06 April 2023
4 minutes read

By Pete Saladino

Black Sabbath. Cannibal Corpse. Napalm Death. Slayer. What business do you think they’re in?

They’re prolific metal bands with legions of devoted fans (duh). They’re also globally recognised brands with diverse and loyal consumer bases. They’ve been in business for decades. Household names.

So, what’s their secret to success? Brutally tight brand names.

Metal branding is so unfathomably tight that it inspires people all over the world to empty their bank accounts, clear their schedules and offer their very souls in the name of bands with names like Iron Maiden, Darkthrone and Anthrax. For example:

  • Metalheads routinely travel across the country and around the world to watch a band play, sometimes even following them on multiple dates. In fact, Spotify research shows that Mealheads are the most loyal music fans.
  • There must be MILLIONS of Metallica tattoos proudly inked onto sensible people right now. Metallica haven’t even made a good record — a key product line — in two decades and they’re still the category leader by almost every metric. What other brand can claim that?
  • Also a band with millions of fan tattoos, obsessed Slayer fans are known to carve the wordmark into their own arms. Slayer even released a (tongue-in-cheek/lawsuit-indemnifying) product to help fans do it sans blood. Ever heard of anyone carving Gucci into their arm?

Music and musicians are treated as art and artists, and so they should be. But behind the art is a business and a brand that operates like many others.

Metal bands have branding (logos, fonts, colours, rebrands, sub brands), communications (websites, mailing lists, social media, interviews), paid events (concerts), and product catalogues (albums and merchandise), plus brand collaborations (side projects, guest appearances).

The parallels are obvious. So why are metal bands so much better at branding than many of their commercial distant cousins?

Vulgar display of naming

The root of successful branding starts with the name. Like with any consumer product or service, a name is the purest representation of everything the brand stands for:

  • It’s typically the first point of introduction for an audience
  • It’s integral to locating the brand (URLs, search, social handles)
  • It’s crucial to word-of-mouth recommendations, which are the most valuable
  • And sometimes, it can enter everyday culture as a verb like uber and google

Metal band names are always distinctive and unique while placing the act within the global metal scene — just as any good name should. This is a competitive industry where not every player lasts as long as Napalm Death or Judas Priest. The name is a crucial early step toward success.

It’s so integral to metal music that some band members even have their own sub-brand personas that augment the master brand, characters almost like the Hamburglar or Michelin Man. But how many C-suiters do you know that have changed their name to complement the brand? None.

After 12 years of copywriting experience in branding and advertising, and 28 years of listening to metal (including 5 as Metal Editor at Apple Music), I see metal bands as among the strongest brands on the planet — right up there with icons like Coca Cola, Nike and Sonos.

So, what makes a good brand name?

Naming review: Trovio vs The Black Dahlia Murder

Let’s look at Trovio, developed by me here at Paper Moose.

  • The company specialised the tokenisation via blockchain of valuable commodities like gold and silver — a Web3 treasure trove of sorts
  • As a technology company, they suggested ‘IO’ (input/output) be included the name or URL to make it sound techy
  • A portmanteau of ‘trove’ and ‘IO’ = Trovio

Simple. Distinctive. Memorable. Ownable.

While metal band names should also meet these wise criteria, they are typically only judged on a single, crucial metric: is it brutal?

Brutality is ubiquitous in the lexicon of heavy metal, alongside terminology like headbanging, shredding/shreds, crushing, blood, decapitation, etc. “It’s fucking brutal” is a positive review of anything in the genre.

Armed with that metric, let’s look at a metal naming example: The Black Dahlia Murder, developed by 5 musicians from Waterford, Michigan.

  • The word and colour black is synonymous with metal themes and branding.
  • The word ‘murder’ punctuates the name. That’s brutal.
  • The murder in question is the 1947 unsolved murder of actress Elizabeth Short. The LA press referred to her as the Black Dahlia due to her jet black hair, rumoured fondness for black clothing (very metal), as well as the ‘Blue Dahlia’ film that was screening at the time. (It is Hollywood, after all).
  • Also, when the body was discovered, there was no blood found at the scene. This means the victim was killed somewhere else and transported to the dumping site by the killer. That’s bruuuutal!

You know what you’re getting with The Black Dahlia Murder. It says what it does on the pack. It’s brutal AF.

Trovio does this well too, but not every brand takes the time to find a name that broadcasts its essence so effortlessly.

And naming for all

The process of commercial brand naming is brutal. Over long days (or weeks if you have budget), every stone loosely related to your product should be overturned and analysed and unpacked. Your nascent brand’s minimal essence will be critiqued in every way possible. It’s a truly obsessive endeavour.

The competition to find original and unique names that can top Google search results and secure memorable dot com URLs is more intense than ever. There might even be more brands than Metallica tattoos on the planet, and that’s fucking brutal just to ponder.

So when you think about releasing a new product or service to the world, take naming seriously. It can make or break your brand. Get professionals (i.e. me/Paper Moose) to do it. Spend the time. Spend the money. Naming a brand is more challenging than naming a metal band, but I believe it’s crucial for clients to embrace the same brutal obsession as if their brand is spending a whole paycheck flying to London just to see Black Sabbath, Slayer and Entombed play together at the Hammersmith Odeon for one night only. Make it awesome. Make it brutal.

Senior Copywriter

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