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Applied Linguistics 2011: 32/4: 369388 Oxford University Press 2011 doi:10.

1093/applin/amr004 Advance Access published on 18 February 2011

Cognitive Tools For Successful Branding

Dpto. Filologas Modernas, Universidad de La Rioja, C/ San Jose de Calasanz, s/n 26004 Logrono (La Rioja), Spain E-mail: This article aims to fill a gap in current studies on the semantics of branding. Through the analysis of a number of well-known international brand names, we provide ample evidence supporting the claim that a finite set of cognitive operations, such as those of domain reduction and expansion, mitigation, and strengthening, among others, can account for the drawing of inferences on the basis of the cue provided by the brand name. Such conceptual mechanisms are often randomly and unconsciously used in the process of building a new brand name. Nevertheless, this article argues that their systematic use results in (i) an increase in the degree of suggestiveness and semantic richness of the brand name, (ii) a lower risk of generating negative associations and connotations, and (iii) higher cognitive economy in the interpretation of brand names on the part of the potential consumer. In doing so, these cognitive operations arise as powerful tools for the task of creating safe and successful brand names.
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Successful brands are among a companys most priceless assets. They are essential in identifying the maker or seller of a product or service and they result in brand equity (i.e. the value a brand name adds to the product), thus positioning companies at a vantage point against their competitors (Goedertier and Mast 2003). As pointed out by Kotler and Amstrong (2001), a brand comprises a range of diverse elements, including a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them. This article focuses exclusively on brand names and attempts to shed some light on how they are created and interpreted from a cognitive-linguistic perspective. Research on the creation and effectiveness of brand names has been mostly carried out by marketing scholars. Thus, authors such as Keller et al. (1998), and more recently, Stern (2006) have described the desirable properties of brand names (i.e. distinctive, suggestive, meaningful, easily recalled, easily pronounced, etc.). Others have looked into the influence of brand names in determining perceptions of brand quality and attitudes towards the product (Srinivasan and Till 2002), their effects on advertising recall (Keller et al. 1998), and the process of name creation itself (Wheeler 2006; Healey 2008). Nevertheless, despite the inherently verbal nature of brand names, studies on linguistic aspects of branding are scarce. Vanden Bergh et al. (1987) have


dealt with the phonetic, orthographic, morphological, and semantic characteristics of brand names; Bao et al. (2008) have focused on the effects of the relevance, connotation, and pronunciation of brand names on consumers brand preference; Klink (2003) has investigated the generation of consistent brand meaning through the integration of brand names and brand marks; and both Vanden Bergh et al. (1987) and Klink (2000) have analyzed the role of sound symbolism in the creation of meaningful brand names.1 To the best of our knowledge, however, no research has been done so far on the specific cognitive mechanisms which guide the inferential processes triggered by brand names, and which are, to a great extent, responsible for their final interpretation. As has been made apparent in contemporary pragmatic-cognitive approaches to language interpretation (Panther and Thornburg 1998; Ruiz de Mendoza and Perez Hernandez 2001; Perez Hernandez and Ruiz de Mendoza 2002), this type of inferential activity is largely constrained by cultural models of social interaction, on the one hand, and by cognitive mechanisms of meaning generation (i.e. conceptual metaphors, metonymies, and image-schemas), on the other hand. As a result, the semantic associations and connotations that arise from those inferential processes turn out to be, counter to what has traditionally been claimed (cf. Bach and Harnish 1979; Sperber and Wilson 1995) fairly predictable. This article aims to fill a gap in current studies on the semantics of branding. We contend that a finite set of cognitive operations such as domain reduction, domain expansion, mitigation, and strengthening, among others, can account for the drawing of inferences on the basis of the cue provided by the brand name. Such conceptual mechanisms, which might be used unconsciously, lie on the basis of the process of building a new brand name. Nevertheless, this article argues that their systematic use results in (i) an increase in the degree of suggestiveness and semantic richness of the brand name, (ii) a lower risk of generating negative associations and connotations, and (iii) higher cognitive economy in the interpretation of brand names on the part of the potential consumer. In so doing, these cognitive operations arise as powerful tools for the task of successful brand creation since they are common to the tasks of language production and understanding and should, therefore, be identified by consumers as used by brand name designers. The layout of this article is as follows: First, we introduce a set of cognitive operations against the background of a semantically constrained inferential approach to the production and interpretation of brand names; Secondly, we illustrate the workings of each of these cognitive operations in relation to the semantic make-up of a number of well-known international brands, thus highlighting the different ways in which the process of brand creation can benefit from the activity of each of those cognitive mechanisms. Finally, we conclude by suggesting some potential lines for further research.

