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Popular commercial brands generate a “positive emotional reaction from the human brain,” according to a study by the Radiological Society of North America. Does that mean consumers are inclined to just purchase those brands that we have all heard of before, for better or for worse?

This study links positive emotions to the purchase of well-known brand names while linking negative emotions to those brands that are lesser-known. Apparently, well-known brands are easier to process and activate a part of the brain associated with rewards. Conversely, lesser-known brands demand more from parts of the brain associated with memory and elicit stronger negative emotions. Maybe this means our brains view less clear, more convoluted names and messages negatively?

breyers double churn ice cream According to the study, the type of response depended entirely on how strong (or familiar) the brand was, regardless of what product or service was being tested.

We have seen this same trend in our own name testing research but don’t believe it is because lesser-known brands elicit stronger negative emotions. Rather, we think it is because lesser-known brands require us to “think harder.” That is, some of the most pedestrian, generic brand names that have been out in the marketplace for a while tend to test better than some of the most brilliant new names. We believe this is because of the natural associations any name acquires with exposure over time. Once consumers associate a logo, an advertisement, a package graphic, a story, etc. with a name, even a pretty crummy name, it tends grow on them and they tend to like it more. On the other hand, new names are naked. They have very little wrapped around them, very few associations, so the brain has to work harder to establish those connections.

Are more clever but obscure, new names destined for the scrap heap before they get a chance?  We believe many are because clever isn’t what is what is important. Rather, instant emotional engagement is the key. If a new name connects emotionally quickly, it often has high memorability scores. High memorability is what drives awareness and familiarity which can ultimately drive purchase decisions.

Bottom line: when developing new names, focus on those that connect with the right and not the left side of the brain.  Be less concerned with how descriptive or literal a new name is (e.g. an InfoSeek or Very Creamy style of name that connects with the left side of the brain) and more concerned with the emotional reaction it elicits on the right side of the brain (e.g. a Google or Double Churn style of name that might evoke a chuckle, a positive feeling, a desire for more, etc.). This is what we’ve been focused on since 1985 and what our research shows serves many of our clients quite well.

For more information about how we develop engaging, memorable names, go to or give us a call at 512-267-1814.

For more information on the Radiological Society of North America study cited above, go to: Shoppers’ Brains Under Brand-Name Control

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One Comment

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