Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a rose by any other name

"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," wrote the great bard in the late 1500s, when presumably the art and science of choosing names for companies and products was only slightly less well understood than it is today.

in that play, juliet says:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.

ah, lovely juliet. if only she had been around for the naming of the Toyota Venza. i suspect there were many parts of men (and quite possibly women, too) being flung around in that naming discussion.

the bloggers actually like the car, which appears to be what one would expect from a toyota wagon, but a little spiffier. they go on a bit about how clearly the car's exterior design was intended to make the vehicle look "muscular" -- big tires, big metal grille, etc. but a lot of the visitor commentary is about how feminine and dare i say, girly, they think "venza" is, as a name. some of those commenters also point out that everyone knows in more than 50% of vehicle purchases, women either make the selection or highly influence the decision.

but apparently, these folks have not checked out their latin primers. "veno, "ven" and other similar word parts are derived from the latin venenum, meaning "poison." and "veni," as in "veni, vedi, vici,", means "come." in fact, in the french, the verb "come" (as in "come here") is venez.

now, the folks to whom i lovingly refer as the literalist nation would say something, ah... literal ... about this, like "oh, so what we're saying is we want them to come to the car and get poisoned?" as a reason for picking a different moniker. but the truth is, people make all kinds of crazy associations to names, whether or not they speak latin or french or tagalog. i'd bet there are a fair number of folks who would say "venza" reminds them of "pizza," as much as anything else. (and when you have to figure out where to take a family of 5 for an affordable dinner, presumably in your venza, the pizza place is a good option.)

those associations are built over time from experiences, a few of which are shared with the rest of the world, but the large portion of which are uniquely individualized. which is why choosing good names is such a difficult task, and why companies and brands should make sure they take this activity seriously. it's not something for employees to do as an internal communications activity, nor for senior executives to decide in an ops review. the marketing folks at toyota are not pikers, and i would wager they vetted this name pretty carefully with the target to ensure, even if it wasn't a lovefest, that there weren't any highly negative associations generated by the name.

many folks tell the "funny story" of the chevy nova reportedly bombing in spanish-speaking markets because "nova" in spanish translates into "doesn't go" (that story, by the way, is false -- see this snopes article for an excellent accounting of the truth about the nova name) as an example of bad naming. but the fact that most don't know the story isn't true just provides more evidence of how people can come to believe things without evidence. as someone who thinks of herself as a reasonably intelligent person, i have trouble with this idea... but as a marketer, i know for a fact it's real.

which is why, when i need a vehicle that'll be the next dog taxi for willy and hoover, i'll probably consider the venza. toyota, in fact, is now targeting dog owners for the venza. wired even wrote a story about this, calling out the strategy. and the venza's even been named the "top car for dogs" by dogtime.com and their dog reviewer, lucky (that might be him, in the photo on left). maybe we can get a play date together...

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