Can a Bad Name Kill a Product's Chances for Success?

Last Updated May 26, 2010 11:10 AM EDT

Let's say you run a company. You tell your IT manager that you want to deploy a unified-communications tool, something that supports cross-platform instant messaging, video conferencing, Skype-like voice calling, and even Facebook and Twitter integration.

The IT guy says, "No problem, I know just the thing. It's called Goober." After collecting your jaw from the floor, you tell the IT guy to get serious: "I'm not trusting my company's communication needs to something called Goober."

And you'd be right. Know why? Because Goober is a stupid name, especially for a product that aims to be taken seriously as a business tool. Call me shallow, call me shortsighted -- I'm not deploying "Goober" to my employees. Heaven forbid any of my customers learned we were "Goober" users. It just sounds unprofessional. (Even the logo's a failure. It looks like "Geeber.")

I don't mean to rag on one company in particular. Certainly there have been plenty of dumb product names over the years (you may recall my roundup of the five dumbest).

And it doesn't end with products. Many years ago, a buddy of mine went to work for a company specializing in virtual-call-center solutions. Its name: White Pajama. He insisted that if Linux developer Red Hat could thrive, so could White Pajama. Guess what? Red Hat is an odd name, but it's not ridiculous. White Pajama is a ridiculous name for a company. (Proving my point, they eventually changed it.)

I understand there are only so many words in the English language. But get a clue, marketing departments! Goober? Flooz? Sony CLIÉ? It's like you're begging people to shun your product or service because the name is annoying, confusing, unprofessional, or some combination of the three. Doesn't matter if it looks cool or does cool stuff -- if it has a dumb name, it's far more likely to fail.

That's my two cents on the subject. Got a different opinion? You know the drill: meet me in the comments.

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    Rick Broida, a technology writer for more than 20 years, is the author of more than a dozen books. In addition to writing CNET's The Cheapskate blog, he contributes to CNET's iPhone Atlas.