How the Makeup Industry is Winning at Naming

by: Megan Dzialo

I recently walked into Ulta for 30 blissful minutes of shopping without three young children in tow. It had probably been 10 years since I last walked into an Ulta or Sephora, but I came in with a mission: help my face not look like I always had three children in tow. It was a lofty goal and I wasn’t convinced that any amount of concealer or brightly colored lipstick was up to the challenge, but all of the Instagram ads in my newsfeed made me ignorantly hopeful and I was ready and loaded with gift cards from Christmas. 

After walking through the doors, I was instantly bombarded by two realities. The first was that no one over the age of 21 worked there and could possibly understand eyebags and wrinkles, and the second was that the amount of product loaded up in that store had to be overwhelming even for Kylie Jenner herself. Pair these truths with the reality of a pandemic and the inability to test any of the products and you’re basically shopping with a blindfold and a mask on. As I wandered down the aisles of tiny round compacts and colorful pencils, an employee asked “what can I help you with today?” and all I could mumble is “my face… but I’m good, I’m good” and kept moving like I knew exactly where I was headed.

I knew I needed a strategy. There must be a way to do this store, and then I saw it: Face Tape -a foundation by Tarte cosmetics. “What a terrible name,” I thought to myself. “Who would want to put tape on their face? How is tape a positive association with anything that goes on your face? How sticky could this Face Tape be?” Then I bought it. 30 minutes passed and before I knew it, I walked out with Face Tape, Maneater Mascara, Urban Decay Naked eyeshadow, and had my budget allowed- Too Faced concealer. I fell victim to the power of evocative brand names and I’m not mad about it. The makeup industry is winning at brand naming.

A Battle for Emotions

In an environment that was cluttered and overwhelming, I unknowingly relied on my reactions to the names I read to guide my buying choices. With no way to know which product would actually function or work best for me, I resorted to a superficial decision process of judging a product by its name and packaging. In other words, it was a battle for my emotions- either good or bad. What started out as complete disgust and judgment for whatever “Face Tape” was turned not only into a purchase but a real fondness for the product I’ve already recommended to my friends. A great first impression isn’t what creates brand loyalty, but a memorable impression. Research shows that the likelihood of memorability lies in the intensity of emotion. Plainly spoken, we remember the things we have the strongest feelings about- and memorability is everything when it comes to influencing consumers and creating brand loyalty through a powerful brand name.

In our own brand naming research at NameStormers, we have found time and time again the names people remember are not synonymous with the names people liked best. Let me explain. When we present a list of names to a set of consumers, they will quickly tell us their favorites and least favorites and we move on. 24-48 hours later, we ask that same group of consumers a simple question- “Out of the names we gave you, which ones can you remember?” It’s always astounding to see that the names people liked weren’t typically the names that they could remember, which begs the question, when naming a product what’s more important, likeability or memorability? When given a list of names, on average consumers tend to prefer names that are comfortable, safe, and descriptive over edgy, evocative, and more controversial names, but in the case of makeup branding, safe doesn’t always mean success.

Risk Reaps Rewards

If you don’t know what a maneater is, it’s one of two things: an animal that has a propensity for killing and eating humans or a dominant woman who has many sexual partners. Why would anyone at Tarte cosmetics think Maneater is a good name for mascara or anything else for that matter? Well, with great risk often comes great reward. No successful company today got where they are by playing it safe and making comfortable decisions. Plus, in an industry of thousands of mascara brands, most of which will do the job just fine, sometimes the only chance you have is in a first impression- a name. 

Now, I’m only one type of consumer, but given the choice between Smart Colour mascara, Stay Perfect mascara, or Bad Gal Bang mascara, my attention is likely going to endure on the 3rd one, whether I love the name or not. Is it because I want to be a “bad gal”? Not particularly, but I find that unexpected product names with personality and the confidence to take a risk is something I’m quite curious about. So I linger on the name, I linger on the packaging, then I pull out my phone and start reading reviews. If the reviews are excellent, I’ll usually buy the product. If you’re unlike me and refuse to purchase a product with a name you hate, what are the chances you’ll at least remember that product? Probably high. What are the chances you’ll talk about the product with your friends because of its name? I would guess in the right topic of conversation there’s a good chance. Companies that take risks and create a buzz in their industry foster brand awareness, compel trial purchases, and eventually create customer loyalty, but how much risk is your business able to take when naming that new product?

A Brand Naming Agency Can Help

Assessing the level of risk you’re able to take when naming your start-up or latest product can be nerve-wracking. You’ve sacrificed a lot of time, money, and effort and there’s a lot on the line if you get it all wrong. This is why it might be in your best interest to hire a brand naming agency. At NameStormers we don’t just give you a list of names and tell you “good luck!”. We become an extension of your team, buried knee-deep in your brand story, aspirations, and goals. We lead you through a guided process of unlimited name creation, thorough preliminary trademark screening, and top it off with consumer-validated research on your favorite name candidates. The best part? We keep working with you until you’re happy.