Market View: What's in a Name?

With consumers poring over labels and ingredient statements, choose your words carefully.

By John Stanton, Contributing Editor

Recently I was doing some focus groups and one of the most common responses to questions about food ingredients/additives was "I can't even pronounce it." My first thought was "So why do you need to pronounce it?" But being a good moderator I kept my mouth shut.

However I did realize the importance of a name. These consumers weren't really concerned about ingredients, but if they couldn't pronounce the ingredient, they thought it was bad. It was more about the name than what the ingredient did.

The names of things we sell are important, and as marketers we know the power of a name. Great names help make a brand. We spend a lot of time and money trying to come up with a name that connotes the essence of a product. I think Healthy Choice is a great name for a product. It tells the consumer how smart they are by making a “healthy choice.” I like Snackwells (as a name). Everyone wants to snack well.

Of course a bad name can kill a product. Consider the case of pink slime. Granted this was not an official name but people both in and out of the industry referred to the product by that name. It’s hard to believe that such a good a product could be so badly damaged because it sounded so bad.

NuclearAnother example would be irradiation. What a great idea to use gamma rays to stop cell division. But couldn't the industry come up with better name for it? Irradiation sounds like what everyone was afraid of after the Japanese nuclear crisis. Even the medical industry changed the name NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) to MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). They knew no one wanted to get into a machine with the word “nuclear” in its name.

The most recent example is GMOs. Are you kidding me? Who wants a genetically modified organism? Calling something an "organism" is bad enough, but a genetically modified organism sounds like something scary from the Island of Dr. Moreau. It's no wonder consumers are afraid of them. Virtually no one knows that many GMO products are drought-resistant and require less insecticides and herbicides. By the way, search YouTube for Jimmy Kimmel's street interviews asking what GMOs are. It's clear that while everyone hates GMOs, no one knows what they are.

However, have you ever really carefully looked at your ingredients list? I know it is the domain of the food scientist and operations but it may really be hurting sales. I want to go on the record (I'm never sure exactly who is keeping the record) as saying that I am not familiar with the labeling laws that mandate what words must be used on the label. But I know we can call an added ingredient vitamin D instead of 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin vitamin or a steroid hormone D3. What do you think would happen if we substituted “added hormone, vitamin D" instead of just vitamin D? As a marketer I don't want my consumers to be afraid of my products because some of the ingredients have long, complicated names.

I also believe virtually all the "additives" have a purpose in making the product better. I believe this because I can't imagine a company spending money on additives without a function. So either create names for ingredients that are easier to pronounce or tell consumers what their function is.

Consider extending the ingredient list to include a few words as to what these things do. If the ingredient makes the product tastier, tell them. If it makes the product less expensive because it has a longer shelf life, tell them. If it makes it easier to manufacture and thus less expensive, tell them.

To be honest I think some food processors are ashamed to tell people what is in their products. And I think some just want to follow the governmental guidelines as to what they must minimally do. However I am sure that the majority of food companies are proud of what they make and therefore they would be happy to tell consumers what is in their products. However tell consumers in their own language, not science-speak!

In the future when you re-evaluate your labels, look at the ingredient list and ask yourself if there is anything you can do to make it more consumer-friendly. Can we at least not scare consumers away? Don't misrepresent information or do anything questionable. We make good foods, so let's make sure people understand that.

Consumers are reading the entire label/package more than ever. That means not just the front of the package but the entire package. They are more likely to read it online or on your web page. Give them a great story to read, not a horror story.

Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.

Comments

No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments