Pinterest: How a Great Brand Name Ignited Success

Great Brand Name

People collect stuff, it’s in our nature. We like to organize what we collect. And show it off to our friends.

In the physical world, pinboards (also known as corkboards and bulletin boards) have been around a long time, and are super useful for organizing a collection of notes, photos and clippings. However, there are limitations to pinboards — your wall can only hold a certain number of them, and if you want to share something you’ve pinned with a friend you need a photocopier.

The clever folks at Pinterest realized that digitizing a pinboard could solve all of our organizational dilemmas. Using the rich media of the web, they made pinboards visually appealing, easily shared, and they allowed you to have lots and lots and lots of them — one for every holiday, one for each of your favorite animals, and even one for what you are planning to wear next Monday. You can “pin” pretty much anything, and group your pins anyway you please.

They could have easily called their product Pinboard. It’s a word in the dictionary, it would describe exactly what it did, it could transition well into a verb (“Pinboard it”), it’s easy to spell, etc. But they didn’t.

Pin + Interest = Pinterest

The word Pinterest is a type of name called a portmanteau or “blend” of two words. It is a unique type of blend name that we call an “overlapping blend” because it is one of the rare instances where the ending letters or sound of the first word and the beginning letters or sound of the second word are the same. Other famous brands with this feature are Travelocity (Travel + Velocity) and Chrysler’s Fluidrive (Fluid + Drive). Overlapping blend words have also made their way into the English lexicon like mathlete, guesstimate, and threepeat.

When done correctly, meaning both parts of the name are applicable to the business and brand values, an overlapping blend name is very special.

In my opinion, using the word “interest” was genius. Here’s why that particular word made Pinterest a great brand name: The problem with collections is that the contents are really only useful and/or entertaining to the collector. “Pinboard” would have been a product that spoke to individuals who just needed an organizational tool. “Pinterest” is a subtle, almost subconscious hint to connect with people who have the same interest. It drives us to use the product to research and go exploring beyond the borders of our own stuff. A collection is personal but an interest is human, and it inspires us to be social.

We don’t know whether the “interest” part of the name was an intentional choice to convey this social element, or a coincidental result of just liking how the two words overlapped. Either way it worked out for the best. Because of its social component, Pinterest has grown in popularity above and beyond any previous bookmarking tool. I continue to be inspired by the creativity of complete strangers, and more than any other site it reminds me of the awesome richness of information that the web holds.

Now please excuse me while I drool over a Pinterest board of picture-perfect cookies.