fundamentals of brand naming

With all the hype surrounding the Olympics, you might have missed an announcement from JC Penney a couple weeks ago — they launched Xersion, “a new private brand offering the modern lifestyle customer a performance wear collection that delivers style and quality at a smart price.”

I won’t question the wisdom of a private label offering from a company that doesn’t have the credentials nor credibility to design and produce true performance apparel into a marketplace already saturated by established players that do (actually, I guess I just did).  But I do want to take issue with the name “Xersion.”

It seems to violate several fundamental criteria of an effective brand name**:

–  pronounciation — I’m guessing the name is pronounced “ex-er-shun” but I’m not sure — could it be “zer-shun”?  Pronunciation that is difficult to understand creates confusion and is less likely to be remembered.

–  translation — “X” is a tricky letter in Spanish.  Sometimes X has the “s” sound — so when Spanish-speaking people try to pronounce the brand name, they might say “ser-see-on.”  And the letter “X” doesn’t even exist in many Asian languages.  For a company like JC Penney that prides itself on being multi-cultural, having a brand name that doesn’t translate well into other languages seems to be an oversight.

–  appeal — since this is a descriptive or suggestive name (not an arbitrary or fanciful one), it should relate to or evoke an appealing consumer attribute or benefit.  In this case, the association of Xersion is to exertion which in turn is associated with a lot of effort, something strenous that makes you tired.  So rather than an appeal, the association of the name seems to be a turn-off.

While Xersion might be a clever play on spelling, I’m afraid this seems to be an example of a company trying too hard.  And given the importance of a strong brand name to a product launch and Xersion’s missteps on even the most basic principles, I’m skeptical about its future.  What do you think?

** certainly there are other criteria for an effective brand name that would be good fodder for another post — one of these days…

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