Naming and Branding Agency

Posts from: August 2005

Is that a Merkin on your shoulder or are you just happy to see me?

There is no shortage of what the…? names adorning women’s brands. Sag Harbor, as the name of a women’s clothing brand aimed at women over 35 is one of the standard bearers. But the honoree for this year’s huevos grande award was never in doubt. It goes to upscale handbag brand name Lauren Merkin. Extra points for taking a low riding word like merkin and passing it right under our noses, lightly perfumed by the preceding “Lauren”.

Seriously though, how is it that these pricey purses, which everyone refers to as “a Merkin”, can keep their cachet given the negative meaning of the word? It’s because consumers are never, ever literalists. The “negative” meaning just gives people something to remember, to talk about, to have a laugh about. It never stands in the way of sales and is great word of mouth. The “negative” is really a positive.

If more companies were focused on keeping the cash register ringing, rather than on silly personal thoughts like “ I don’t want to be on the board of Merkin, let’s not name it that”, we’d have a far bigger pool of cost effective names out there.

More on the naming principal of of negativity can be read here.

Blandor Says Blandor the Imponderable: “That name puts the cod back in my codpiece. Jouissance! I’ve been sporting this merkin on my dome for years, perhaps now the cruel taunting will be at an end. The most uniquely unique name to ooze through the pipe since this prickly chestnut was passed.

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Grim Reaper-cussions in Fernwood 2-Nite

A couple of Saturdays ago, the NY Times ran this story:

MILL VALLEY, Calif. – Tommy Odom’s remains lie on a steep wind-swept hill at Forever Fernwood, beneath an oak sapling, a piece of petrified wood and a bundle of dried sage tied with a lavender ribbon. When he died in a traffic accident last year, Mr. Odom, 41, became the first of 40 people at Fernwood cemetery to move on to greener pastures – literally. He was buried un-embalmed in a biodegradable pine coffin painted with daisies and rainbows, his soul marked by prairie grasses instead of a granite colossus.

Here, where redwood forests and quivering wildflower meadows replace fountains and manicured lawns, graves are not merely graves. They are ecosystems in which “each person is replanted, becoming a little seed bank,” said Tyler Cassity, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who reopened the long-moldering cemetery last fall.

Finally, a chance for you to do at least one good thing before you die, almost. And most convenient for this blogger, as Forever Ferwood sits atop a hill not 300 yards from my new home. This development does, however, put a stall in my plans to have a well dug in the backyard.

The name “Forever Fernwood” is compelling, and prods us to dig into the forensic etymology of the name of pop culture blip “Fernwood 2-Night”, a television show which starred Martin Mull way back in 1978. Mr. Mull spent a good amount of time in Mill Valley and its surrounding county of Marin, in fact he starred in the film “Serial”, an adaptation of the book “The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County” As described by Wikipedia:

The Serial is divided into 52 short chapters and it chronicles the lives, loves, and relationships of a number of residents, mostly in their mid-to-late 30s and their 40s, of Marin County, a suburban, generally very affluent county directly across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. The plot revolves around Harvey and Kate Holroyd, a couple in the midst of the mid-1970s Marin lifestyle who are undergoing marital problems, although there are many other characters introduced and described throughout the novel.

There are elements of soap opera in the book, although the tone is comedic (specifically, satirical) rather than tragic. The novel describes its characters’ lifestyles, including their interest in various New Age beliefs and human potential movement groups (including est, transcendental meditation, consciousness-raising, and rebirthing); their unconventional and arguably lax child-rearing techniques; and their embrace of a number of then-current fads, such as fern bars, jogging, and organic food. The book satirizes many of the elements of a particular mid-to-late 1970s subculture, also described to some degree by author Tom Wolfe in his 1976 non-fiction essay “The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening”, particularly as manifested in the lives of people then between the ages of about 30 and 45 in affluent parts of California.