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In this article, we contend that brand names act as (linguistic) cues, which set off appropriate inferential processes resulting in the generation of relevant and desirable conceptual associations. Moreover, as shall be made apparent in the remainder of this article, such inferential processes of meaning generation can be guided and constrained to a significant degree by means of a set of cognitive operations. As a result, brand creators will be capable of leading customers beyond the literal meaning of the brand name in a fairly controlled manner, minimizing in turn their risk of producing unwanted or inappropriate associations. As pointed out by Ruiz de Mendoza and Santibanez (2003), since verbal messages usually fall short of fully encoding the speakers intentions, interpreting a message almost invariably requires making inferences as to what the speaker really meant. Because the linguistic form of brand names is, in most cases, necessarily brief, their dependence on inferential processes for final interpretation acquires a special relevance. Thus, the act of coding as much positive information as possible into a single name becomes an art, the art of branding. In turn, the consumer will be faced with the complex task of drawing the intended inferences on the basis of a necessarily brief and scarcely explicit cue (i.e. the brand name). The inferential nature of brand name interpretation represents both a threat and an opportunity for branding professionals. On the one hand, once the brand name is launched to the market, the potential range of inferences that consumers can draw from it is somehow beyond the brand creators control, as is the case with human communication in general (cf. Sperber and Wilson 1995). Unexpected and unfortunate associations are among a branding professionals worst nightmares. On the other hand, the fact that brand names, because of their compact nature, usually depend on inferential processes for their interpretation offers the brand creator an opportunity to communicate the most diverse key attributes and activate the most varied and rich conceptual associations through the use of a single word or compound. In this connection, our main goal is to provide evidence supporting the fact that the processes of encoding and decoding brand names do not need to hinge exclusively on the creativity of branding specialists and the inferential capacity of potential consumers, respectively. On the contrary, we will show that both tasks are guided and constrained to a large extent by a limited set of cognitive operations that apply to the semantic make-up of words and wordcombinations in connection with speakers prior knowledge.2 The use of such conceptual mechanisms results in the generation of felicitous inferences, which enhance the semantic and evocative power of brands beyond that of their literal interpretations. These cognitive operations represent structured procedures for the coining of new brand names whose potential semantic associations can thus be largely predicted. Therefore, they have the added

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advantage of decreasing the risk of a brand name generating unwanted implications, a peril which is naturally present in interpretations based on inferential activity. The notion of cognitive operation has been central to cognitive linguistic theories from their inception in proposals by Lakoff (1987) and Lakoff and Johnson (1999) on conceptual metaphors and metonymies. More recently, Ruiz de Mendoza and Pena (2005: 58) have offered a broader and more com prehensive definition of cognitive operation as: [. . .] a mental mechanism whose purpose is to derive a semantic representation from a linguistic expression (or from other symbolic device, such as a drawing) in order to make it meaningful in the context in which it is to be interpreted. An exhaustive typology of cognitive operations has been proposed in connection to the Lexical-Constructional Model by Ruiz de Mendoza (2010), based on previous work by Ruiz de Mendoza and Santibanez (2003), and Ruiz de Mendoza and Pena (2005).3 These authors distinguish two general categories of cognitive operations, namely, content and formal operations. Content operations are lower level conceptual mechanisms used to make inferences on the basis of cues provided by the linguistic expression or the context in which it is produced. They comprise those of domain expansion, domain reduction, comparison, correlation, mitigation, strengthening, and parametrization. As contended by Ruiz de Mendoza (2010), content operations are insufficient by themselves to explain how the meaning derivation process is carried out. A number of formal higher level mechanisms (i.e. formal cognitive operations) have been found to act as prerequisites for content operations to be possible at all. Ruiz de Mendoza and Pena (2005) distinguish four of them, namely, cueing, abstraction, selection, and integration. As will be shown in detail in the following section, these formal operations play no direct role in inference making. Nevertheless, they are essential in making the necessary conceptual material available for content operations to draw the appropriate inferences from it. The remainder of this article is devoted to illustrate the workings of these cognitive operations in relation to popular international brand names. In so doing, we shall highlight their functionality and their capacity to meet the specific needs of the brand name creation process.

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The present approach to the semantics of branding takes the formal cognitive operation of cueing as pivotal to the processes of brand creation and interpretation. Brand names act as cues for the activation of the pertinent lower level content cognitive operations. In turn, such cognitive mechanisms guide and constrain a number of inferential processes, which eventually endow the conceptual fabric of the target product with relevant associations and felicitous



connotations. In their cueing task, brand names are not alone. Other branding and marketing strategies, including logos, mottos, and the use of color and typography, among others, may also function as cues that trigger content operations and that, as a result, endow the target product with further significance. For the sake of exhaustiveness, however, this article will focus exclusively on those cues of a verbal nature. When a customer sees or hears a particular brand name, this linguistic cue may set off one or more of the following cognitive operations.

