Should you tell your client that the name he's chosen for his new company is so bad he shouldn't use it? How should you approach the subject?
These aren't hypothetical questions. I've faced this dilemma more than once in my own career, and it recently came up in a LinkedIn discussion group I belong to, where it generated an unprecedented amount of feedback. The person who posted the topic requested confidentiality, so I won't disclose any of the details except to say that I, like the majority of commenters, agreed that it was a very bad name indeed. (You will probably not be surprised when I tell you it was one of those Bad Portmanteaus, not unlike the ones I critiqued during Bad Brand Names Week. And you may not be surprised to learn that the name was the "brainchild" of the client's next of kin.)
So: names are withheld to protect the guilty. But I think it's fair and worthwhile to paraphrase the group members' most helpful advice.
1. Avoid saying "I don't like it."
Couching your response in emotional, "gut" terms puts you on the same level as the client, who has already developed an emotional connection to the name. Your emotion will always lose. Instead, counter with expertise and objective reasoning. "It violates the rules of good naming" is one recommended tack. The general public is usually unaware that there are "rules of good naming," so you'll have an opportunity to explain and demonstrate.
2. Bring in the customers.
Your client may not listen to your advice (you're only a consultant, after all), but does he dare ignore negative feedback from customers? Several commenters recommended formal or informal focus groups to test the name.
3. Invoke the law.
Running a trademark check on the name may solve the problem. "Seventy-five percent of the time I find a name is not legally available," one commenter observed. The name may be too descriptive, or too close to others in its trademark class, to pass muster. Even clients who refuse to listen to reason or to the groans of their customers will quail before the prospect of an expensive trademark challenge.
4. Offer alternatives.
Granted, this is risky terrain if you don't have a contract (and up-front fee) for name development. But showing a few examples of names that communicate the message more gracefully may open the client's eyes to the potential of a full creative exploration.
5. Show, don't tell.
If the client is a visual thinker, show him what the name will look like in various real-world settings: mocked up on T-shirts, baseball caps, letterhead, billboards. Seeing the name in context may jolt the client out of his emotional attachment. (At the very least, it may prevent disasters like Megaflicks.)
6. Repeat after me.
Does the name pass the receptionist test? Can it be said aloud without causing tongue cramps or embarrassment? Is it likely to be confused with something inappropriate? Forcing the client to listen to the name repeatedly may open his eyes (and ears) to the problems.
7. What problems?
The overwhelming majority of commenters agreed that the name was terrible, horrible, no good. But a vocal minority said the name was just fine—clever, even. One cited some marketing experts who maintain that "the name of a firm doesn't matter." (That's true, if you have an unlimited marketing and advertising budget to counteract a bad name.) Another quoted Tim Gunn of "Project Runway": make it work! In other words, you can only fight so many battles. After that, accentuate the positive—if a few people like the name, maybe others will come around—and do your best work.
P.S. What happened in the original case? At last report, about three weeks ago, everything was stalled while the client was in negotiations to buy another company.