The folks at And Design, a London product-design firm, named their idea "Spudnik." Unlike traditional potato mashers, which have a grid-shaped or curving wire attached to a handle, the And Design product (pictured above) looks like a splayed plastic flower with a rubber-ball grip. Instead of pumping up and down, you roll the ball along your palm. The twelve plastic "fingers" efficiently transform cooked potatoes into soft and fluffy mashed potatoes.
The And Design team wasn't looking to revolutionize home cooking when it came up with Spudnik. It just wanted a portfolio piece to show to potential design clients. One of those clients was the British housewares retailer Lakeland Limited, which said "no, thanks" to And Design's services but ordered 10,000 mashers. And then Lakeland renamed the gadget Simply Mash.
I happen to think Spudnik is a very clever name. It's cute and fun to say, and it suggests both function (preparing spuds) and form (something from outer space). But I also think Lakeland was right to give it a more pedestrian moniker. "Spudnik" says "clever," but it doesn't say "easy"--and the chief benefit of the new potato masher is its ease. In the British market, where the product made its debut, Simply Mash is instantly understandable as a product that easily makes "mash"--the British term for mashed potatoes. And it's transparent to American consumers, who will read "Simply Mash" as an imperative.
(There may have been trademark issues as well: Spudnik Equipment Company--in Idaho, naturally--calls itself the second largest potato equipment manufacturer in the world. Although the company isn't in the consumer market, it could have lodged a legitimate challenge to the British upstart.)
Inventors and company founders are often too close to their products to think objectively about the names and brand strategies that will succeed in the market. Sometimes it takes an outsider to bring the perspective that's needed to create a powerful, effective, and memorable brand name.