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Name by numbers: Putting the alpha in the numeric

Posted by: Paola Norambuen on February 06, 2012

Sometimes words are not enough—when you need to say I'm sorry, when trying to order food in a foreign language, when you're spitting mad—and you resort to gestures, whether grand, physical or obscene. The same, however, can't be said for naming, especially in mediums where exaggerated finger pointing simply doesn't work.

So when words fail us, we often resort to numbers. But numbers are no less tricky than words: Some can't cross cultural borders, some convey vastly different things to different people, and some change in meaning when accompanied by words or other digits.

We can all point to great examples of alphanumeric nomenclature in the market. Anyone who owns, or hopes to own, a luxury car knows how effective it can be. BMW and Mercedes, for example, have made an art form of it. The strategic pairing of this letter with that number tells me all I need to know. In this category it's a natural, a part of the dialect.

From a naming system perspective, this past year Prius introduced an architecture as clean as their engines: Prius Two, Prius Three, Prius Four, and Prius Five. Each represents a different price point, but the whole gang stays within the realm of affordable and keeps the streamlined Prius promise.

The same, however, can't be said for all categories. Today, nobody questions why there's a seven in 7Up. When Coke announced its new calorie-conscious Coke Zero—in spite of Pepsi's challenge that nobody wants to be a "zero"—we got it. (It has no calories. Zero.) But it can be risky in a category where taste always comes before digits. Take Tropicana's Trop50. It's saying all the right things, but it veers into a territory that can feel as artificial as an additive, and not at all delicious.

When it comes to cosmetics, numbers can help too, especially when they signal a clear beauty benefit. That's why we like names like Revlon's Colorstay 16 Hour Eye Shadow: They promise to take you from day to colorful night. On the other hand, a name like Shiseido's Benefiance WrinkleResist24 makes the process sound exhausting, and shows us how sensitive numbers can be—they don't like to stand beside any old word.

Unlike the lottery, alphanumeric naming should not be left to chance. So choose your numbers carefully.

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