avatarMark Prus


The Brilliance of “Same But Different” As A Naming Strategy

How McDonald’s Is Using This Strategy To Appeal To A Competitor’s Customers

Did you know that if your name is Dennis, you are significantly more likely to choose dentistry as a career?

While “Dennis the Dentist” might sound funny to you, there was a study done on the role of someone’s name on their career choice. In Why Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore: Implicit Egotism and Major Life Decisions Pelham, Mirenberg and Jones studied the role that people’s thoughts and feelings about themselves play in their important day-to-day decisions and behaviors. They concluded that because most people possess positive associations about themselves, most people prefer things that are connected to the self (e.g., the letters in one’s name).

The study on career choice examined the first names of Jerry, Dennis, and Walter which respectively ranked 39th, 40th, and 41st in frequency for male first names. A nationwide search focusing on each of these specific first names revealed 482 dentists named Dennis, 257 dentists named Walter, and 270 dentists named Jerry. Therefore, people named Dennis are significantly more likely than people named Jerry or Walter to work as dentists, which suggests that people named Dennis do, in fact, gravitate toward dentistry.

As another example, the researchers examined the relationship of someone’s first name and the city in which they live. Believe it or not, there are a disproportionate number of men named Jack living in Jacksonville and Phil living in Philadelphia. There are a disproportionate number of women named Mildred living in Milwaukee, as well as Virginias living in Virginia Beach. While it is possible that people named Jack tend to settle in Jacksonville, the authors suggest that new parents might be more open to those names that are consistent with their environment. The study was replicated in Canada and found that, like their American counterparts, Canadian residents tended to reside in places that resembled their surnames.

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is a quote from one of Aesop’s fables. It seems that in the case of brand names, however, familiarity breeds comfort. In the real world, people named Paul prefer Pepsi while those named Carol prefer Coke. Psychologists call this the Name-Letter Effect, and it is a well-studied phenomenon first identified by Jozef Nuttin. The Coke/Pepsi effect was shown to be especially relevant when respondents were thirsty in a study by C. Miguel Brendl et al. Some psychologists attribute this effect to “Implicit Egotism.” Given the numerous scientific studies that back this theory, it is hard to argue with their conclusions.

This week McDonald’s opened CosMc’s, a beverage-focused chain, in a suburb of Chicago (https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2023/12/08/mcdonalds-cosmcs-beverage-chain-starbucks/). This article claims that the competitor McDonald’s is attacking is Starbucks, and to a certain extent that appears to be true. But a more likely scenario is McDonald’s has Sonic in its sights. Sonic is the #11 Fast-Food Chain in America and growing rapidly.

This is where McDonald’s is using the “Same But Different” naming strategy. CosMc’s is about as close to Sonic as you can get from a trademark infringement standpoint. The product lineup at CosMc’s is very similar to the beverage focus of Sonic. And the menu items that aren’t beverages are very snackable tasty treats, like Sonic.

So where does the “…But Different” come into play? McDonald’s is fortunate to have an incredible backstory with CosMc, an orange alien introduced in the 1980’s (https://www.businessinsider.com/meet-cosmc-obscure-mcdonalds-alien-mascot-new-spinoff-chain-2023-7). The name also leverages the “Mc” which is the anchor for everything McDonald’s. Finally, CosMc’s extends the “happy place” feeling of McDonald’s even further. Just look at this “mission statement” from the CosMc.com website:

At CosMc’s, you’ll find exactly what you need to take you to your happy place. And you’ll feel rejuvenated by more than just a drink. We know that everyday life can weigh us down.

So we’re on a mission to lift humans up with every sip.

As I’ve often said, when you see brilliance in naming, you have to call it out. Well played McDonald’s!

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