Many of the characters in The Serial also speak using a particular jargon or lexicon, saying words and phrases like “flash on” (a phrasal verb meaning to “have a sudden insight about”), “Really” (to signify assent), and others.

The Serial contains a great number of specific references to actual locations (restaurants, stores, streets) in 1970s Marin County. In the original edition of the book, and in most if not all later editions, black-and-white illustrations of scenes from the novel accompany the text in many of the chapters.

So was Fernwood 2-Night named after the cemetery Forever Fernwood? You might think it too big a stretch, until deeper digging reveals this bone chip about t.v. show “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”:

…a few of the supporting cast who appeared in the series
included Martin Mull, Orson Bean, Dabney Coleman, Shelley
Berman, Shelley Fabares, Richard Hatch and Tab Hunter;
the series was first run as a syndicated series, and then
was picked up for late-night broadcast on the “CBS Late Movie”
when they ran out of movies; after Louise Lasser left the
series, the title was changed to reflect the name of the
fictional town…

aka: “Forever Fernwood”

Later, after “Forever Fernwood” ran out of steam, producer
Norman Lear extended the franchise even further by creating
creating a fictional local talk show as fodder for even more
satire, called “Fernwood 2-Night”

So there you have it. And no, we don’t have anything better to do.

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Kodak launches digital photography re-branding campaign

Kodak’s hometown newspaper, The Democrat & Chronicle, reports a long overdue case of photosynthesis:

…The company today will let loose a torrent of advertising — online, in movie theaters, in print, on television and outdoor billboards — designed to establish Kodak’s credentials as a high-tech innovator in the world of digital imaging…

…Kodak is now rated as the world’s 62nd most valuable brand, compared with 27th five years ago. “Only dominant in a film business that shrinks every year,” the 2004 rankings said about Kodak.

The new campaign aims to reverse that perception by presenting Kodak as a diverse provider of state-of-the-art digital imaging products and services useful to many different industries — not only consumer photography. Establishing Kodak as a technology company is “table stakes” in the fiercely competitive world of consumer electronics, said Betty Noonan, director of brand management and marketing services at Kodak…

…At the same time, Noonan said the company knew it wanted to do no damage to the traditional attributes attached to the Kodak name — trust, quality, technological simplicity. Consumers in focus groups repeatedly told Kodak that its brand “was the kind of brand they could bring home to dinner,” Noonan said.

If only they were selling buckets of chicken…

This is all well and good, but there is a very specific strategy that Kodak needs to follow. There are basically three factors that determine digital image quality — megapixels, lens quality and the on-board image processor. Consumers first fixated on megapixels, an easy shorthand when shopping for a digital camera. The equation became “how many megapixels for how much money?”

A terrifying equation for the high-end manufacturers, it is a battle easily won by the low-end producers. Keen to shift the conversation away from megapixels, Nikon and Sony responded by talking about lens quality, Nikon talking about Nikon manufactured lenses and Sony through a co-branding effort touting their “Carl Zeiss® Vario-Tessar® lens”. Kodak needs to partner with a legacy lens crafter to break even on this one, but it’s the third leg, the image processor, that they can leverage and own.

Kodak has a rich history and extensive brand equity around the idea of image processing, they can make the connection from past to present and take possession of the one key aspect of digital photography that is up for grabs on this simple concept. The jump from image processing to branding an image processor within a camera is a small and simple one, and like lenses, it can’t easily be quantified with a simple number like megapixels. It’s the kind of fuzzy area where their brand can reign supreme.

And finally they need to abandon the positioning strategy point of “simplicity”, of being our guide in the complicated world of digital photography. That day has come and gone and the public no longer sees this realm as complicated. While the strategy worked well for AOL in the early days, as consumers became more savvy “simplicity” quickly came to mean “stripped down, unsophisticated and limiting”.

The idea of pushing simplicity and stewardship seems more a reflection of the ennui and uncertainty inside Kodak that made it late to the digital ball in the first place, rather than an accurate reading of consumer zeitgeist.

