There may be many facets to a winning marketing mix, but a strong brand name that captures the consumer's imagination is clearly fundamental. Patience Gould looks at some notable hits and misses to get to the bottom of what defines successful branding.

Considering all the work that goes into packaging design and the ever increasing pressure on design agencies to underline brand presence on shelf, it's easy to forget how important the brand name itself is in the marketing mix.

However, the fact is these days far more is required from a brand's moniker, and the choice of name can be a make-or-break decision. At a stroke, it has to convey its place of origin; be pronounceable around the world and of course not mean anything vulgar in translation; also crucially it has to have the "feel good" factor to order at the bar.

It's interesting to note the different tactics being adopted in the current avalanche of new vodkas coming to market. Most Russian vodka brands coming on to the global stage have been blessed with sensible names; Parliament, Green Mark, Russian Standard et al., while counterparts from Poland are more traditional - Zubrowka, Soplica and Wyborowa. The vodka brands from the Ukraine have also opted for more traditional brand names such as Nemiroff and Soyuz Victan or SV for short.

So how is a brand name selected?

It can be a hugely logical exercise as in the case of Akvinta - the vodka from Croatia. The name is an amalgam of Latin words: aqua, referring to its Dalmatian spring water source; quinto, which reflects the five elements the spirit is filtered through; and vinum, an allusion to the wine heritage of the Med and the fact that the brand is sold in a wine-shaped bottle.

In days of yore, life was infinitely simpler and more often than not the brand would take the name of its owners. Consider the gins Gordon's and Tanqueray, the blended Scotch whiskies Bell's and Teacher's, the Cognacs Hennessy and Martell, and even the triple sec Cointreau.

In today's marketplace, however, it appears this approach will leave a brand short, as illustrated by Highland Distillers' attempt to launch a gin under the name Gloag, the family which originally owned the whisky company. Despite being an excellent gin, Gloag conveyed nothing to the average punter, and that combined with the prohibitive costs of developing a new brand put the mockers on the enterprise.

Generally, Scotch whisky producers do not have to get too involved in the name game. Their single malts carry the name of the distillery, and the marketing effort goes into the age statement and the type of cask the whisky has been matured in. But there has been the touch of genius of late outside the distillery gate - enter Ian Macleod Distillers with its Islay "brew" Smokehead.

Not only does the name convey the type of whisky in the bottle, it also touches a chord with the younger generation - not an easy task for Scotch whisky companies. In its mature markets of the UK and the US, Scotch is shrouded in tradition and its consumer base is in the 40-year-old-plus age group.

However, vodka is a comparatively new phenomenon in the European spirit arena, and finding the right name is critical. Taking the name of the owner in today's corporate culture is just not an option. So when vodka started its dizzy rise to fame and fortune it's interesting to note that heritage was the order of the day. Vodka had its roots in Poland as well as Russia, so the tendency was to go for eastern European-type names regardless of where the brand was produced.

In the UK, the most famous of this genre was Vladivar. Then owned by the Warrington-based G&J Greenall - now by Whyte and Mackay - tongue-in-cheek advertising established the vodka and put Warrington firmly on the map.

It is a far more serious business these days, but you have to smile, well laugh (all the way to the bank if you are Sidney Frank), at the huge success scored by the vodka, Grey Goose. Produced in France and marketed on an unashamedly aspirational platform in the US by original owners Sidney Frank Importing Co., the brand is proof that, with good marketing, you can get away with most things. Who would have thought that a French vodka with an absurd name could end up being sold for US$2bn? But there you go.

It goes without saying that Allied Domecq did not have the same luck when it came to the launch of Wet. Thank goodness sanity prevailed. It was an ironically appropriate name in that it was a wishy-washy attempt at a vodka-cum-gin - but wholly inappropriate in every other aspect, particularly at the bar. Imagine being fool enough to order a "Wet on the rocks please", or worse still: "A large Wet on the rocks" - truly, truly awful, and little wonder that it didn't take new owners Pernod Ricard long to withdraw it.

Proof indeed that an off-the-wall name plus marketing clout - Wet was positioned to piggy-back on the premium gin Beefeater - does not add up to a resounding success. Even more extraordinary is the fact that, at the time, Allied Domecq was trying to underline its expertise in launching new brands, but that's another story.