Needless Naming

Posted on October 18, 2010


Rubiks Pantone(c) Gizmodo

If you’ve done DIY at some point in your life, the chances are that this has included a bit of painting.  So, can I ask you something?  Have you ever chosen a paint colour because you liked its name? Did the fact that the colour was called “sunblush” mean that you just had to have it?

If you’ve never done DIY then you are very lucky, because you’ve lived a very charmed life and I am willing to give you another example of needless naming.  Have you ever chosen a special edition of a car purely because you liked its name?  I once had a Renault Clio Oasis.  It was a nice little motor too, but I’d have been just as happy with it if it wasn’t called an ‘Oasis’, in fact I’d rather it was just called a Renault Clio.  Incidentally it was dark green, a kind of “British Racing Green” if you will.

In that instance the colour name actually helps, because British Racing Green is something with a bit of lineage and there’s a chance you might know what to expect from the name alone.  Although, being French, I suspect Renault marketed this colour as “Sacha Distel Green” or something equally unhelpful – actually I wonder what Sacha Distel green looks like… I’ve just Googled Sacha Distel and I’m sad to report that he died in 2004.  I don’t want to be distasteful, but the name now conjures an image in my head of rotting green flesh, which might work if it’s done in a nice pearlescent effect.

Sacha Distel

My car's colour was nothing like Sacha's jacket, more's the pitty (c)

When the MoD decides on the hues for their camouflage paint jobs are they aided in the task by stupid names?  I can just imagine the command: I’ll have an intercontinental ballistic missile in “jade green” with an accent of “puce”!  (I know puce is pink, but I’ve never written the word in my life and couldn’t resist)

Here is Dulux’s paint colour (neutrals) page. Now, I think I like ‘Malt Chocolate’, but do I prefer ‘Mellow Mocha’?  I’ve no idea what each colour looks like by the name alone.  Do these names help me to choose between one colour and the other – nope.  If the name indicated where one colour sat relative to the other colours in the same range that would be helpful.  If I knew ‘Beige 007’ was lighter than ‘Beige 009’ then I’d have a decent gauge to judge the colours by.  Incidentally that’s what they do for trade customers.  So why don’t they do that for your average punter?  You could argue that the friendly names are more memorable, but I’ve got to say beige with an indicative number seems an even easier method for my brain to work with.  In short, why do marketing departments add unhelpful frills that customers don’t want or need?

If it wasn’t for marketing life would be simpler

Now that’s a risky thing for someone in marketing to say, but I can’t take it back,  it’s there in big bold letters and it’s also true.  Before marketing, people just described things in a straightforward way with the sole purpose to help the person they were interacting with understand their meaning – unless of course they were a bit dodgy and were practising the art of misdirection.  This method worked for hundreds of years and language progressed along nicely and then marketing people got involved and complicated things.


You want a medium sized cup? Well, we call it large. So ask for a large cup and we'll serve you with a bucket. (c)

Starbucks is one of the best known brands there is, so you’d think they would be above this kind of marketing faux pas.  But no, sadly they are not.  Now, I appreciate that they want to conjure up some Italian esque thematics, but we all know they are a plastic homogeneous American brand, so if they are going to pretend they are anything otherwise then they could at least do it in a way that doesn’t make my life more difficult.

I was in a Starbucks recently on my way to work, it was before 9am and therefore it was not effeminate of me to order a Latte, so I went ahead and ordered one.  I’m told that if you have a Latte past mid-morning then it’s seen as being a bit girlie – this seems a bit pretentious even to me and I’m a bit pretentious, but I do admit that I feel a bit more comfortable ordering a Latte in the morning, just in case anyone is judging.  Is Latte the coffee for people that don’t like coffee, probably.

I read the blackboard and saw that a medium-sized cup was called a “Grande”.  As I’ve said, I am a bit pretentious at times so I couldn’t help but let on the fact that I understood what the English translation of Grande is, and I ordered a large Latte.  My mistake, Grande is large of course, but in Starbucks large is medium, super large is Venti, so if you ask for a large you’ll get a super-large cup – do you follow?  So I ended up with a bucket-sized cup of warm milk and felt not only girlie, but also gluttonous.

Why do marketers do this?  Is it just to make our lives difficult?  Or is it so they can snigger at us all as we inadvertently buy the wrong products?  I harbour a small desire for these people, who are hell-bent on making my life more difficult, to meet painful ends as a result of misinterpreting something.  Maybe something like somebody deciding it would be great to be more inclusive and not exclude those who can’t walk from the American pedestrian crossing signs “Walk” / “Don’t Walk”.  So in place of this simple instruction the new signals might include symbols for walkers, wheelers, and zimmer framers – resulting in the person who thought it was a good idea to call medium cups large getting flattened by a medium-sized articulated truck because they confused the “walk/wheel/zimmer” for “don’t walk/wheel/zimmer”.

Finally, a bit of futurology

I leave you with a positive and that is that the Internet is killing this bad habit.  Most companies now do some user testing of their digital communications and so this kind of confusing marketing intervention is being removed.  The downside is that eventually everyone is going to look and sound the same, but the upside is that if someone says something is large then it will be large, not medium …and if someone describes a colour as “Dusted Damson”, they will also give you the additional piece of info that tells you that the colour is actually “Beige 031”.

Phew, glad I got that off my chest.  Time for a medium-sized (larger than small and smaller than large) Latte, which ironically enough is the colour of “Mellow Mocha” and brings a nice “puce” colour to my cheeks when I drink it.  Although it is 09:34 am, have I left it too late?

Posted in: Marketing