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Why Marketers Love Nicknames: You'll Never Guess

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Ever notice how companies, especially in the edibles area, have adopted nicknames? Their reasons are more strategic than a simple image adjustment. If you're not sure what I'm referring to, think McDonald's nick-name Micky D's; Howard Johnson's HoJo's; and Burger King's, BK. Then there's KFC"which really isn't KFC, but Kentucky Fried Chicken" now, that is.

The restaurant started in the early 1930s but was launched in its current fast food incarnation in 1952 by one Colonel Sanders. Doubtless, the "Colonel" helped the chain's popularity: who could resist a meal home-cooked (sort of) by a Southern Colonel? Granted, the "Colonel" was a title which Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon bestowed on Harland Sanders in honor of his cuisine then served at "Sanders Court and Cafe'."

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No matter, the title worked, and so did the name until 1991, when Kentucky Fried Chicken wanted a hipped image and morphed into "KFC." But the times have changed again, and the cutely-named mega-monopoly parent company Yum! has resurrected the former Kentucky Fried self. As for the Colonel - he's about as alive and well on every logo as a guy can get when he's actually deceased.

The drinking world is adrift with nicknames, as well: there's the military-ish brand, Captain Morgan, now boiled down to "The Captain;" Budweiser, now the chummy "Bud;" and Belvedere Vodka, whose marketers, in a well-calculated gesture, have knick-named it "Belve" (as in "bell-vie"). Even the non-alcohol types are joining in: most recent is Gatorade's new "G Series." The "G Series," while vaguely reminiscent of the arguably more enticing "G Spot," evolved when the company realized they were missing a great opportunity: why sell a beverage that's good for working out when you can sell three for before, during, and after the work out. The idea, geared to boost Gatorade's sagging sales, is simply too bloated when called "The Gatorade Series," so they trimmed down to a simple "G."

As for the reasons? It's important to remember that people buy products because of how the brand makes them feel at a deeply emotional and visceral level, frequently having little to do with the product itself. And nothing works quite like a name, especially when boiled down to an affectionate purr. You know, like "Schoonukums," "Buttercup-Bottom," "Poochie." Don't be embarrassed; we all have a few. Anyway, once Budweiser becomes "Bud" it goes from the name of a beer to a personal reference point. It's your beer. Your Bud.

The nick-name taps something else that marketers crave: creating an insider's club, a sense of belonging. You drink "Bell-vie" because you belong to the ultra-polished set. It becomes part of your identity, your conversational code, while the other poor thugs are drinking Belvedere or, more likely, Bud.

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Besides, the nick-names are easier to say, and, even more to the point, easier to think. And that's where marketers ultimately want to belonging. In your house. In your cabinet. And in your head. It's much easier to say (and think) "Bud' than "Budweiser" and "Micky D's" has a bounce that "McDonald's" does not. "The Colonel" flows through the head while "Harlan Sanders" pounds through it like an overly in-bred, factory-farmed chicken. In fact, those nick-names make it so we don't think about the poor processed chicken, or, for that matter, the health effects of Micky D's burger or the fact that, heck, Bellve, for all its panache, is still the vodka that the Cossacks drank.

Granted, not all nicknames are favorable, especially when picked by the public like Applebee's "Crapplebee's"; Taco Bell's "Taco Hell"; and Starbuck's "Four Bucks" (or five, depending where you go). Still, the good nick-names can be great for a company's image, no matter what they serve.

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Biography Communications expert, author, and entrepreneur Susan F. Benjamin is founder of Greater Voice Enterprises. Her short features and interviews with everyone from Hollywood celebrities to leading thinkers are aired online and on am/fm (more...)

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