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Comparison operations
The resemblance that can sometimes be found between two independent conceptual domains licenses the use one of them (source domain) in order to talk and reason about the other (target domain). Through a previous abstraction operation,4 speakers derive generic structure common to both domains, thus licensing further comparisons between them.5 As shall be shown below, this type of conceptual mapping has the positive side effect of enriching the semantics of the target domain with relevant and compatible conceptual material originally belonging to the source domain. Comparison operations are at the basis of many international brands (e.g. Puma, Jaguar, Camel, Apple, Blackberry, Red Bull, Nivea, Satellite, Sirius, Saturn, etc.). We can distinguish two broad groups of comparison-based brands depending on whether an entity is compared to other inanimate objects or whether it is connected with living entities. Let us start with the latter. Some brands largely exploit the high-level mapping NON-LIVING ENTITIES ARE LIVING ENTITIES. This conceptual metaphor, which is based on the Great Chain of Being,6 helps us to deal with inanimate entities as if they were animate beings. By virtue of this mapping, physical objects are endowed with the same attributes and structural configuration that living beings possess. This generic high-level mapping materializes itself in three more specific low-level metaphors: (i) ENTITIES ARE ANIMALS, (ii) ENTITIES ARE PLANTS, and (iii) ENTITIES ARE PEOPLE. The first of these metaphors (i.e. ENTITIES ARE ANIMALS) can be illustrated by a brand like Puma (sporting goods), where all the relevant attributes of the animal (e.g. speed, power, wildness, energy) are passed on to the domain of sporting material. Similar examples are those of Camel (cigarettes), Jaguar (cars), or Gorilla and Kangaroos (shoes). The low-level metaphor ENTITIES ARE PLANTS underlies the understanding of brands like Fleur (perfume) or Lotus (watches). Thus, Fleur functions as a cue for consumers to make a comparison between the central attributes of flowers and some compatible and/or equivalent traits of perfumes (fresh, pleasant smell, etc). Likewise, Lotus watches draw special connotations from their comparison with the corresponding flower, which has spiritual, sacred, and mysterious implications in many Asian cultures.


The last of the low-level metaphors under consideration, ENTITIES ARE PEOPLE, maps human attributes onto those of inanimate entities. In this way, the latter are presented as bearing the same properties and possessing abilities typically pertaining to human beings. Consider brands such as Ford Explorer (jeep), Rover (car) and Pioneer (hi-fi, multimedia), which inherit the adventurous and innovative traits of the type of people they name. Brands involving a comparison operation can also make use of inanimate source domains. Nivea (facial cream), Satellite (computer), Diamond (mobiles/ PDAs), and Saturn (car), to name just a few, fall within this category. By way of illustration, consider how the brand Nivea, which originates in the Latin word Nivis (meaning snow), may activate, for cultivated language users, a comparison operation between the source domain of snow and the target domain of a facial cream.

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Figure 1: Comparison, mitigation, and domain reduction operations underlying the interpretation of Nivea
As shown in figure 1, by virtue of this comparison, three relevant attributes of snow are projected onto the domain of the facial cream known as Nivea, namely, its characteristic white color, its association with purity, and its distinctive coldness. The facial cream inherits these traits and further parametrizes them to fit its own conceptual structure. Thus, the coldness of snow is mitigated into the notion of freshness, which is in turn metonymically made to stand for one of its effects on the skin (i.e. low temperature has the ability to make the skin terse and smooth). Other similar beauty products exploit the same cognitive operations while using more explicit brand names, which are likely to have a higher degree of effectiveness among less-educated customers (e.g. Snow White Regenerating Age Cream, Snow Mask, Hazeline Snow Moisturizing Cream, Tibet Snow Cream, etc.). Comparison operations are a powerful branding tool in terms of the suggestiveness and novelty of the inferences they generate. Unlike domain reduction and expansion operations (see below), which involve one single conceptual



frame, the source domains involved in comparison operations are independent ofand external tothe conceptual domains of the target products. Because of this, they contribute a wealth of new conceptual information, which comes to enhance the descriptive and connotative potential of the brand. Comparison-based brand names are also useful in minimizing the risk of generating unfortunate associations. The branding professional will be able to control and limit such a risk through a careful choice of the source domains involved in the mapping. Thus, a simple lexical study and cultural survey on the associations triggered by a particular source domain in a given target culture will largely minimize, if not fully rule out, the generation of negative connotations by this type of comparison-based brand names.

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Correlation operations
A different type of metaphorical mapping is the one that establishes a connection between two independent, but co-occurring domains of experience. The cognitive operation underlying this type of metaphor is one of correlation. As discussed in Lakoff and Johnson (1999), correlation operations are grounded in experiential conflation, which consists in the mind envisaging two separate domains as if they were the same on the basis of continued co-occurrence in nature. Thus, we often see affection and emotions in terms of bodily temperature (e.g. She gave me a warm welcome; He was cold to me) probably because body temperature is felt when people come close to us to show affection. Or we see quantity in terms of height (e.g. Prices are soaring; World stocks have plummeted overnight) because levels rise and fall as quantity increases or decreases. Some brands of beverages, such as Mountain Dew, Highland Spring, Hi-Spot, Tree Top, Andina, Gold Peak, Lift, and Seven-Up, combine comparison and correlation operations in their semantic configuration. Mountain Dew, for example, has a complex source domain, which includes the concepts of mountain and dew. It has already been shown how brands can be based on comparison operations, which map the conceptual fabric of non-living entities (i.e. mountains, dew) onto the target product (i.e. an energetic drink in the case under consideration), thus enriching the latter with relevant and compatible features of the former (e.g. freshness, the energizing properties of nature, purity, etc.). As the Mountain Dew example makes clear, brand names serve as guides for the conceptual activation of relevant pieces of world and cultural knowledge, and this is inextricably linked to another formal operation known as selection. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Ruiz de Mendoza (2010), the selection task is cued, but not fully determined, by the linguistic expression. There are other contextual factors that play a role, such as speakers beliefs and previous discourse tasks. In the example under scrutiny, a successful interpretation of Mountain Dew requires selecting the relevant information about mountains and dew that may be applicable in the context of energetic drinks. This selection process will rule out the possibility of endowing the target product with those traits of mountains and dew which are not semantically compatible with


