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September 15, 2010#

Re-Naming “High Fructose Corn Syrup”

There are few things in branding as important as a name.  Names are the embodiment of brand equity – the simple, singular, tangible focal point for all that your brand stands for.  It’s literally the first thought we have in the mental sequencing that constitutes a brand idea; the handle we remember.

Sometimes names need to be changed.  Especially when the name becomes a liability.  For instance, when low-cost airplanes crash (from ValuJet to AirTran), when government contracted security firms get caught going rogue (from Blackwater to Xe), and when universities want to be perceived as more than a secretarial school (from Villa Julie to Stevenson University).

Sometimes, too, name changes are needed at the ingredient and product level.  Like when a healthy, natural cooking oil sounds as if it belongs in your car rather than your stomach (from low erucic acid rapeseed oil to canola oil), or when a healthy food that aids digestion and regularity sounds too much like its aged target audience (from prunes to dried plums).

Or when a food sweetner is erroneously perceived as particularly unhealthy by consumers.  That’s the case today with high-fructose corn syrup.   As reported in the NY Times today (“A Move to Relabel High-Fructose Corn Syrup“), the Corn Refiners Association wants the FDA to rename the ingredient corn sugar.   The concern:  58% of Americans say they worry about the health risk posed by high-fructose corn syrup.     And yet, “most leading scientists and nutrition experts agree that the effect of high-fructose corn syrup on health is no different than regular sugar.”

While high-fructose corn syrup may not be exactly healthy, it’s no more unhealthy, if consumed in moderation, than plain old sugar, which is derived primarily from sugar cane and sugar beets.

While we think the name change is a smart move, we’d argue that since there’s really only one chance to do it, they ought to have come up with a better name than corn sugar.  Corn suggest starch:  not necessarily a good thing in peoples’ minds.  And sugar?  Well, that in itself is a loader word.   The folks at Spenda might have a few suggestions for new names that bypass old baggage.