Alliteration in brand names accounts for some of the biggest, boldest ones out there. Coca-Cola, PayPal and TikTok: they’re catchy, repetitive and… massive. So how does it work? Could this super simple technique of repeating sounds actually be a sophisticated literary device that can make a massive difference with your customers? Read on to find out more about how to approach alliteration in branding, but first, let’s define exactly what it means.
What is alliteration?
Does the phrase ‘She sells seashells by the seashore ring a bell?’ Or how about ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper?’ You may be familiar with these lines from when you were young, reciting them faster and faster until you get tongue-tied. Fast forward to years (or decades) later, and these tongue twisters remain in your mind.
But what makes them so?
In the first example, you see a series of words beginning with the same letter, only briefly interrupted by the words “by” and “the”:
‘She sells seashells by the seashore.’
The next example, likewise, shows a group of words with identical consonant sounds repeated in succession, as:
‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…’
All these examples use alliteration. Alliterative lines produce a repeating rhythm that makes them catchy and easy to remember. It’s exactly why kids benefit from nursery rhymes and tongue twisters—their simplicity and musicality make for a good formula for speech development and building memory.
Merriam-Webster defines alliteration as a literary device that integrates sounds produced when words are uttered to break up the monotony of a paragraph or a sentence. It could be repeating consonants, vowels, letters, or syllables.
Other examples include well-loved childhood characters, like Willy Wonka and Peter Parker. You can also count Clark Kent in or how about iconic figures Kelly Clarkson and Kim Kardashian? Alliteration doesn’t just happen with words of the same letter, it also works with words of the same sound.
Used for centuries, alliteration was first found in ancient poems but has gradually made its way into songs, stories, and even in marketing and branding.
This makes you wonder: what if we use this same literary device in brand communication?
Why alliteration is used in branding
Ever found yourself saying, “Oh, it rhymes,” with glee when we utter a line or two that does by accident?
Eliciting emotions through written copy comes from your choice of words, their meaning and how they sound when combined. It is the latter’s lyrical effect that creates a subtle rhythm and adds a dynamic to the auditory experience of the listener. Here, alliteration conveys a variety of moods, whether that’s playful, somber, or energetic, to name a few.
The name Crunch n’ Munch, for instance, gives you a taste of how crunchy and addictive their caramel-coated popcorns and peanuts are. PayPal, on the other hand, rolls off the tongue easily and quickly, hinting at the simple and straightforward payment process it offers.
Because of the sound that alliterative phrases produce, the brain finds it easier to remember these words. Case in point, a study was conducted to compare how people would react to alliterative and non-alliterative phrases. Results show that when the brain starts to process information, the attention of the readers is elevated; they are more likely to link concepts if the phrases are alliterative. They can understand and recall things more efficiently.
Needless to say, this is an especially vital point of consideration when creating your brand name. In a sea of brands, you would obviously benefit more from a name that stands out and sticks in consumers’ minds.
Now that we’ve established what and why alliteration is used, let’s delve into its different types and how brands have used them.
Different types of alliteration in brand names
Take a look at this copy from BarkBox, a company that provides subscription-based services and products for busy fur parents who are always on the go. It opens with a brand promise, ‘Our Pack Has Your Back,’’ relaying how BarkBox is always one step ahead in satisfying the needs of its customers’ dogs.
As you may notice, the multiple uses of the ‘ah’ sound gave the line an extra oomph to capture the readers. This use of repeating vowels is called assonance. And to exaggerate their message, the brand capped the copy with ‘No muss, no fuss, no disappointed pups.’
Asia is flooded with a variety of marketplace where users can shop all sorts of things until they drop. Luckily, Taobao has picked the right name for its brand which definitely helped increase recall in the minds of its users.
Aside from pioneering the e-commerce platforms in Asia, the easy-to-remember brand name Taobao (meaning ‘seeking treasure’) had a more playful sound when uttered compared to its competitors like TMall and JingDong. And they made sure to leverage this in their ad campaigns, too.
A quick look at Singapore Taobao’s Double 11 campaign shows a perky man dancing and singing to an upbeat song, ‘Let’s Taobao Lah’. Throughout the video, Taobao interjects in the lyrics multiple times, perfectly melding with the overall cheerful mood as the ‘ao’ sound gives a bouncy rhythm. A perfect recipe to get a song stuck in your head.
Taobao became an unforgettable brand via Youtube
Another oldie but goodie is Heinz’s iconic ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ slogan penned in the late ‘60s. At the time, the team at the advertising agency Young & Rubicam had to create a campaign that would set Heinz baked beans apart from the already saturated market.
The target market of the campaign was homemakers serving baked beans to their kids for breakfast. That sparked an idea for the brand to come up with the alliterative line ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz,’ equating the love for the food with the brand.
