The news that Kraft, makers of the Oreo so inexplicably beloved by my children, had decided to re-christen its snack food group “Mondelēz International” when it separates the segment from its US supermarket business. This got me thinking about names and the point or power therein.

My first reaction upon reading the word “Mondelēz” was to make a face, roll my eyes and think “ridiculous.” What’s with that accent (it makes a long eee)? It is pretentious and fake. No one will remember it. No one will know how to pronounce it. No one will care that it is a hybrid of Latin words that mean “delicious world.” This is clearly a case of a company over-thinking itself.

Yet who am I to talk?

My particular industry is full of often unpronounceable, hard to spell, and apparently odd names — Proenza Schouler, Thakoon, Meadham Kirchhoff, Mary Katranzou, Prabal Gurung — many of which consumers can’t even begin to articulate, yet that doesn’t seem to have hurt the brands. I mean, even Hermès, that most venerable and esteemed of houses, is constantly being referred to as Her-mès (like the Greek god) or Hermèz (H fully articulated) as opposed to its proper French pronunciation.

This makes me think either I am a big snob who is given to sarcasm (which is possible, although I also cringe every time I hear a non-Dutch person refer to Van Gogh as not Van Go but Van Goff, which is actually correct) or in this context, luxury/fashion is a special case.

Ok – that was silly – of course luxury fashion is a special case; otherwise it wouldn’t command the prices or valuations it does. I just hadn’t considered this difference extended to classic naming conventions and expectations. The question is (the question always is) why?

I would guess it has to do with, at one level, the fact that in luxury goods and fashion there is a specific person behind the product, and the name on the door is often their name, so weird as it may be, it is:

  1. understandable in regards to origin (lots of us have complicated names); and
  2. a shorthand way to communicate the idea that the brand represents a specific point of view, or value system; know the person, know the product. On the other hand — and even given Snap, Crackle and Pop — who really wants a snack food with a personality?

There is also the idea that the high end is often considered somehow just beyond our reach, and it makes sense that as in value and craftsmanship, so in linguistics. A strange and complicated name just adds to the glamour, and if you have to spend a certain amount of time mastering it in order to get the reward (a great dress or bag), well…you’re not likely to forget it then, either. Are you?

On the other hand, I could be missing the point here. Starbucks has made a lot of money out of mangling foreign words, be they Italian or Spanish or French, and using them to convince customers of the “luxury” of their offering. Maybe ”Mondelēz” is a subtle hint that the Kraft snack division is going to start pitching itself at the luxury snack end.

Gold-dusted Oreos? I guess anything is possible.

Get alerts on Luxury goods when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article