the context under consideration (e.g. mountains as geological features or agricultural settings, dew as an atmospheric phenomenon, etc.). What is special about Mountain Dew, however, is the combination of this comparison operation with one of correlation, which establishes a projection between two different but naturally co-occurring dimensions of experience: up/down positions (i.e. the verticality image-schema), on the one hand, and the notions of happiness and health, on the other. The semantic configuration of the noun mountain comprises the notion of a verticality image-schema,7 whose upper end naturally correlates with vantage positions and bigger quantities (i.e. MORE IS UP, as in Prices are soaring). The verticality image-schema also underlies metaphors like BEING HEALTHY IS BEING UP and HAPPINESS IS UP (e.g. Im in high spirits vs. Im feeling down today, Im coming down with the flu vs. He was up and running in 3 days). Correlations of this kind also have an experiential basis on the typical upright position of healthy and happy people. Thus, if a brand like Mountain Dew is contrasted with an imaginary brand such as Valley Dew, in which the noun valley activates the lower end of the verticality image-schema, the axiologically positive connotations associated with high positions (i.e. bigger quantities, better qualities, health, and happiness) become all the more evident. Mountain Dew conveys a sense of quality and excellence that is not present in its hypothetical counterpart. Likewise, it activates more positive connotations related to energetic and healthy environments. No wonder, therefore, that so many brands of energetic drinks include nouns whose semantics are also related to the upper end of the verticality image schema (see words like tree, top, highland, peak, hi(gh), lift, and up in the aforementioned brands). Interestingly enough, the on-going discussion makes evident that cueing also turns out to be a matter of conceptual consistency. Thus, for a piece of world knowledge to be activated and thus selected as relevant for a given cognitive task, it needs to be conceptually compatible with the cueing item (i.e. brand name). Conceptual consistency is granted by means of yet another higher level cognitive operation called conceptual integration, which consists in the combination and/or merging of conceptual structure from any number of cued items. Lower level cognitive operations often hinge on a previous integration of diverse conceptual structures. As shown above, the correlation operation underlying the interpretation of Mountain Dew is made possible thanks to the combination of the domains of mountain and dew with the verticality image-schema. Conceptual integration of this kind enhances the semantic richness of the brand, as can be realized by comparing Mountain Dew with a hypothetical brand such as UpDew, where the verticality image-schema is presented in a more literal fashion, and the resulting brand name is consequently deprived of the wealth of positive connotations brought about by its conceptual integration with the domain of mountain. Together with the verticality-image schema, Johnson (1987) has put forward a typology of over 20 different schemata. Just as the use of words

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whose semantics comprise the verticality image-schema can be used by brand creators to design positive, energetic, optimistic names, words with other image-schemas built into their semantics could be used to add a varied range of connotations to the target product. Thus, the container image-schema, for instance, readily activates ideas of storage capacity, control, and protection from outside forces (when an entity is within the borders of the container), or mystery (since it is not possible to see what is inside it). Brands which may profit from one or more of these straightforward implications are, among others, Xbox, Pandora,, Nissan Cube, Power Macintosh G4 Cube, Aqua Sphere, Sphere Holding, Intel, Volvo Wagon, and Fiat Qubo. In turn, the path image-schema calls up notions of movement, travel, destination, and origin, as illustrated by brands like BMW Roadster, Chrysler Horizon, Nissan X-Trail, and Nissan Pathfinder. The force image-schema, to give just one more example, triggers associations with concepts like strength, power, and speed. Words whose semantics are intrinsically linked to the force image-schema are those of force, vector, arrow, lancia (Italian for lance or spear), and push. Brand names containing these words will automatically inherit the set of associations triggered by the force image-schema (e.g. Lancia, Vector Graphics, Arrow Energy, Rowenta Air Force, and Push Industries). Image-schemas have an experiential basis, which makes them largely pervasive across cultures and languages. This special trait turns them into a valuable tool for brand creation, since the connotations of brand names based on image-schematic correlations can be easily grasped by consumers from different cultural backgrounds.

