Do 'Best' and 'Famous' Make Us More Likely to Buy?

Best sign
Best sign

In or near Manhattan's 10003 zip code, lists 431 establishments with the word "famous" in their names. That includes the Famous Shower Curtain Manufacturing Company. Chicago is home to 256 businesses with "best" in their titles, one being Best Massage. Or maybe you're in the market for the finest. In San Diego, you can find 34 "finest" something-or-other businesses, including America's Finest Pet Sitting. (Perhaps it surveyed the cats and dogs.)

It's fair to say companies exaggerate, but do consumers buy the hype? Do we actually eat at restaurants because they say they're famous or the best on the sign? When we see "finest" in a service listing, do we expect unsurpassed performance?

Donald Lichtenstein, marketing professor at the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business, told DailyFinance that names trafficking in puffery are effective to a certain degree. "They work more to the extent that they insinuate to consumers that there's some type of rationale to what they're saying," he said. A name, however, is no match for a claim that can be verified by a study or by word of mouth, he added.

Mark Ingber munched on a slice at Famous Ray's Original Pizza in Greenwich Village, unmoved by the "famous" on the awning. "Maybe tourists will care," said Ingber, a New York City native now living in Coral Springs, Fla.

In the annals of puffery, the many Ray's could take up an entire chapter. New York has dozens of unrelated Ray's -- most "Famous" or "Famous Original." A Seinfeld episode once chronicled the confusion. But this particular Ray's at least had a few faded newspaper clips on the wall to prove some level of celebrity, Ingber pointed out.

Famous Ray's co-manager Raj Singh said the impact of extravagant adjectives disappeared when the Internet showed up. "You can know everything about a place before you go," he said.

What's in a Name?

The Country's Best Yogurt (TCBY) began with one store in Little Rock, Ark., in 1981 and now has more than 450 nationwide, according to its website. Its original name was This Can't Be Yogurt before it made a change for the Best in 1984.

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"I believe a company name is more than a name," TCBY CEO Tim Casey said. "It's a brand and all consumer brands create perceptions and a set of beliefs in the mind of the consumer. These perceptions and beliefs conjure up memories, feelings, emotions and confidence that inspire and compel a consumer to reward you with their business."

It has worked for others. A William Morris talent agent named Wally Amos started Famous Amos (K) chocolate chip cookies in 1975, and the company grew into its fame. Gus Bonner renamed his parents' Memphis restaurant Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken in 1984. After a few rave reviews in national publications such as GQ, it indeed became renowned.

But the overstated can sometimes repel customers. "Sometimes when you see 'famous,' it's more expensive," Adriana Ingber said at Ray's.

Nothing Illegal About Exaggeration

Colorado's Lichtenstein believes a 1983 Federal Trade Commission ruling on deception set a precedent for companies over-hyping their goods or adopting names that try to reduce their competition in stature. The FTC declared that a company which called its antenna an "Electronic Miracle" advertised fraudulently because buyers truly expected the antenna to be superior to others. Otherwise, the FTC added, it had no problem with exaggerated names and claims that don't mislead "consumers acting reasonably."

In a world where one person's "famous" can be someone else's "never heard of it," few companies encounter legal or competitor resistance for over-the-top names.

"When it comes to things that are subjective like 'world's best,' we don't consider that false advertising," a rep for the Better Business Bureau said.

But some companies really push it. Near the AOL/Huffington Post office is the Best of Best Deli.

What's next? The World Famous Best of Best Miracle Deli?

Originally published