Book Author: Alex Frankel

Book Review by : S S George
Director, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)


Alex Frankel, Accenture, BlackBerry, product, brand, The Word Nerds, The Word Hunters, Capitalist Graffiti, Corporate Poetry, Cayenne, e-business

Abstract: In Wordcraft, Alex Frankel describes the "art of turning little words into big business." The book details the process through which professional naming firms develop company and brand names, and the stories behind the birth of some well known brand names such as Accenture, BlackBerry, and Viagra.


Wordcraft is a book about the art of naming - or as the book's subtitle says, the art of turning little words into big business. Today, when millions of dollars are at stake on the launch of every new product or brand, marketers must pay attention to even the smallest details about the product and how it is likely to be perceived by the market. A hundred years ago, brands could have been, and often were, named after wives or daughters; today naming a brand or product requires the services of consultants and experts.

Perhaps appropriately, the book contains a list of what must have been the potential candidates for its title. Coming from a consultant on naming brands, it is not surprising that the name for the book should have been arrived at after a deliberate, systematic process - at least, as deliberate and systematic as the processes he would use to name his clients' brands. The options considered ranged from 'The Word Nerds' and 'The Word Hunters' to 'Capitalist Graffiti' and 'Corporate Poetry'. And this range of possible titles is indicative of one of the characteristics of the book. It is never quite clear whether this is a book about the people and companies who name products and brands, or about the process of naming brands, or even the significance of the names themselves.

The book deals in considerable detail with five names - BlackBerry, Accenture, Viagra, Cayenne, and e-business - that were created specifically for a product or organization, and are today familiar to most people. Two of these - Viagra and Accenture - are made-up words. E-business was in usage even before IBM appropriated it - so to speak - to become a part of its own advertising and brand image. The book also devotes considerable space to the people who devise these names.

While brand names are important in all industries, it is particularly important for pharmaceutical products. Interestingly, it is not just the drug that gets a name; often pharma companies rename the conditions for which the drug is prescribed. For example, urinary incontinence became an overactive bladder for the drug Detrol; female facial hirsutism became unwanted facial hair for the drug Vaniqa. Changing the name apparently has a tremendous influence on the way the people perceive the disease and the offered cure.

The name game in pharmaceuticals received a big boost in 1997, when the FDA in the US changed its rules regarding the advertising and promotion of prescription drugs to the general public. With patients becoming more aware of the names of prescription drugs, and even asking doctors to prescribe a specific brand, drugs began to be sold not just on their curative properties, but also on their brand image. Consequently, with the kind of importance the author imputes to the name in creating a winning brand, the name given to the drug became critical - no doubt bringing great joy to branding and naming consultancies around the world.

Interestingly, a drug has three names. A chemical name, in accordance with rules and conventions used in naming organic molecules; a generic name, which may be given by the firm which develops the drug, but will not belong to the firm; and the brand name, which is the property of the pharma company. As the naming consultancies have it, the brand names are chosen with great care, after many hours of focus group interviews with potential users and doctors. The name Viagra was supposedly developed through a similar process, with the Vi implying vitality, vigor and virility, and Agra being a word-part meaning 'catch' or 'grasp'. The However, the author provides a twist in the tale. Almost as an aside, he mentions that Wood Worldwide, the firm that developed the name, initially developed it for use with a drug to treat kidney problems. So much, then, for the sanctity and rigor of the naming process. FDA guidelines place severe limitations of the names that can be used. The guidelines prohibit names which are orthographically or phonetically similar to existing drugs.

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