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Domain expansion and reduction

These two cognitive operations are related to the two possible kinds of metonymic relationship that can be established between a matrix (or main) domain and the subdomains that it encompasses. Thus, if the source is a subdomain of the target (matrix domain), we have a source-in-target metonymy; and if the target is a subdomain of the source (matrix domain), we find a target-in-source metonymy (cf. Ruiz de Mendoza 2000). This distinction is not inconsequential, since each of the choices correlates with a different type of cognitive operation (i.e. domain expansion and domain reduction, respectively) and produces specific communicative effects. Let us deal with each of them in turn. Domain expansion operations involve the development of a subdomain (source) into its matrix domain (target). As shown in Figure 2, this can be illustrated by a source-in-target metonymy such as the one underlying the expression The ham sandwich asked for the bill, where the ham sandwich (subdomain) stands for the customer who has ordered it (matrix domain). Domain expansion is an economical inference-generating cognitive operation which gives rise to an expanded conceptual domain. Its economy derives from the fact that the speaker needs only provide limited information under


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Figure 2: Domain expansion cognitive operation underlying the interpretation of the source-in-target metonymy The ham sandwich asked for his bill

the assumption that it will be developed by the hearer into the relevant conceptual representation. This type of domain expansion operation is often used to highlight one or more special and/or unique attributes or ingredients of the target product. Thus the subdomain that is used as the source of the projection, not only names but also identifies the product uniquely by emphasizing its most relevant and/or representative characteristics. Coca-cola is a successful brand name based on a cognitive operation of this kind. Its two main ingredients form a compound, which names the beverage, at the same time that they project the knowledge and connotations associated with them onto it. Bitter (Kas) would be a similar example, although in this case the subdomain that is used as the source of the projection corresponds to that of the taste of the beverage. Other drinks, such as Boost or Kick, make use of yet a different subdomain, which consists of the expected effects of the drink. In a similar way, other positive side effects (e.g. Gaudium, a Latin word which stands for the notions of joy, delight, and happiness) or consequences (Placet, another Latin term which means ap proval, favorable opinion) are made to stand for the wine that originates them, thus presenting the target product as something desirable. Very well known brands may even make use of domain expansion operations based on acronyms, as in ck (Calvin Klein), CH (Carolina Herrera) or HP (Hewlett Packard). In brands of this kind, the acronyms function as metonymic access points to the fully fletched brand names, while at the same time adding a touch of mystery, modernity, and/or technical and professional flavor that their corresponding full-forms lack. Domain expansion operations constitute a safe, yet highly productive strategy of brand name creation. Virtually any element of the conceptual fabric that makes up the target product can be metonymically used to name it. Thus, since the resulting brand name will always have its origin in a subdomain of



the target product, the risk of generating unrelated brands or infelicitous connotations is largely limited. Yet, a careful lexical choice in the naming of the relevant subdomain can result in highly persuasive and unique brand names. Rioja wine brands, for example, often exploit the subdomain of color for naming purposes, taking advantage of the rich pool of color hyponyms that exist in Spanish. Such color hyponyms are semantically richer than their basic-level counterparts, and can therefore contribute extra conceptual material to the brand name. As a matter of fact, they do so in spite of referring to what is essentially a search attribute. Genol (from the Vina Ijalba Winery in the Rioja D.O.C.), for instance, is a white wine whose name in based on a domain expansion operation from the corresponding color subdomain (Genol-yellow) to the target product (wine). It should be noted that Genol refers to a special type of yellow traditionally used in the contexts of art and restoration of antiques. The choice of this hyponym is not arbitrary, since it is semantically richer than the corresponding basic-level term amarillo (i.e. yellow). All the relevant semantic content of this hyponym will thus be inherited by the wine itself, which will benefit from the positive connotations derived from the indirectly related domains of antiquity, art, and preservation of valuable objects. Target-in-source metonymic expressions, like Mercedes Benz has decided to cut down its production of luxury cars, illustrate the functioning of the converse operation, known as domain reduction. In domain reduction the matrix domain serves as a reference point for one of its subdomains, consequently reducing the semantic scope of a conceptual representation. Thus, in the example under consideration, Mercedes Benz does not refer to the whole company, but to the people in charge of its management, as illustrated in Figure 3. While domain expansion operations single out and focalize one or two relevant elements of the conceptual fabric of a particular concept, domain reduction operations highlight the whole matrix domain. This type of operation is

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Figure 3: Domain reduction operation underlying the interpretation of the target-in-source metonymy in Mercedes Benz has decided to cut down its production of luxury cars


useful when the target subdomain is too complex or elaborate to be named in an economical way or when the matrix domain is relevant enough to be capable of adding positive connotations, which would be lost by naming the specific subdomain alone. Brands that make use of the name or surname of the founder of the company generally involve a domain reduction process of the kind described above. Thus, international brands such as Prada, Kellogs and Ferrari hinge on this type of mental operation. It is often the case that these brands involve a double-domain reduction operation, so that the name of the founder stands for its company, and in turn, the company stands for its products, as shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 4: Double-domain reduction metonymy underlying the interpretation of the brand name Prada
Double-domain reduction processes of this kind lead the customer to understand the target product, not in isolation, but as part of a broader frame. As a result, the final conceptualization of the product inherits relevant conceptual material from the more general domains in which it is embedded. In this fashion, Prada handbags, for example, will inherit notions characterizing their company such as those of luxury and selectiveness, as well as a sense of heritage and family tradition from the matrix domain of the founder. Domain reduction operations are economic for the speaker since it is the addressees task to determine the relevant subdomain with the help of contextual and/or visual clues. Furthermore, such operations can have the added advantage of offering a unified denomination for the various products of a company, which may simplify their commercialization and bring down their marketing costs.

