Frank Delano walks several miles daily through Manhattan, searching for inspiration at book and record stores, apparel and jewelry boutiques, wine emporiums, perfume counters and museums.
What is he doing? 'When you're out to find the omnipowerful brand name for a major product, your mind is in overdrive 24 hours a day,' he says.
Delano, president of Delano & Young in New York, helps companies name products - at $75,000 to about $300,000 a pop. About 25 percent of his business comes from the auto industry. 'I believe the name is more important than packaging, ads or graphics,' says the former graphic designer. 'Sometimes the name is more important than the product itself.'
Delano, 54, got into the name business in 1974. He got his first big break in the auto industry in 1982 when Ford Motor Co. hired him to come up with a list of names for a new sedan that eventually was named Taurus.
Taurus was the code-name for the product, but he said some Ford execs wanted to use the name LTD for the new car, and others wanted suggestions for other names.
Delano liked the name Taurus because it conveyed strength and endurance, but he came up with such other names as Lumina, Legend and Integra. Ford agreed to use Taurus. Chevrolet later used Lumina and Acura took Legend and Integra - although they didn't hire Delano to come up with them.
'The downside of my business is that other people take my creative ideas,' he says. 'I usually go into a room with about 14 names, and many times the names leak out to other companies.'
Sometimes, however, Delano encourages companies to purchase his name suggestions even though they are rejected for a current project. A case in point was an assignment Delano had to name the new Saturn cars before they hit the market in 1985. Delano suggested the name Aura for the four-door sedan and Intrigue for the two-door sports coupe. But he said Hal Riney, head of Saturn's advertising agency, wanted SL for the sedan and SC for the coupe. Riney won the battle, but GM purchased the Intrigue name and later used it for the Oldsmobile sedan, which debuted in the 1998 model year.
The Oldsmobile story
Oldsmobile has been a success and a failure for Delano.
In 1990 he convinced Mike Grimaldi, then Olds-mobile's general marketing manager, to let him rename a new entry-level 1992 model that Olds wanted to call the Esteem. Delano said the name did not fit an entry-level model. Working under a $300,000 contract and given just four weeks to come up with an alternate name, Delano suggested Achieva, suggesting a car aimed at young achievers.
How does Delano explain the demise of the Achieva after a five-year run? He says a bad name can mean disaster for a product, but he contends that isn't the case here. 'They didn't go far enough with the design on Achieva,' he says.
Delano also was charged with naming Oldsmobile's G car. He recommended Millennium. But while Olds was testing the name on the West Coast, Mazda filed a trademark application for the name Millenia. That ended the name Millennium, and Oldsmobile came up with the 1994-model Aurora instead.
He's No. 1
Delano has seven employees, but he describes himself as the key creative person on every project. When coming up with a name, he tries to capture a product's essence, uniqueness, spirit or soul. He came up with Pathfinder for Nissan's sport-utility, implying the vehicle can go anywhere. Other vehicles he has named include the Nissan Quest minivan and the GMC Yukon sport-utility.
What about names he doesn't like? Delano cites Jaguar's Vanden Plas. 'Vanden Plas is difficult to visualize,' he says. 'Consumers tend to avoid a product if they feel uneasy about the name.'
Delano likes his work but think he's underpaid. 'My price depends on the sales possibility of a car,' he says. 'But my fees are underpriced; I would rather have royalties.'