Over time, children’s poems and ad jingles followed suit with the addition of assonance. Decades after its launch, the slogan is still in use with slight variations, like ‘Beanz Meanz More.’
In contrast, we have consonance alliteration or the repetition of consonant sounds. This can be seen in the iconic Covergirl slogan, “Easy, breezy, beautiful!” A powerful testament that cocoons the mission of empowering women worldwide to be confidently beautiful, all while integrating consonance to pack a punch.
In this case, you notice the stressed last syllables ‘sy’ and ‘zy’. Twenty years later and after an attempt to revamp their slogan in 2017, the well-loved copy is back in the limelight.
Tic Tac is an excellent example of how the simple use of consonance can make a lasting impression. Interestingly, the brand name is derived from a sound, more specifically, the sound that its packaging makes when you open and close it. It goes tic and tac, hence Tic Tac!
Keep in mind that assonance and consonance usually appear in the middle or at the end of words. What if the repetition of sound appears at the beginning?
Another type of alliteration is general alliteration. This is when the first letters of each word are similar, like with AOW’s ‘Welcome to the World of Wow’ with the repeating W’s. Of course, you also can’t miss the popular Bed Bath & Beyond!
While the latter has undergone several iterations, like Bed ‘n Bath and Bed ‘n Bath Outlet, they finally hit off with the addition of ‘Beyond’. This made saying the brand name all the more satisfying as it easily rolls off your tongue.
The benefits of using this type of alliteration in branding is perhaps best described by a quote we’ll borrow from Stan Lee, who was notorious for creating character names that use general alliteration. Think Peter Parker, Pepper Potts, and Bruce Banner.
As Lee explained, “I have the worst memory in the world…So I finally figured out if I could give somebody a name where the last name and the first begin with the same letter…I could at least remember one name. And it could give me a clue what the other name was.”
In the same way, brand names, such as Best Buy or Dunkin’ Donuts, that use general alliteration encourage higher recall among their consumers.
Symmetrical alliteration works like general alliteration but with a slight difference. In symmetrical alliteration, letters that sound similar to each other are repeated. Think ‘C’ and ‘S’, ‘T’ and ‘D’, ‘B’ and ‘P’. You get the idea.
This brings us to brands like Calvin Klein, CitySearch and Citric Systems. These consonants, whether fricative (soft sounding like ‘s’ and ‘z’) or plosive (hard sounding like ‘t’ and ‘b’), command a copy’s rhythm making it extra catchy. For example, Capital One’s slogan says “What’s in your wallet?”, where the syllable “wa” is notable as it creates a seamless flow between the first and last words.
An intentional, witty and fun alliterative brand copy
Using literary devices like alliteration is a great way to zhuzh up your brand message or brand name, especially if you are limited to a phrase or two. But there are no hard and fast rules when integrating them into your branding.
Below are some helpful tips that you may want to keep in mind when alliterating:
1. Choose a distinct yet easy-to-pronounce brand name
Business owners are always eager to come up with unique brand names. It makes sense since there are just too many competitors that can easily copy what you have. Case in point: when I mention the brand Dove, half of you associate it with the soap and the other half would think of chocolates. Two similar but very different brands. When deciding on a brand name, it is crucial to consider your audience and how they would perceive it. Is your chosen brand name easy to read or pronounce? In your brainstorming session, test your ideas by letting people read them out loud and see if they recall them in an hour or two. The easier the brand name is to process, the longer it will last in their minds.
2. Focus on important phrases
More than to inform or relay a message, optimize the impact of your brand copy—whether that’s a slogan, a print copy, or packaging—by integrating key phrases that you would like to associate with your brand. You can then take these phrases up a notch with alliteration like Nestle’s “Good Food, Good Life” or car brand Jaguar’s “Grace, Pace, Space.”
3. Follow your brand’s tone of voice
Alliteration has the power to add an extra layer to your audience’s experience. A matter-of-fact statement can become less boring and evoke emotion. But it can be a slippery slope, especially as not everyone is keen to read a nursery rhyming, alliterative copy like what our earlier example, Heinz, did. That said, keep your audience in mind, especially if your brand caters to B2B where a less playful approach may benefit you more. For instance, Ernst & Young (EY) uses general alliteration in its tagline, “Building a better working world.” Snappy yet simple.
4. Too much alliteration can be a turnoff
While alliteration can be fun to apply, avoid overdoing it. Remember that the core benefit of alliteration—used sparingly—is to bring attention to important phrases or names that you want your audience to remember. Otherwise, it defeats its purpose.
Coming up with a brand name that stands out is a process that requires a dose of wit and creativity. For many household names like Coca-Cola, Gold’s Gym, Dunkin’ Donuts and PayPal, the magic of their names lies in alliteration. In recognizing the power of repetition, they created unforgettable names that have withstood a market saturated with brands.