"Palessi", "P!nk", and "Apple": Examining Brand Name Meaning
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
As consumers look for meaning in the stores they shop, music they listen to, and technology they buy, cues play an integral role in making information processing easier. The use of cues helps consumers make sense of various stimuli, such as environments, products, or intangibles like music and services. It's important, though, that information processing isn't made too easy - otherwise the consumer may be of the impression that the marketer thinks they're of lesser intelligence. On the other hand, information processing needn't be made too difficult, otherwise the consumer may grow frustrated and move on. Therefore, finding a "sweet spot" is ideal; using just the right cue(s) to evoke just the right meaning(s). A brand's name may be the first cue a consumer processes, and therefore it can positively (or negatively) influence the meaning they attribute to the brand as a whole. After all, first impressions are stronger than later impressions.
In late 2018, Payless ShoeSource, an American discount shoe chain, took over an old Armani store. Instead of renovating the space as a Payless store, the brand took a bolder approach by creating the aura of an upscale luxury store—and naming it "Palessi". To take things further, the store's grand opening was invite-only and featured high-profile fashion influencers, professional photographers, and a silent auction for the shoes. Payless' $20–$40 shoes were put on beautiful displays, in a beautiful store, surrounded by beautiful people. Evidently, the shoes sold for hundreds of dollars, with the highest bid at $640.
The Palessi name itself helps in the effort to suggest a grandiose, luxury brand. When pronounced, "Palessi" sounds like "palace", which is reflective of royalty and prestige. The hard "e" ending of Palessi is suggestive of being Italian; the origin of fashion houses like Gucci, Versace, and Armani, each ending in a hard "e" themselves. Did Payless sell shoes that were of the same subjective quality as real luxury fashion houses? Certainly not. Payless and its luxury counterparts are at opposite ends of the price/quality spectrum. But, under the facade of Palessi's cues—its store, environment, people, and name—Payless proved that image matters.
What's subtle and special about the Palessi stunt was how close the fabricated name was to the brand's real name, Payless. This demonstrates the power of cues. That is, consumers will generally be more inclined to use their past experiences—with luxury brands and environments in this case—to formulate meaning, rather than expend additional mental resources. Because Payless and the marketing team fully committed to creating the Palessi image, it's unlikely that any consumers were skeptical and thought, "Maybe this is just a Payless marketing scheme." Palessi is a good case study of cues and consumer preconceptions.
American popstar P!nk's name is one that grabs attention. From a practical standpoint, it has the makings of an effective name: it's short, memorable, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell (the non-stylized version, at least). But what make's P!nk's name an effective one is its linkage to her gender, her music style, and the contrast between their respective associations.
Firstly, pink is a very stereotypical "girl colour". Thus, the colour immediately triggers associations with the concept of female. This is fitting, of course, as P!nk is female herself. Female is typically associated with traits such as soft, caring, and nurturing. The exclamation mark in P!nk's name, however, says otherwise. This contrast makes for great intrigue. Furthermore, the "!" is reflective of P!nk's music style: edgy, upbeat, with dynamic emotion, and anything but quiet. Perhaps P!nk's name is a call for the teenage girls in her target audience to break free from societal stereotypes, and instead, celebrate their individuality with exclamation.
Altogether, juxtaposing a stereotypical "girl colour" with an exclamation mark creates a name that piques interest at the surface level, while evoking meaning at a deeper level.
Apple is perhaps the most-cited when it comes to examining effective brands—and for good reason. Apart from its leading-edge design and advertising campaigns, Apple's name in itself is one worth noting.
Once again, "Apple" has the makings of an effective name: it's short, memorable, easy to pronounce, and easy to spell. Moving beyond the necessary components of an effective name, Apple has been linked to the following associations:
An apple is familiar to many, as it's a common and popular fruit
An apple fell and hit Isaac Newton on the head, thus leading to his law of gravity, representing knowledge and discovery
An apple is grown on the tree of knowledge in the Bible, representing knowledge
An apple is a common gift for a teacher, representing virtuous behaviour
An apple is nutritious, representing health and vitality
An apple is a symbol of love ("You're the apple of my eye")
The bite from the Apple represents a "byte"—a unit of computer memory size
In Apple's case, the many meanings surrounding its name allow consumers to project the meaning that's most relevant to them. The positive feeling of the "aha" moment becomes positively attributed to the brand as a whole. Apple provides a good example of the power of an abstract name; one that's imbued with meaning, rather than a literal name that's only discerned at its surface level (eg. "ComputerHub" or "PhoneWorld").
Although often taught otherwise, consumers naturally "judge books by their covers". Brands can leverage this through the use of cues, with one of the most significant being the brand's name. Consumers also look for meaning in many parts of their lives. The meaning of the text they just received; the meaning of life; and the meaning of the brand name behind the interesting store that just opened. Ultimately, consideration of its target audience's wants, needs, and lifestyle brings an organization one step closer to a brand that resonates. ▲