Brand names and what’s behind them

I’ve recently noticed that a couple of my American girlfriends with whom I keep in touch via Facebook have been posting status updates related to their craving of cupcakes. One was craving them, and another one became their fan. There is a Send Cupcakes application on Facebook which had 7, 391 active users on March 30, 2008. Familiar with these cupcake cravings of my American girlfriends, I couldn’t left unnoticed an article related to cupcakes published on http://www.springwise.com/ (a site dedicated to new business ideas spotted around the world). In fact, the featured business, called Cupcake (http://www.cupcakemum.com/), doesn’t sell these pastries, and is in fact a child-friendly hangout place and a health club for pregnant women and new mothers that will soon open in London. It’s a fitness club, a spa and an organic café with a crèche where mums and dads can drop off their offspring and enjoy the club’s facilities. As Springwise suggests, the owner of Cupcake plans to open more of similar establishments in affluent areas across London in the nearest future.

A mother myself, I find the business idea of Cupcake clubs quite appealing. As someone who’s into branding, I wonder though if the name Cupcake really pinpoints the real identity of the club, and communicates everything it needs to communicate. According to Springwise, the owner of the business is an American, maybe this explains her attraction to cupcakes, just like in the case of my American Facebook friends? I tried to find some information about the cultural connotations that cupcakes have for Americans, but all I could find was that these small muffin-like cakes, often covered with sweet frosting, are usually served at children’s parties. Is it just something festive, or something to indulge into once in a while, or something else?

I didn’t grow up eating cupcakes (an equivalent in my case would probably be Russian-style “pryaniki”), and, just like many of my international friends living in London would probably have no idea what a “cupcake” stood for if I hadn’t lived in the US for a couple of years.

Without going much deeper into the cultural connotations of cupcakes for Americans, I am wondering whether the name selected for the business will trigger similar feelings among all of potential club customers. Many new mothers are concerned about their post-pregnancy figure and want to get back into shape quickly – this is probably why they would go to a health club in the first place. “Cupcakes”, however, suggest extra calories and, in my mind, are not a particularly gourmet kind of dessert. Will the affluent new mothers (the target market of the Cupcake clubs) want extra calories from not-so-gourmet desserts? And what’s the connection between sweet cupcakes and the organic food café that is part of the club?

Still, I find the idea of this child-friendly club very appealing to new mothers. Would I not go to the club just because of its “calory-rich” name? Not at all, I’d still check it out. My point has been to illustrate that choosing a name for your new business can be a very tricky and difficult path. Even if you think that you’ve come across a “bingo!” name, others might not find it clear, especially if the name is full of cultural connotations not known to everyone. What’s the suggestion then? If you don’t have the cash to hire a naming agency, brainstorm with your friends and try to choose a name that would communicate a similar concept to a lot of people. For instance, I would probably not call a new health club “Sladky pryanik”, you know what I mean!