand at inception, before advertising, promotion and packaging. That is the brand name acid test.

For the most part, the common thread connecting my choices is product association, imagery, character (personality) and differentiation conveyed by the name. That may seem a lot to ask in a word, or two. With few exceptions, those on the list provide every one of these attributes before a dollar need be spent in advertising and promotion. Yet, because some of the brand owners failed to prudently invest in their asset, a few of my top ten have not withstood the test of time.

10. Wrangler

With product features that were designed to appeal to cowboys, Wrangler Jeans were the quintessential western since introduction in the '40s. Sadly, Wrangler faced mounting competition, closed its last American sewing plant in 2005 and slipped from the apex of consumer esteem.

9. Southern Comfort

Created in 1874 by a New Orleans bartender, the Southern Comfort name delivers cult-like imagery and promises a tasty pleasure unique to the American south.

8. Mike’s Hard Lemonade

The brand and vodka lemonade category was invented by Vancouver's Dossier Creative and positioned as an emotionally-engaging, anti-marketing, irreverent brand. One of the most creative brand names ever, Mike’s became a phenomenal success years before it was advertised.

7. Champion

The name smacks of power and accomplishment. At one time, the spark plug maker was a Fortune 500 Company. While Champion's awareness remains high amongst auto and racing enthusiasts, the brand has fallen to the canvas and is unlikely to get up.

6. Wonder

Rumor has it that baking executive Elmer Cline was filled with wonder by the scene of hundreds of red, yellow and blue balloons at the 1921 Indianapolis International Balloon Race. I’ve always loved this brand name, although I’m the first to admit that Wonder Bread failed to deliver the wonderment of taste, texture or nutrition.

5. Dove

Dove is superficially the most simple and unimaginative brand name on my list. Yet emotionally, it is hard to beat. A dove symbolizes peacefulness, gentleness, purity and softness — that’s what women want when it comes to their hair and their skin.

4. Haagen-Dazs

This name shatters the “product association” rule. Häagen-Dazs is two made-up words meant to look Scandinavian to the American eye. The name is so strong on imagery, character and differentiation that description is unnecessary.

3. Walkman

The original Sony Walkman audio player transformed music listening habits by offering the convenience of portable music. Walkman did not describe the product; it told you what you could do with it. The name trumps iPod. The lesson, of course is that there is far more to a brand’s success than the name.

2. Diehard

Diehard is an outstanding brand name whose best years are behind it. The battery’s promise was a lifetime guarantee — that is, for as long as the original owner owned the car in which it was originally installed. Inherent in the name was rugged masculinity, a “never say die” personality and memorability.

1. The Beetle

The most fascinating aspect of the bug is that its name came from the people. Through word-of-mouth, The Käfer (Beetle in German) became the Volkswagen Beetle worldwide. The absurdity of this iconic name is that it never appeared in advertising or in Volkswagen materials until 1968 — a half century after its introduction.

So there you have my subjective selection. Now it's over to you. Tell me the brands you think I've overlooked and why they should be on the list.

Let us know what you think in the comments!

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