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“You called it what?” The product names that nearly destroyed businesses

Startup founders often seek to emulate those big brands that preside over the retail landscape with big-hitting household names, but do those big guys always get it right?

by Catie McHugh
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As much as we humans hate to admit it, we’re pretty darn influenced by brands, and our emotional reaction (and subsequent attachment) to everything from the packaging, the name and the product itself, is something companies agonize over getting right. You only get one shot, after all.

Startup founders often seek to emulate those big brands that preside over the retail landscape with big-hitting household names when crafting their own to-market approach, but do those big guys always get it right? Well, read for yourself:
 

Steve Jobs almost messed up the iMac.

© Reuters

© Reuters

Cast your mind back to 1998. Oh, what a time to be alive for tech nerds everywhere: the dot-com boom was in full swing, and people were really starting to get their head around this whole interwebs caper.

And a little company called Apple staged one of the greatest business comebacks of all time. Just a year earlier, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, but thanks to eleventh-hour investment from rival Bill Gates, they had a little more time to get something happening and save the company.

That ‘something’ was the iMac, the crux of the iconic ‘Think Different’ campaign. These futuristic bubbles of tech innovation changed the look of computing as we knew it and enjoyed unprecedented market success.

But, Steve Jobs hated the name ‘iMac’. He preferred MacMan. When advertising legend Ken Segall workshopped new names, including ‘iMac’, Jobs only had one thing to say: “I hate them all. ‘MacMan’ is better”. Based on this, we could conclude that Steve Jobs is highly motivated towards internal reference - that is, not requiring the outside feedback or approval of others in decision-making - a factor that can inhibit success when left unchecked. Eesh.

Segall and his agency team were horrified by his choice. MacMan’s alienating gender bias and derivativeness against Sony’s ‘Walkman’ were of major concern.

Fortunately, Jobs was eventually convinced. He conceded that 'iMac' conveyed a stylish simplicity, something that the modern Apple brand has followed to multi-billion dollar success.

 

The Virtual Boy. Oh, boy.

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

Video game titans Nintendo are no strangers to luke-warm launches, but the Virtual Boy is the biggest of them all.

In 1995, Nintendo’s latest system promised a virtual reality experience in your living room (yep, VR - that thing we’re only just using again with any real enthusiasm in 2017) and claimed to be the first game console with 3D graphics.

Thanks to the lore surrounding virtual reality in pop culture (remember The Lawnmower Man? Anyone? Bueller?) consumers were expecting a first-person, close-to-real-life experience. Instead, ‘Virtual Boy’ offered relatively poor graphics and standard games, with the only difference being some depth-of-field adjustments to give a ‘3D look’. Added to that, the name ‘Virtual Boy’ didn’t resonate well with consumers and with a $180 price tag, the market was firmly unconvinced. It was discontinued just seven months after launch, and this tremendous flop still serves as somewhat of a cautionary tale for companies like Oculus in the VR space today.



On your own journey to entrepreneurial superstardom, there’s something to be said for developing a great name that is simple, catchy, and helps convey what you’re all about. Some even think it can be the difference between securing funding and being left in the cold, so choose wisely!

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