Mitigation, strengthening, and parametrization operations

Utterances making a non-literal use of a scalar notion are likely to require either a mitigation or a strengthening operation for their interpretation.



The understanding of hyperbole, for instance, requires the hearer to mitigate (i.e. bring down to a point which is compatible with his perception of the state of affairs) the speakers exaggerated formulation of a scalar feature. In this fashion, a statement such as My suitcase weighs a ton will have to be mitigated by the hearer to more realistic assertions such as My suitcase weighs too much or My suitcase is too heavy for me. On the contrary, strengthening operations underlie the interpretation of understatements such as Repairing the car will take some time. Consequently, the hearer needs to move the formulation up the scale to a point that is compatible with his perception of the state of affairs in order to make sense of the utterance (i.e. Repairing the car will take quite some time). Brands whose semantic built-up involves either a mitigation or a strengthening mechanism will necessarily require the customer to carry out the converse mental operation in order to reach their correct interpretations. In addition, brands formed through mitigation or strengthening mechanisms often involve a further operation of parametrization. As defined by Ruiz de Mendoza and Santibanez (2003: 9), parametrization consists in adapting the basic conceptual layout provided by the expression to other textual and contextual clues. This is one more cognitive operation to add to the list of implicature-generating devices. If we consider a wine brand such as Imperial, it is our knowledge that emperors used to live in a world of luxury, which allows us to think of this wine as a high-quality product in terms of taste and aroma. If the same brand name were to be used to refer to a horse or a car instead, the parametrization operation would trigger different interpretations, probably along the lines of a pure breed, i.e. a competitive horse, and of a luxurious and expensive car, respectively. Thus, the same brand name (i.e. linguistic cue) will be parametrized differently depending on the product that it names. Let us now see each of these two opposed processes of brand creation and interpretation in turn. Brands based on mitigation mechanisms often make use of diminutives. Examples abound in present-day markets and include such well-known products as Smarties, Kindle, Chevrolet, Chevy, Tablet, etc. The motivations behind the use of diminutives in brand creation are varied. Some of them obey the straightforward need or desire to highlight the reduced dimensions and portability of a product (i.e. Kindle, Tablet).8 However, diminutives are also connected with deeply rooted cultural beliefs and social expectations, which can be fruitfully exploited in branding. As far back as the 1980s, Sweetser (1984, 1987) already pointed out that not only representational meaning, but also our pragmatic knowledge about social interaction could be organized in terms of Propositional Idealized Cognitive Models (henceforth propositional ICMs).9 This type of knowledge organization structure does not necessarily mirror reality faithfully. On the contrary, propositional ICMs represent the world from a subjective, idealized perspective. Diminutives are often used to draw attention to the speakers positive or negative attitudes about the referent. As argued by Ruiz de Mendoza (19951996: 164), this use of diminutives can be traced back to our experiential knowledge about how people interact

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differently with objects depending on their size. Ruiz de Mendoza, therefore, contends that we can ultimately relate the interpretation of diminutives to the propositional ICM of size, which he formulates as follows: ICM of size (1) Entities range in size from very small ones to very large ones. (2) A small entity is often more manageable than a bigger one. (3) A small entity is often less harmful than a bigger one. From (2) and (3) we derive, as corollaries, two opposed emotional reactions in our understanding of small entities: (4) We feel that small entities are likeable. (5) We feel that small entities are unimportant. Because small entities can presumably do us no harm, they can be easily ignored. Nevertheless, for the same reason, they become attractive to us: as humans we tend to develop feelings of fondness for other human or material entities that are under our control and that do not represent a threat to us. The affective meaning of many brands based on the use of diminutives is thus derived from corollaries (4) and (5). Smarties, Chevrolet, and Chevy, to name just a few examples, all partake of the attraction of small things. Smarties cease to be a threat to cavities or a cause of overweight, because they are small and small things are not perceived as being harmful. Chevrolet and Chevy benefit from our appreciation of small things, which appear as lovable, charming, and desirable in our collective mind, just in the same way as little pets or children can be fetching and enthralling. Finally, Tablet and Kindle are made to appear as manageable (point 2 of the ICM of size) and seductive (corollary 4). As already pointed out, most brands based on the use of diminutives will require the customer to carry out a mental operation of either strengthening and/or parametrization in order to grasp the intended interpretation. By way of illustration, let us consider the case of Chevrolet and Chevy, which will not be literally understood as referring to small cars, although their semantic interpretation will nevertheless benefit from the associations triggered by the aforementioned ICM of size. The exploitation of the ICM of size in the creation of brand names can also be effected through lexical choice. In Pizza Hut, for instance, the word hut, referring to a small, warm and cosy wooden building, straightforwardly activates corollary 4 of the ICM of size. Again, Pizza Hut restaurants will not be understood literally as small eateries, but they will inherit the semantic associations of small things. Consequently, they will come through as likeable and comfy. Since hut already codes the connection between smallness and comfort, there is no need for contextual parametrization in this case. At the other end of the construction of scalar brands we find the workings of strengthening mechanisms. Brands like Burger King, Best, Diamond, Kings, Nike,

