A Ford herpes, anyone? It ought to appeal to men

If some men’s first names appeal more to women than others, the same should be true of brand names.

The more it observes the way in which some people earn their dosh, the more this column’s wonder grows. While there are still some old-fashioned souls who spend their working day throwing pots on a wheel or trading pork bellies on the futures market, there are others whose daily bread comes from anatomising the wings of a fruit fly or solemnly inspecting the colonically irrigated product of a celebrity’s intestines. Truly, it takes all sorts to make a modern economy.

And to those sorts we must now add Amy Perfors, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who recently helped to fill her larder and keep her bank manager happy by posting 24 pictures of her male and female friends on the website hotornot.com. Before explaining why she did this – believe me, it was not on a whim or to fill an idle moment – I ought to explain that hotornot is an American website on which the parties of the first part place photographs of themselves, and which parties of the second part examine before awarding them marks out of ten according to their attractiveness.

I don’t know quite how the scale works, but I suppose one out of ten is the score a retired front-row forward might be pleased to receive, while David Beckham would be disappointed with anything less than eight, even when his tasteless tattoos are taken into consideration. A secondary purpose of hotornot is to facilitate the path of those who, having deemed a person’s picture to be hot, wish to test the temperature at closer quarters. Those matters, however, need not concern us here. So back to Ms Perfors and her 24 chums.

She came up with the idea – whether in a dream or in one of those idle moments when the imagination seizes control, we do not know – as a means of measuring the way in which people’s names affect the way we think about them. Her methodology was repeatedly to post the same pictures on the website, but under a variety of aliases, and then to compare the scores.

The results showed that certain first names made people more attractive to the opposite sex, while others were a turn-off. Ed, Matt and Mike, for instance, were rated as more attractive than the same faces bearing the names Paul, Sean and Roger.

So what might be concluded from this, other than that Ed Newman, Matt Connery and Mike Moore would have enjoyed still greater success with the ladies than their less fortunately named selves? Well, according to linguistic experts (another profession that did not exist when Adam delved and Eve span), women prefer names with short vowels, such as e and i, produced at the front of the mouth. (As the possessor of such a name, it is a mystery to me what went wrong.) Men, on the other hand, prefer women’s names with longer vowel sounds, such as Laura, Moira or Paula.

And that is that, make of it what you will. There might, however, be something of use here for marketers wishing to assess the attractiveness of various brand names. Ms Perfors’ findings would seem to confirm that the names given to people, and by extension to objects, affect the way we think about them. That must have implications for marketing.

Shakespeare, of course, said it first: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but would it have the same allure if it were called, say, a rantzen? Put another way, would a Hobnob by any other name taste as yummy?

More research is needed to establish whether the front-of-the-mouth, back-of-the-mouth findings apply with equal validity both to people and objects. If so, a Honda Prelude ought to appeal to men, while a Ford Ka should excite the emotions of women.

Then again, one has to take into account the meaning of words. Euphony alone is insufficient. The Vauxhall Chlamydia, for example, might sound smooth and attractive and be a fitting vehicle for people who wear French Connection T-shirts, but it might still sell better by any other name.

Very occasionally, made-up brand names can be a source of fun. When I was a lad, in the days when bicycles were ridden by people wearing normal clothes rather than by men who look as if they are auditioning for the lead role in a remake of The Fly, there was a saddlebag called The Chossy. My friends and I found this amusing and adopted the word as an adjective denoting approval. A chossy girl, for example, would rate nine on the hotornot scale, and a chossymost one would be a storm-force ten.

There might be something to be said for a return to the days when manufacturers created brand names and trademarks from misspelling words. Kleen-e-Zee is a relic of that era, as is PG Wodehouse’s fictitious elixir Buck-U-Uppo.

Marketers do well to remember that rules are for breaking. Who would have imagined that, within a generation, the British male would be transformed from a dull, conservative dresser into an exhibitionist whose favoured clothing is a T-shirt with a crude sexual boast. I wouldn’t bet against the popularity of the Ford Herpes, should it ever roll off the production line.

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