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[Brand Strategy] Why Encourage Brand Nicknames?

[Brand Strategy] Why Encourage Brand Nicknames?

Zhe Zhang and Vanessa M. Patrick


MickeyD’s, Bdubs, Tarjay, Wally World, and Big Blue are familiar brand nicknames consumers use to refer to their favorite brands. But what does it mean when a consumer uses Tarjay, not Target, in a tweet or refers to Mickey D’s, not McDonald’s, in an online review?

A new Journal of Marketing study demonstrates the street cred that comes from brand nicknames, especially in the digital world. Our research team shows that when an individual uses a brand nickname, other consumers infer that the individual talking has a “real” relationship with the brand (inferred brand attachment) and consequently evaluate the information provided as true and credible (perceived information authenticity).


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Interestingly, brand managers seem to hold different perspectives about the value of brand nicknames. Some brands embrace the nickname while others restrict their use. McDonald’s, for instance, “officialized” its nickname Macca’s in Australia. In contrast, the CMO of Chevrolet tried to ban the use of the popular brand nickname “Chevy” and even had a “Chevy swear jar” in the company hallway to “accept a quarter every time someone uses ‘Chevy.’”

However, because brand nicknames are a type of consumer brand lingo, including a nickname in an advertising message by the brand does not convey the same information authenticity. In other words, brand nicknames are effective in UGC (user generated content), not FGC (firm generated content). Consequently, if a nickname is frequently used in advertisements or shown on the product package, it might not be viewed as consumer-based language anymore and may no longer be perceived as authentic.

Our findings suggest that brand nicknames reflect genuine consumer language and resonate well in conversations among consumers. Therefore, brands should rely on consumer use of nicknames to communicate trustworthy brand information. For example, consumer reviews that include brand nicknames can be placed at the top of the page and labeled as the “top reviews” so they are read first. Brands can also consider highlighting nicknames in other types of peer-to-peer interactions, like referral programs, to convey that the messaging is natural and authentic. 

In addition, given the prevalence of brand nickname use in consumers’ online communications, the research highlights the importance of nickname protection. Considering the legal battle Canadian Tire had with consumers over the nickname “crappy tire,” it is important for brands to take necessary actions to trademark their popular nicknames and protect possible nickname domains. The research also touches on promising opportunities for marketers to strategically utilize popular nicknames to maximize brand presence in the digital landscape, such as the inclusion of nicknames in search engine optimization (SEO) and social media profile management. 

Read the full article

From: Zhe Zhang, Vanessa Patrick, “Mickey D’s Has More Street Cred Than McDonald’s: Consumer Brand Nickname Use Signals Information Authenticity,” Journal of Marketing.

Read more about this research at Harvard Business Review

Go to the Journal of Marketing

Zhe Zhang is Assistant Professor of Marketing, HEC Montreal, Canada.

Vanessa M. Patrick is Bauer Professor of Marketing, University of Houston, USA.