Naming the product. Simplicity starts here.

One of the interesting things about Apple is that there is little mystery to what they do. The company's playbook is a matter of public record. Everything they do is human, right down to the names of their products. We get used to names like Mac, MacBook, iPod and iPhone. But for the sake of comparison, I refer you to Time Magazine's Top 10 Gadgets of the Year 2009. Forgetting iPhone for the moment (#4), other products on this list include the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, the FinePix Real 3D W1 and the charmingly named Casio G-Shock GW7900B-1. One can only scratch his/her head and ask "Why?" Logic says that naming has to be this way because manufacturers and retailers have to deal with product pipelines, warehousing, retailing and related real-world issues. Silly model numbers are a necessary evil. (Never mind that Apple encounters the same issues and somehow manages to get around them.) We may be simple-minded, but most of us would prefer talking about an iPod than a ZipMaster XLZ-500CSS MP3 Player. Naming a product is the first step — and arguably the most critical step — to building a relationship with customers.

 

Case study: Putting a name to the revolution.

Background
Steve Jobs had promised to deliver on the Think different campaign with a generation of computers that would be unlike any we'd seen before. Mind you we hadn't seen anything new at this time; we had to take the man's word for it. Coming up first was the mysterious new Mac for the home. This was to be Apple's big gamble, a spectacular effort to reclaim the world's attention with something only Apple could build.

The assignment
The computer was being heavily hyped within Apple. With great anticipation, the day finally came when the agency was to be briefed on Steve's obsession. We weren't blindfolded or driven to a bunker in the desert, but we were led to a secret room at Apple where the new baby was sitting in the center of a table hidden under a black veil. After a brief introduction, the veil was removed. We all did sort of a "holy cow" in unison, as this Bondi-Blue gumdrop of a computer stared us in the face. It struck us as very cool, but it also felt like something out of the Jetsons. It was to be our great opportunity, and we were psyched. "We're betting the company on this computer," said Steve. "It needs a great name."

The wish list
Steve Jobs and his team had incredible passion for this computer, and Steve had a very clear idea about what it should stand for. "It's a full-powered Mac, so it can do a lot of things. But first and foremost, it will get you onto the Internet in 10 minutes, even if you've never used a computer before." That was about it. No big meetings, no creative briefs — just give it your best shot and come back in a week.

What's in a name
We returned with five names, one of which we all loved: iMac. Each option came with a presentation board briefly describing why it was a good name. For iMac, it was obviously all about the i. Most important, it stood for Internet. But it also stood for other valuable i things, like individual, imagination, i as in me, etc. It also did a pretty good job of laying a solid foundation for future product naming.

The joy of obvious
Sometimes a name feels right, but it also feels obvious. The trick is to determine whether that means it's boring as hell, or it's just a perfectly simple solution. None of us could predict that iMac would become such an important name in Apple lore, but did have that air of obviousness, especially in the way it met all our criteria: It was a Mac. It was a new category of Mac. It was endearing. It had personality. It was easy. It could be extended into new product names. With these beginnings, iMac had a pretty good shot at success.