A popular marketing trend is bestowing business start-ups or product lines with the names of human beings. Personal assistant apps such as “Siri,” and “Alexa,” for instance, can help you find the closest coffee shop or make dinner reservations, and “Alfred”–named for Batman’s trusty valet–can help you with the difficult choice between sushi or pasta for dinner.
There’s also a date-rating app for women named “Lulu,” a healthcare app dubbed "Oscar," and a kind of hybrid garbage bin and vacuum cleaner, “Bruno,” which promises to make both dustpans and bending over obsolete by delivering everything from stray dog hair to Cheerios into the trash bag; Bruno even reminds you when he needs emptying.
Is this marketing tactic right for your company? The simple, yet unsatisfying answer is “maybe.” There’s simply no pat formulas for whether naming products for real live human beings will work. But there are some fairly air-tight guidelines and red flags to keep in mind.
Ideally, such proxy names work best for brands which provide personalized, or even, intimate services. For instance, with their discernible female voices and speech patterns, "Alexa" and “Siri” are game-changers, because they are reminiscent, perhaps, of the can-do executive secretary or administrative assistant whose professionalism lends a seamless quality to the most hectic work schedule. "Oscar" imbues the sterile, often unnerving experience of making a doctor’s appointment with a lighter and more human touch.
Similarly, “Alfred” is, well, Alfred, and really, who wouldn’t want the Dark Knight’s effortlessly cool butler in their employ?
But for some businesses, however, this marketing strategy would be wholly inappropriate. As an extreme example, you probably wouldn’t want to assign a human name to an app that regulates your insulin intake because no matter how hard you try, it’s just not possible to personalize a medical procedure that involves a syringe.
There’s also the risk of choosing the wrong human name for your service. Naming a women’s date-rating app “Luke” for example, is just, well, creepy.
Sometimes what’s required from a marketing standpoint is not a name intended to convey a sense of familiarity, or intimacy, reminiscent of a childhood friend, but rather a brand that communicates a certain gravitas or authority. Named for the Greek goddess of victory, Nike is emblematic of such a marketing tact, though it’s unlikely anyone would bequeath such a name to their son or daughter.
Ultimately, it’s more art than science, more emotional than empirical. For all its complex considerations, the success of your brand name really turns on whether enough customers reflexively associate your brand with a positive emotion.
If you can pull that off, you’ve likely earned your company a lifelong customer.