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Zeus, Eros, Optima, Elite Book, among many others, exploit this cognitive operation in order to make their semantic impact more effective. The strengthening strategy based on the use of references to either the world of royalty (e.g. Burger King, Kings) or that of classical divinities (e.g. Nike, Zeus, Eros) is highly productive. In combination with an underlying comparison operation, the target domain (i.e. the product) inherits the sense of utter luxury, quantity, and quality that are traditionally associated with the source domains of kings and Gods. The semantic output of such conceptual projections is at a later step conveniently mitigated and parametrized by the potential buyers as they carry out a contextually and culturally adequate interpretation of the brand name. Thus, Burger King comes through as the most tasty burger of its kind. Kings become the cigarettes that even a king would choose, due to their quality and flavor. And Nike (Greek goddess of victory), to name just another example, will be expected to lead its customers to optimum sports performance. Other lexical means that are instrumental in strengthening operations of this sort include the use of superlatives (e.g. Best, Optima) and names describing entities and categories with an intrinsic positive axiology based on their socially valued nature (i.e. Elite Book, Diamond). It should be pointed out once more that, since these brands make a non-literal use of scalar concepts, their final interpretation will necessarily involve a mitigation operation. Best and Optima will be brought down to more realistic assessments like very good quality or a higher quality than the standard. Likewise, a piece of jewelry called Diamond is not necessarily made of diamond, but it will be conveniently understood as referring to the category of exclusive, expensive jewels of which diamonds are a prototype. In a similar fashion, Elite Book is not a notebook aimed at an elite, but it will be easily grasped as being a portable computer that has the necessary features to comply with the requirements of highly demanding users. In some other cases, strengthening mechanisms involve the use of augmentatives, as illustrated by such brands as Big O Tyres, Max Factor, Big Mac, MegaUpload, Mega-Vox, and SuperGlu, among others. The interpretation of augmentatives, like that of diminutives, hinges on the ICM of size, whose original formulation can be extended to account for large entities and the emotional reactions triggered by them: ICM of size (1) Entities range in size from very small ones to very large ones. [. . .] (6) A large entity is more visually noticeable. (7) A large entity looks sturdier and more resistant. From (6) and (7) we derive, as corollaries, two opposed emotional reactions in our understanding of large entities: (8) We feel large entities as being important and offering more quantity.

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(9) We feel large entities as being more reliable and/or offering a higher quality. Thus, the augmentative big in Big O Tyres activates the relevant elements of the ICM of size so that the tires are perceived as more resistant and reliable. In turn, Big Mac activates point 6 of the ICM of size, which is conveniently parametrized in order to produce the semantic output of a larger and higher quality hamburger than the standard one. As shown in the discussion above, both diminutives and augmentatives, therefore, have the ability to create a positive attitude in the minds of potential consumers. However, it should be noted that while diminutives suggest likeability through minoration, augmentatives do so through impressiveness. Likewise, mitigation and strengthening operations represent subtle and opposing ways of exploiting well-entrenched social conventions and conventional emotional reactions. Mitigation strategies lead the potential customer to consider the product as something desirable because of its harmless and easily controllable nature. On the contrary, strengthening operations draw attention to the dimensions and strengths of the product, which also turn it into something desirable due to its eye-catching and/or reliable nature. Strengthening and mitigation operations represent two sides of the same coin. By means of these operations, brand designers present reality in an augmented or a diminished fashion, respectively. In turn, they leave consumers the task of constructing a valid interpretation in order to make sense of the mismatch between the real nature of the product and its purposefully distorted representation provided by the corresponding brand name. The scope of their interpretation, however, is conveniently constrained by the interaction of these cognitive operations with the related ICM of size. Such idealized model of our conventional reactions towards the perception of size automatically shapes consumers interpretations to a large extent. Thus, when a consumer finds a brand like Toyota Avalon (constructed through a strengthening operation), his reading of the brand name will activate those positive traits of large entities as stated in the ICM of size. A large entity is more noticeable and solid, and therefore, more visually catching, and reliable. On the contrary, a brand name built through a mitigation operation (e.g. Chevrolet), activates those corollaries of the ICM of size, which are related to small objects (i.e. they are harmless, more manageable, and as a result, they are usually perceived as endearing and charming). Against this, it could be argued that both large and small entities could also have obvious intrinsic negative properties depending on the use to which they are put. Nevertheless, when interpreting a brand name, consumers work under the general cooperative principle of communication (Grice 1975), which in the context of branding hinges on the assumption that the brand is aimed at highlighting the positive characteristics of the product. Brands such as Chevrolet and Toyota Avalon (i.e. car brands) which stem from opposite mental operations (such as mitigation and strengthening, respectively) both create a positive attitude on the potential consumer thanks

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to their interaction with the conventional knowledge about human perception and emotional reaction to size as captured in the corresponding ICM.


