1 2 Find a Gr8 Name?

October 8, 2011 at 9:29 am 6 comments

10-10-10While listening to a recent episode of NPR’s You Bet Your Garden, host Mike McGrath said that 10-10-10 fertilizer is a marketing ploy. “No plants want nitrogen, phosphate, and potash in equal proportions,” McGrath said.

I’m not much of a gardener, despite my love of rose (curves), stems and leaves, (square) roots, and (factor) trees. But it struck me as numerically interesting that fertilizer manufacturers sell a product that has the wrong mixture of nutrients. Why would they do that?

Well, money, for one. Products with nice, round numbers tend to be purchased more than others, according to marketing researchers Dan King and Chris Janiszewski. A product with a name like 10-10-10 is more appealing to an average consumer than, say, 9-12-15 or 5-12-13, even though the latter might be more appealing to Pythagoreans.

Consumers will more often choose brands whose names contain likable numbers, of which there are several types:

  • Small numbers, such as 1, 2, 3, …, 9.
  • Round numbers, like 1, 10, or 1,000.
  • Numbers that are frequent sums or products, such as 10 or 24.

It’s easy enough to recognize numbers of the first two types. The third category is a bit loosey-goosey, though, so I would improve the definition as follows: likable numbers of the third type can be represented as a product in more than two ways. For instance, 44 is a likable number because it can be represented in three different ways: 1 × 44, 2 × 22, and 4 × 11; but, 57 is not because it can only be represented in two ways, 1 × 57 and 3 × 19.

King and Janiszewski go on to say that consumers are further influenced if the operands of the number are included in advertisements. In their paper The Sources and Consequences of the Fluent Processing of Numbers, they state,

“…not only is a Volvo S12 more liked than a Volvo S29, but liking is further enhanced when an advertisement for a Volvo S12 includes a license plate with the numbers 2 and 6. The operands 2 and 6 make 12 more familiar because they encourage the subconscious generation of the number 12.”

Though some of it sounds like hooey to me, this theory of number relevance is appealing, mainly because it implies that humans are hard-wired for mathematics. (It also makes me think that I chose a good name for my book.)

Five Hour Energy

Upon hearing about likable numbers in products, I tried to think of a well-known product for each likable number up to 100. As you can see from the list below, I had limited success. (Note that I relied entirely on memory. Sure, I could have used Google to find companies like Take 2 Interactive or products like 32 Poems Magazine, but if likable numbers make a brand more attractive, then shouldn’t I be able to remember the name?)

1: One-a-Day, Mobil 1, A-1
2: Intel Core 2 Duo, Dos Equis
3: 3M, Three Musketeers
4: Number 4 Hair Care, 4-H
5: 5-Hour Energy, Five Alive, Chanel No. 5
6: Motel 6, Six Flags
7: 7-11, Monistat 7, 7-Up
8: Super 8, V-8, Sulfur 8
9: 9 West, 9 Lives
10: Tanqueray 10, Oxy 10, Pac 10
12: K12, Big 12
16: 16 Handles
20: Mad Dog 20/20, Commodore Vic 20
24: 24-Hour Fitness, Claritin 24
30: 30 Rock
40: WD-40
44: Vicks Formula 44
45: Colt 45
64: Commodore 64

88: 88 Rice Bowl
90: P90X

99: 99 Designs
100: 100 Grand Bar

I was also able to think of a few product names that include likable numbers greater than 100:

  • RU-486
  • Saab 900
  • 2000 Flushes
  • Atari 2600

And of course, there are many successful products whose names contain numbers that are not likable, too:

  • Thirteen (WNET, New York City)
  • X-14
  • Product 19
  • Select 55 Beer
  • Heinz 57
  • Vat 69
  • Bacardi 151
  • Formula 409
  • Levi 501

If you can fill in any of the gaps from the likable numbers product list, please leave a comment. Or if you can think of any other products with numbers in the name, likable or not, feel free to leave a comment for those, too.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Pick a Number Preparing for Mid-Terms

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joshua  |  October 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I agree about some of them, like Heinz 57 and Bacardi 151, but I think some like 409 and 501 are not processed as numbers in the hundreds, but rather concatenations of single-digit numbers.

    • 2. venneblock  |  October 11, 2011 at 8:42 am

      So maybe Formula 409 and Levi 501 are popular because the names hint at several small likable numbers (four, “oh,” nine) instead of one large, unlikable number (four-hundred-nine)?

  • 3. JimsMaher  |  October 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Associations also play a roll, whether a number is likable or not, as a number, familiarity with a numbers other meanings changes its quality to the consumer.

    ▪XBOX360 → 360°
    ▪21st Century Insurance was founded in the middle of the 20th Century.
    ▪20/20 is the name of several brands that are otherwise unrelated; 20/20 is a measure of nominal visual acuity, commonly misinterpreted as “perfect” vision.

    These values add a more direct, less obscure meaning to the qualitative value of the name. Whereas the more subconscious, and I suspect less consistent in interpreted meaning, of the likability of a number strictly based upon its own understood relation to other numbers …

    For example, if a person doesn’t know there are 360 degrees in a circle, and the number is otherwise random, then 480 should be just as likable a brand. But with the added familiarity of degrees in a circles, or a complete turn, increases the recognizability of the name.

    If a person in the 1950’s didn’t know that they were living in the 20th century, then a brand called 21st Century would be obscure and confusing, but since the year and century would have been common knowledge to anyone with the money to buy insurance, the brand recognition was likely helped by the name, with the added meaning of insurance for the (at the time, founded in 1958) distant future.

    The clarity of meaning and intent isn’t always as obvious and direct as an investigative news program that calls itself ” ‘Perfect’ vision “, but if you could choose a name for yourself, what would you want it to say? How would you go about doing that?

  • 4. JA  |  January 10, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Why just products?
    “One” is sung at the finale in “A Chorus Line”.
    “76 Trombones”
    The 99 Cent Store; the 99 Ranch Market (Western chains)
    The campaign slogan “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight”
    The 3 bestselling Fifty Shades novels, beginning with “Fifty Shades of Grey”

    • 5. venneblock  |  January 10, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Excellent additions to the list! Thanks, JA.

  • 6. cdm  |  January 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

    WIth C64 and Atari 2600, surely you’re overlooking TRS-80?


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The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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