BRANDkrupt of Ideas: “Timah” controversy through the eyes of a copywriter

A ROSE by any other name would smell as sweet.

But for PAS and The Consumer Association of Penang, it is bitter when a whiskey was named “Timah”.

They claimed it resembles the Malay and Muslim name “Fatimah”.

Lo and behold, there goes another controversy related to a food product!

Just when we thought Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dog, A&W’s Root Beer and Texas Chicken’s Church Sauce controversies were over, we are now fed with another controversy in the form of “Timah” Whiskey.

The brand owner has clarified that Timah stands for “tin” in Malay language.

So how on earth that it could be interpreted as “Fatimah”? Very imaginative indeed.

I am a Cantonese and I could even say “Timah” means “very sweet” and named after the Cantonese dialect. That is my interpretation if I have it my way.

I work as a copywriter for 30 years and have written countless names for all sorts of brands.

In fact, copywriters are paid handsomely for creating brilliant brand names, slogans and taglines.

Here, I would like to school the opponents about brand naming.

Should a brand reflect the industry?

What has “tin” got to do with whiskey? Such is the argument of those who had opposed the name “Timah”.

They said that the brand name must be related to the product line, just like what we see in Breeze for detergent which means “fast”.

Conventional advertising may apply this principle but in advertising, brilliant works are all about out-of-the-box thinking.

A brand name should create disruption, an emotional thought that makes heads turn.

Who could ever think that “Virgin” is for an airline and “Diesel” is for an apparel?

And not to mention, “Canon” (which was named after the Goddess of Mercy, Kwanon in Japanese) is for a camera.

Should a brand be as simple as ABC?

If we look at some famous brands, simplicity works best.

Steve Jobs had his fruit diet, spending most of his time working in an apple orchard.

He wanted a simple name which is in line with his “minimalist” brand concept and hence, Apple name was born.

Other simple and memorable brand names include IKEA, Sony, Pepsi and Audi.

In this respect, Timah is perfect. It is easy to remember and have only two syllables.

Should a brand be sensitive to culture?

Yes. We have seen Darkie became Darlie, Aunt Jemima became Pearl Milling Co and Eskimo Pie became Edy’s Pie to avoid racist connotation.

When we create brand names, we need to look at all aspects of the culture, both geographically and demographically, and what is deemed sensitive and what is not.

However, saying that the name “Timah” has a hidden agenda to lure Muslims to drink alcohol is like saying hotdogs will lure one to eat dog, and root beer will lure one to drink beer.

We have seen this stupidity being played in the past.

Remember how Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dog, which is supposed to be a hotdog, but had to change its name to ‘sausage’ just to appease the complainants?

Likewise, A&W’s Root Beer changed its name to A&W’s RB although it has been in their menu for years!

Maybe the FCUK brand will send shockwaves to these people and if it does, please do some homework.

The name stands for French Connection United Kingdom and not the four vulgar letters that are playing in their brains.

To many copywriters like myself, brand-naming is a tedious work.

Sometimes, it took us hundreds of names in the process before we finally nail the right name.

I named my training academy WORDerful Learning, a coined word from a clever wordplay of “wonderful”.

Luckily, I don’t call it “WANKerful Learning” or it will court a new controversy. – Oct 20, 2021


Francis Yip is an award-winning writer and HRDF-certified Trainer. He is also the CEO of Franciswriter Dot Com and WORDerful Learning Sdn Bhd and guest lecturer in The One Academy.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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