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What's in a car's name? The case of the Renault Lodgy

Would you like to be called Stodgy? Can you promise not be upset if someone calls you Dodgy? Or be referred to as Podgy? Probably not, for these terms have semi-pejorative meanings.

So why, in god's name, would I (or maybe you) want to buy a car - even a roomy seven-seater - called Lodgy? Renault wants to make an impact in the Indian people-mover segment where the Toyota Innova has been ruling the roost for ages. For a boxy car that is not particularly endowed with good looks, one wonders whether even a utilitarian product needs to be handicapped with a name like Lodgy.

 Whats in a cars name? The case of the Renault Lodgy

from the Renault Lodgy Facebook page

Lodgy may not rank up there with the all-time toppers in product name disasters such as Barf detergent powder or Shitto canned, spicy seafood or Ayds Diet Candy (you can amuse yourself on these and even more embarrassing names here), but it would not be too low down in the pecking order.

A bad name need not always be a customer put-off, especially if the other features of a product offer good value, but one wonders why companies - and not just car-makers - sometimes pay so little attention to this aspect.

The Renault Lodgy comes from the same platform as the Renault Duster, a utility vehicle (UV), which, in the Indian context, reminds you or a blackboard (or whiteboard) wiper, or something you dust your house windows with. Given the reasonable success of the Duster, I suppose Indian customers did not hold its name against it, writing it off as one of those things we simply have to put up with.

The problem is companies are in love with names that mean something to them rather than to the customer. For example, I see no reason why Volkswagen should not rename cars called Passat and Vento in the Indian market - neither of which is particularly appealing to an Indian buyer. Jetta, though, may work, as it lends itself to comparisons with Jets.

Too many manufacturers are also emotionally attached to names that have meaning their home markets, but draw a blank - or even imply negative meanings - in different regions, different markets. Ikea, the furniture maker, for example, named a children's bunk bed Gutvik (a small town in Sweden), but in Germany the pronunciation of the word was similar to "goodf**k), notes a blog in CNN Money.

Ikea also called one workbench "Fartfull" and a computer table "Jerker" - to much tittering in some quarters. (Read here). Even Daimler Benz, manufacturer of the Merc, it seems, tried to call its status symbol GST (short for Grand Sports Tourer) in Canada, only to find that it was a much-hated tax by the same name. Arun Jaitley, who has been trying to get the GST bill passed, may not want a Merc with this name in India, for fear of making this tax a symbol of pro-business - the so-called suit-boot ki sarkar.

In garments, I refuse to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the brandname "GAS". I don't like labelling myself a a gasbag, however big the brand may be elsewhere.

Maruti Suzuki and Honda seem to prefer safe names like Swift, Alto, City, Civic - each one of them best-sellers. So too Toyota, which has gone for fail-save names like Liva. An occasional intriguing name like Ertiga also works, as it helps cars rise about the clutter of common-sounding names. This is probably what helped Hyundai, with names like Santro, Verna, et al. A little out of the ordinary, but not way out enough to scare people off,

Naming products is art as much as science - and also hit-or-miss. A name may sound good, but it may not be easy to read - or may be easy to misread. I remember a Rado watch called DiaStar - I read it the first time as Disaster. I don't know how sales fared. A name that speed-readers are likely to misread or misspell is definitely not a good idea.

To be sure, a good name is no guarantee of success either, and product literature is awash with case studies on this. But a good name at least closes one reason for the customer to say no. The reason why the Tata Nano failed to scorch the sales track had nothing to do with its name. It failed for other reasons, including wrong positioning in the potential buyers' minds.

It is possible to go on and on with the business of names, good or bad. But the basic point is this: when you are selling a car that costs Rs 9-13 lakh on the road, surely it makes sense to spend a lakh or two discussing acceptable names with potential customers? I am willing to bet that Lodgy will not rank high in their list of preferences.

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Updated Date: Apr 22, 2015 15:23:20 IST