This article makes an initial foray into the unexplored territory of the conceptual foundations of brand names design. We have tackled the issue of how the meaningful associations and connotations arising from a brand name can be largely guided and constrained by a finite set of cognitive operations. In order to support this hypothesis, we have offered a wealth of examples that show how the successful semantics of well-known international brand names is based on the underlying workings of conceptual mechanisms, such as those of comparison, correlation, domain expansion, domain reduction, mitigation, strengthening, and parametrization. In so doing, we have also highlighted the specific traits of each of those cognitive operations, as well as the particular benefits each of them contributes to the process of brand creation. Due to space constraints, we have limited our analysis to brand names. This type of analysis, however, can be extended to other branding elements, including brand images, colors, and sounds, whose semantic interpretation similarly hinges on conceptual mechanisms such as those considered in this article. This line of further research can profit from previous studies on visual metaphor and metonymy (Ungerer 2000; Forceville 2006), as well as from Klinks (2000) proposals on sound symbolism. Special attention should be paid to aspects of potential cognitive dissonance in the final semantic configuration of brands arising from the different elements that integrate them: linguistic (brand name, motto), visual (logo, color), and acoustic (sounds, sound patterns), etc. In this connection, the contemporary literature on conceptual interaction (Goossens 1995; Ruiz de Mendoza and Dez 2002) should also be revisited and elaborated to accommodate those instances of multi-modal conceptual interplay that often characterize the construction of powerful brands (e.g. a linguistic metaphor interacting with a visual metonymy, a mitigation operation based on visual input interacting with linguistic and/or phonetic metaphors or metonymies, etc.).
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Financial support for this research has been provided by the DGI, Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, grant FFI2010-17610(FILO).

1 Considerations on sound symbolism can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy (Platos Cratylus) and relevant 20th century linguists such as Sapir (1929). It has been defined as the direct linkage between sound and meaning (Hinton et al. 1994).


2 It goes without saying that specific cultural factors also play a role in this process. However, our general focus in this article is on the more general factors, which are common across cultures due to their grounding in shared cognitive factors. 3 The Lexical Constructional Model (Mairal and Ruiz de Mendoza 2009) arises from the concern to account for the relationship between syntax and all facets of meaning construction, including traditional implicature, illocutionary meaning, and discourse phenomena. The LCM bases its descriptions on the notions of lexical and constructional templates, which are the building blocks of the model. For a more detailed account on this model of language representation, visit its webpage at: <> 4 As pointed out by Ruiz de Mendoza (2010), high-level formal abstraction operations are a precondition for correlation and comparison operations to be possible at all. Through abstracting, we derive generic structure common to the source and target domains of a conceptual mapping, thus licensing further comparisons and/or correlations between them. By way of illustration, consider the correlation between quantity (the target) and height (the source) in a metaphorical expression such as Prices are soaring. This type of correlation between height and quantity is licensed by the abstraction of common structure from multiple low-level scenarios in which we observe the rise and fall of levels as more is added or taken away. 5 Traditionally, metaphoric mappings have been taken as cognitive operations (Lakoff 1987). Nevertheless, as pointed out by Grady (1999), this is an oversimplification, since metaphorical mappings eventually hinge on a number of more basic cognitive operations, such as the comparison and

correlation operations dealt with in this section. 6 The Great Chain of Being, which was first put forward by Lakoff and Turner (1989), is a cultural model which pervades our conception of the order of things in the world and structures our vision of the existing relations between human beings and lower forms of existence. According to the basic Chain of Being, there is a hierarchy among the different kinds of being in the world. Higher level beings possess all the properties of lower level beings together with their inherent properties. For example, animals show all the defining features inherited from lower ranks (e.g. plants), plus an inherent attribute, namely, instinct. At the highest level of the scale, we find human beings who partake of all the properties of lower levels plus rationality. 7 Image-schemas are one of the cornerstone notions of the experientialist paradigm of Cognitive Linguistics (Johnson 1987). This framework was founded upon the rejection of the mindbody dichotomy and stressing the fundamentally embodied nature of meaning, imagination, reason, and language as a whole. Image-schemas are conceived of as the pre-linguistic, dynamic, and highly schematic gestalts arising directly from our bodily experience, motor movement, object manipulation, and perceptual interaction with the world that surrounds us. 8 The more sophisticated readers will straightforwardly recognize the diminutive suffixes (i.e. let, -le) in these brand names. Less learned consumers, however, will also grasp the implications by analogy with more common uses of these diminutives (e.g. piglet, booklet, hamlet, puddle, noodle). This type of unconscious linguistic knowledge is often successfully exploited by brand name creators.

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9 Propositional Idealized Cognitive Models ICMs (Lakoff 1987) are very general, idealized, culture-specific structures of knowledge organization. The role of social propositional ICMs and other

types of structured schemata (e.g. frames, scenarios, scripts, etc.) in triggering expected emotional reactions and inferences finds further support in psychological studies (Fiske 1982).

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