NEW YORK (AP) — "MONDEWHAAAAT?"
The sarcasm was palpable in the one-word headline that appeared in The New York Post on the day after Kraft Foods revealed that it planned to name its new global snack business "Mondelez," an interpretation of a mash-up of the Latin words for "world" and "delicious." But that wasn't the only dig.
One blogger teased that she would've been "stifling giggles" if she'd been in meetings to determine the name. A Forbes contributor suggested a trick for remembering how to say it: "Just think Bush Administration Secretary of State. You know, Mon-de-leza Rice." Crain's Business Chicago tittered that it bears close resemblance to a vulgar Russian term for a sexual act.
Michael Mitchell, a Kraft spokesman, said executives took all the joking in stride, and he's quick to point out why the Crain's observation didn't alarm the company: "The name has to be mispronounced to get that unfortunate meaning."
The made-up moniker, pronounced "mon-dah-LEEZ," became a punch line after it was unveiled in March. On Wednesday, Kraft shareholders will decide whether to approve the name for the company's business that sells global snack brands such as Oreos, Fig Newton and Cadbury.
The four-month odyssey of how "Mondelez" was picked — and how it was received — illustrates the great pains companies take to come up with powerful names for their businesses, products and services. For them, it's akin to parents obsessing over a name for their newborn: it's a moniker that sticks for better or worse, so it better be good.
"You have to generate thousands of ideas, even if it's just for a cookie," said Nik Contis, the global director of naming at branding company Siegel+Gale.
That's just what Kraft did after it decided to split into two publicly-traded companies — one for its North American grocery business that makes products like Oscar Mayer and Miracle Whip and the other a bigger company to focus on selling snacks worldwide.
It was clear to executives at Kraft's Northfield, Ill., headquarters that the name of the snack business would have to appeal to a global audience. So the world's biggest maker of sweet snacks started the arduous process of picking a name in November by soliciting suggestions from its 126,000 employees.
On its internal website, Kraft proclaimed that it would host a naming contest. The announcement included a "mood video" set to music and showing images of life milestones, such as a wedding and a baby's birth. Employees were encouraged to make suggestions through an "Idea Kitchen" page, where they could see and build off of the suggestions of their peers.
More than 1,000 employees submitted more than 1,700 entries.
Discarded name candidates ranged from the cultivated ("Panvoro," Latin for eating) to the not-so-cultivated ("tfark," which is Kraft spelled backward) to the outright cryptic ("Arrtx" — the employee who suggested it provided no explanation on what the letters signified).
Once the suggestions started rolling in, Kraft's global marketing team took the reins of the naming process. An outside branding firm from London was hired and a handful of top contenders were picked. (Kraft declined to reveal the finalists, noting that "there may be some value in those names" for other purposes down the road.)
The names went through two rounds of testing with native speakers in 28 different languages. Consumers in small focus groups were asked again and again if any of the names conjured up negative associations. "Mondelez," a favorite among Kraft executives from the get-go, didn't raise any big red flags.
Still, the company discovered that there might be a problem. Consumer testers flagged the possible misinterpretation of "Mondelez" for a Russian term meaning "oral sex." But the issue was referred to Kraft's Russian business unit, which in turn deemed it to be "low risk." So the name was given the thumbs up.
It's not unusual for companies to take a calculated risk with names. Even though they're aware that the names they introduce could elicit negative reactions at first, experts say the snide remarks often subside as the brand strengthens.
After all, there were plenty of snickers when Apple Inc. unveiled the iPad, which critics said sounded like a high-tech feminine hygiene product. Now, the iPad is by far the No. 1 selling tablet worldwide. Then there's the classic example in the 1970s of the Chevrolet car called Nova, which means "no go" in Spanish. Despite urban legend, a Chevy spokesman said the model sold well in Latin America because the term is pronounced differently there.
That's what Conti, the branding expert, is guessing would happen if shareholders decide to vote in favor of naming Kraft's global snacking business "Mondelez."
"The sound and structure rolls off the tongue like a delicious treat," he said. "The romance language is great because you want to eat the language itself because it's so beautiful."
If shareholders reject the name, the company will continue to be called "Kraft Foods Inc." while the North American grocery business will be called "Kraft Foods Group Inc."
But it appears that Kraft is confident that Mondelez will pass muster; the company already reserved the ticker symbol "MDLZ" and website www.mondelez.com.
Follow Candice Choi at www.twitter.com/candicechoi.