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In recent years, basic product names (peach blush, pink nail polish) have been replaced with cheekier, edgier sobriquets such as Nars Orgasm and Essie Sugar Daddy. This isn't the result of a bunch of marketing types trying to amuse themselves; it's a clever strategy to seduce you into buying beauty products. And research shows that it works: A study from the Journal of Consumer Research finds that products with wacky names outsell those with straightforward monikers.
What's in a Name?
Coming up with quirky names is an actual occupation: Companies such as Bliss—which has been grabbing attention since 1996 with pun-filled products like Poetic Waxing Kit and Peeling Groovy Serum—hire copywriters to dream up irresistible labels. Senior copywriter Julie Space, the mastermind behind Bliss's wordplay, admits that she and her team are purposely provocative. "We want a reaction! Getting people talking and laughing gets them shopping," she says.
But companies don't always receive the reaction they had in mind. In fall 2008, Bliss Spa's election-themed Farewell to Bush bikini-waxing kit ticked off the president's supporters. And Wende Zomnir, founding partner of Urban Decay Cosmetics, says she didn't foresee the backlash from mental-health advocates when her company launched its Skitz-O-Styx dual-colored lipstick (which has since been discontinued), or the plus-size community's outrage over Big Fatty mascara, which was actually a joke about overstuffed marijuana joints, not overweight women.
The Rules of Attraction
Successful names need to speak to a wide range of people. "Beauty-product purchases are very much tied to a woman's emotions," says Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group. "If you ask women why they buy cosmetics, the top two reasons are that they're seeking confidence and sexiness."
So while a product may be a prosaic pink eye shadow or a workaday anti-aging skin cream, when it's a M.A.C shade called Naked Lunch or a cream by Philosophy marketed as Miracle Worker, it suddenly attracts women who are seeking some of that. "It's all about how women want to feel, who they want to be," says Grant.
That's why swiping on a lip color with a naughty name, like M.A.C's Lickable or Lust, can put you in a sexy frame of mind, and how polishing your nails with an OPI shade called Not So Bora-Bora-ing Pink or We'll Always Have Paris can make you feel posh even if you're flat broke. It's about inspiration and aspiration.
And then there's the fact that a descriptive name can help you zero in on what the item does, says Space. Instead of having to weed through lines of marketing mumbo jumbo to figure out how something works, you can pick up a product like Bliss No Zit Sherlock and instantly know it's meant to erase acne. "That's why it's one of our best-selling products. Its name gives you a clear sense of the results you'll get from using it," says Space.
Of course, even the most cleverly named product needs to fulfill its promise or it won't be given a second chance. So before you fork over your cash for a nail polish from Essie called After Sex or a lipstick shade from Too Faced Cosmetics named Celebrity Meltdown, try it on! A good name should induce a giggle; a good product shouldn't.