The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 April 2007

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Steph Waller asks:

Why do most small appliances, electric shavers for instance, get tagged with names like Titan-ZX5 or Zicron-Z14? Why the X and Z? Why not Titan-CF2 or Zicron-HD7? Do the letters at the end of the alphabet denote more power or quality?

Were I a marketroid, I would reason (and I use the term loosely) something like this:

"Let's see. Vowels are weaker than consonants, especially U and I. Wait a minute, that didn't sound right. Anyway, no vowels. F is out for obvious reasons. Now look at Preparation H. Knowing it exists, would you willingly try Preparations A through G? I don't think so. You want the latest and the greatest, and that means Z, or at least X."

And marketroids get good money to come up with this stuff, and also to come up with its polar opposite. Infiniti paid a consultant 75 large for this advice:

"We wanted to express the idea that [Infiniti] was a philosophically different kind of car," [Ira] Bachrach [of NameLab] explains. Proclaiming E, S, Z or X to be yesterday's news, Bachrach recommended that the company adopt different letters for its model identifiers. "I told them to use letters that weren't conventional," he says, "that were, in fact, aggressively unconventional."

Bachrach decided he was sweet on "q" and "j." "Utterly unused letters," he says. "Aggressively novel letters which didn't necessarily parse to luxury and performance. These were marketing guys with courage."

One model became the Infiniti J30, another the Q45. "I know it doesn't sound like much," Bachrach admits. "But I'm prouder of that than anything I've ever done in the model business. It was a marvelously condensed way to convey something that would have taken millions of dollars in advertising to convey."

The Q45, which was finally dropped last year, was always referred to fondly as "the Q"; Infiniti still has tendencies to refer to "the G" and "the M," which latter caused them some legal grief.

And "J" actually has some history of its own: it denoted Duesenberg's top model, which was also available with a supercharger as the SJ.

Aside: Why is it that your ostensible "premium" automobiles (like my Infiniti I30, which even has a vowel fercrissake) always go for alphanumerics, while the brands sold to regular folk who might wear tennis shoes have real live names? For a while, Acura was bucking this trend, with Legend and Integra, but subsequent models went back to alphabet soup, with one exception. ("Vigor"? Please.) Not that the names were always swell, of course. General Motors, for the longest time, issued vehicles named for places where you would never, ever actually see those vehicles: Seville, Monte Carlo, Malibu. (Gimme a Hyundai Tucson any day.)

Still, at least as far as Infiniti goes, Steph's question — "Do the letters at the end of the alphabet denote more power or quality?" — is answered with a Yes. The car hierarchy, bottom to top, is G, I, J, M, Q. (Only G and M are currently in production.) The FX and QX SUVs will shortly be joined by an EX at the low(ish) end.

And just to make things interesting, Lexus' new high-performance variants will bear the letter F.

Posted at 12:10 PM to Driver's Seat , Dyssynergy

Thanks for the wealth of your research. That's another perplexing question that I can mark off of my list.

I always thought the "H" in Preparation H stood for the first letter of the condition it treats... However, I think we should call it Preparation "O" for OUCH!

Posted by: Steph at 12:56 PM on 28 April 2007

Oh, I'm sure that's the correct origin (cf. wart treatment "Compound W"). Still, you can't assume marketing people are necessarily familiar with hemorrhoid products, amazing as that may sound.

Me, I'm waiting for WD-50 to come out.

Posted by: CGHill at 2:15 PM on 28 April 2007

I'm actually of the opinion that, if you string more than one or two alphanumerics together, an early-occurring vowel at the front can actually enhance the impression of power and quality.

Especially if the FCC has decreed that only those with a certain class of license get to have that vowel at the front...

Posted by: McGehee at 8:47 AM on 29 April 2007