Soylent: A Powder by Any Other Name Would Taste as Mild

What’s in a name?

We’ve all heard that before right?  And while I get the sentiment expressed in that idea, the reality is that we humans attribute massive importance to names.  We literally have our entire identities wrapped up in our names, and the names that are used to identify specific things can also result in all kinds of interesting outcomes.

Ever hear about Reebok’s new line of shoes that failed spectacularly when they decided to name it Incubus?

A demon by any other name…

So what’s this got to do with Soylent?  Well clearly its name alone has caused quite a stir, and I even have my own issues with it.  But the types of reactions that many are having, seem truly disproportionate.

I can’t tell you how many tweets and blog comments I’ve seen from people who are absolutely stunned and horrified that Soylent was “named after something in a movie that was made from recycled people!  That’s right – people!!”   This is usually stated quite emphatically, as if they are the first to break this world-altering revelation to the masses.

Of course a cursory bit of research into the product would reveal that it was actually named after the book “Make Room!  Make Room!” and that in the book, Soylent was derived from a combination of Soy and Lentils.

And that’s actually where my only issue with the name lies.  Soy.  There is no soy, in Soylent.  There is a very small amount of soy lecithin, but that is different from soy itself and is generally believed by the science and medical communities to be safe (especially in the small amounts we’re talking about here).

But since Soy is the first part of Soylent, I think it’s a natural point of confusion and potential concern for many people, who will unfortunately not look beyond the name to discover that it is not in fact a soy-based product.

While I personally feel this is unfortunate, I don’t think I’d have them change the name even if I could.  Choosing the name Soylent was no question, a stroke of genius.  In marketing, shock has a tremendous amount of value, and trying to get people to stop whatever they’re doing and look at your product, read your article, etc. is a big challenge for brands of all sizes.

In the name Soylent, Rob Rhinehart & co. have managed to do exactly this, with outstanding efficacy.  People are talking about Soylent who never would have otherwise.  If it had instead been called “Super Food Powder”, would anyone care?  I say hell no.  It wouldn’t even have registered as a blip on the collective radar.  But thanks to a name that has a certain amount of social shock value, Soylent has gone global in no time.

What other powdered foods have you seen taking their creator on to a major show like The Colbert Report?

Yeah I didn’t think so.

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