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Author • Agbeye-Jules Jojo
Name here. Call Me By My Rightful Name: Misnaming and name substitution of brand names.

Ever had your mother called you your sibling’s name? Or your best friend ever called you the name of another friend? Or a teacher called you the name of his favourite student? As infuriating as that can be, we do understand that it is a natural occurrence that is totally beyond our control. Truth is, everyone has done this at least once in their lives. So, do not fret, we are just humans being humans.

In the journal, Memory & Cognition, it is explained how distraction, exhaustion or mental failing are not necessarily the causes of misnaming. When it comes down to the human brain, names have some sort of catalogue and we essentially shelve them based on how well we know and love people. Hence, the brain just reaches out for the nearest name on the catalogue either by a string of most used names, or most loved persons. This also does not, however, rule out the chance of it being a normal cognitive glitch. While we can be quick to forgive mothers, friends, and teachers, an unforgivable situation is a partner calling the wrong name in bed. Yikes!

In Nigerian societies, names are highly important as they have deep personal, cultural, familial, historical and religious connections. It is no surprise that there is a “democratic power” in naming items. This simply means, new words that do not exist in the English vocabulary are birthed till they travel far and wide across the country, and finally become recognized with the meanings they are made to derive. In Nigeria particularly, words like; installmentally, disvirgin, opportuned, plumpy, wakekeeping, screentouch, etc., are examples of words that have expanded into the Nigerian English lexicon despite its non-existence in the English vocabulary. Anyways, this does not stop the usage and unity in their meanings amongst Nigerians.

Apart from regularly spoken words, this trend has broken into the world of brand names as well. Brand names are becoming generic nomenclatures, and this has come to stay. Certain brands such as; Indomie, Macleans, Gala, Maggi, Pampers, Omo, Dettol, Superglue, Vaseline, etc., have become “signature names” for brands that fall within their industry. So when a customer asks for Close-up Macleans, they are asking for a brand of toothpaste called Close-up while using Macleans (another toothpaste brand) as the generic name.

This trend, seemingly harmless, could be tragic to other brands who are not lucky enough to be the signature name for brands in their category. Imagine customers always asking for ‘Gala’ even when they prefer another brand of sausage rolls just because they are accustomed to substituting a brand name for a signature name. The generic-ness of such brands do not only steal attention but can draw patronage from the other brands, and this could make them smaller brands irrespective of how well they are doing in the market. This poses a threat to their quality and market value, as it portrays them as less efficient, effective, operative, useful and acceptable in terms of quality in the eyes of the public, as compared to the generic brands. This implication can be found in phrases such as, “Give me original Gala,” “I want the real Dettol,” “Please, buy correct Super Glue for me.” However, for brands who ‘own the others’ in their category, this is a case of first-mover advantage for them, and this leaves one to wonder if this is a matter of the uniqueness of the choice of name for the brand or a result of good advertising or sheer luck.

In terms of choice of names, strategic advertising can create an effect on a brand to stamp its name as a signature in its category. An example is with the bleach brands Jik and Hypo. When the bleach brand, Jik monopolized the market, the phrase “Jik it” was chorused on television, radio and markets in a commercial frenzy. However, understanding the market and the luxury placement of Jik as a bleach brand, Hypo had an unprecedented entry with jingles, street commercials, freebies and mostly, cost marketing by making the product cheap and in a variety of sizes. Hypo was able to successfully kick Jik out of the market as the dominant brand with its thoughtful and properly executed entry. This proves that market dominance does not guarantee continuity, and brands need to be constantly evolving in terms of marketing and advertising to be on top of their game.

Sometimes, dominating with the brand name may not even have an effect on the popularity of the brand. For example, while Maggi is the generic name for bouillon cubes, Knorr still dominates that Nigerian food market alongside other brands like Royco, Onga, Tasty, etc. A brand like Super Glue has also been forgotten as a product brand name itself and most people think that it is a brand name, rather than a generic name.

Also, foreign brands are not left out, as brands such as; Bikini, Polos, etc., have also dominated brands under them to earn the ‘signature name’ in their category. Again, this does not guarantee dominance.

What then is in a name? And should misnaming be a concern for brand owners? As important and relevant as brand names are, they are not the product itself. While they make up an essential part of the brand, it takes a lot more for them to dominate their market. The role of good marketing and effective advertising cannot be overemphasized, and brand names can be incorporated into these. While traditional advertising may still be effective, brands should take advantage of digital advertising and influencer marketing to deliver marketing messages that will help improve the status of the brand.


Readersketch | Ed. Olapade Matthew

© 2022 Agbeye-Jules Jojo. All Rights Reserved

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