New Research into Marketing Names

Today’s Seattle Times reprints a very well-written article by Richard Morin of the Washington Post reporting on some new research into the naming of colors.  “Crayola crayons came in eight straightforward colors when they were introduced in 1903: black, blude, brown, … red.  Today, Crayola makes crayons in 120 colors, including ‘Inch Worm,’ ‘Jazzberry Jam,’ … ‘Manatee,’ and ‘Razzmatazz.’  … [W]hat’s up with the … vague … color names[?] … That’s what Elizabeth Miller of Boston College and Barbara Kahn of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School wanted to find out. … In one test, 100 students taking part in an unrelated study were told that after they had finished the research task, they should select jelly beans from six containers as a reward for theirparticipation.  Tehy were told that each container held a different flavor of jelly bean.  Half the students saw containers labeled with ambiguous names (‘white Ireland,” ‘moody blude’), while the others saw those same containers with more specific descriptive names (‘marshmallow white,’ ‘blueberry blue’).  As the researchers had hypothesized, students took nearly three times as many jelly beans on average from a container that bore a vague name as from one that carried a specific name. …  Miller and Kahn theorize that without reall information, consumers try to understand why the product that such a jazzy name and fill in the blanks with imagined desirable qualities.”  Or, as one my colleagues pithily observed, last week, what the hell IS an “iPod?” 

Unfortunately, this research establishes that the one important virtue that I cited yesterday for the name, “Windows Communication Foundation,” which is that it precisely describes the purpose of the technology that it names, is actually a shortcominng.  It also explains exactly why folk thought Indigo was a cool name, and why it is likely to persist in the community. 

Parenthetically, notice how Morin, with the very few words that journalists have at their disposal, took time to emphasize that the findings were “as the researchers had hypothesized.”  Strictly speaking, and this may have been how Miller and Kahn actually proceeded, one should falsify hypotheses in scientific research, because no amount of evidence proves a law, but one falsifying observation disproves it.  The hypothesis should have been that people prefer a name that accurately describes what they are putting in their mouths. 

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