Kodak may indeed be the type of brand we’d “bring home to dinner”, but if they want the relationship to get more interesting, they need to realize that nothing is sexier than confidence.

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Kansas re-branding effort re-launched

The state of Kansas recently launched a campaign aimed at countering the negative image that has built up surrounding this squarest of states. The tagline “As big as you think” was meant to balance the perception of Kansas as small minded and intolerant. But the campaign failed and Kansas has finally realized they must play to their strengths.

We bring you Kansas’ new television spot, through which they hope to subtract a few degrees from their perceived latitude so it lines up more accurately with their actual attitude. Via WOW.

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The return of Blandor

Under increasing pressure from our loyal reader, we have launched a search for one-time commentator “Blandor the Imponderable”. Last seen on these virtual pages more than two years ago, we agree that Blandor must return. We currently have agents scouring all the methadone clinics and binjo ditches on the south side of town, so he’s bound to turn up soon.

In the meantime, cast a bleary eye back on Blandor’s last guest appearances, where he prognosticated profoundly on the color scheme of Aeroflot and the naming and branding genius of Avlimil.

Send us any tips or sightings you have. We need him back pdq, as he alone is qualified to comment on the news that WebMD has changed its name. Via The Street.com:

“In choosing the name, we looked for a name that we could own and to which we could assign our own meaning and vision,” the company says. “Our new name, Emdeon, references our history as WebMD and formerly, Healtheon. It also suggests our grounding in e-healthcare.”

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Legu-me-Eggo

The A.P. reports too many nuts in U.S.:

Right now, the United States has too many peanuts and that, experts say, could be bad news for the peanut commodity program unless something is done to whittle down the piles.

“We’re afraid if we cost the government a lot of money, we’ll get less in the next farm bill,” said Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association.

Some 215,000 tons of peanuts are still unsold from the 2004 crop and agricultural officials predict growers will produce another 2.3 million tons this year, Spearman said.

Despite recent growth in peanut consumption, Americans use only about 1.6 million tons a year and another 300,000 to 400,000 tons are exported.

That leaves a surplus of about 485,000 tons.

As much as nature hates a vacuum, does it hate it enough for a consumer product called peanut milk to come to the rescue? That’s right, peanut milk. From Joe Kissell’s Interesting Thing Of The Day:

The story goes like this. Jack Chang, who along with his wife Margaret owns a tiny burger joint/coffee shop called the KK Cafe, loved peanuts. But due to chronic gum disease he was unable to chew them, so he set about making a drink that would enable him to enjoy his peanuts in convenient liquid form. It took him months to get the recipe just right, but being a frugal person he felt obliged to drink all the failed batches. As he consumed increasing amounts of this concoction, he noticed that he felt more energetic, his allergies cleared up, and his gums returned to health. He even stopped losing his hair. There could be no other explanation than his peanut drink—well, that and God, but I’m getting ahead of myself—so the couple began recommending the stuff to all of their customers suffering from various kinds of ailments. Sure enough, this person’s arthritis went away, that person’s skin rash healed, and soon testimonials were pouring in and word began to spread that the Changs had invented a cure-all in the form of a tasty peanut drink.

What Chang calls “peanut milk” is a nondairy product made primarily from ground peanuts and water, with some sugar, other grains, and a few herbs and spices. Interestingly, it tastes almost exactly like a mixture of ground peanuts, water, and sugar—which is to say, in my humble opinion, kind of gross. It was all I could do to get through a single 8-oz. (240ml) bottle—and remember, I’m speaking as a peanut lover here. Other people clearly differ in their opinion of the flavor, consuming, in some cases, several quarts per day. Or perhaps they’re too enthusiastic about its supposed health benefits to concern themselves with taste. In all fairness, it does certainly taste much better than, for example, a mixture of cough syrup, castor oil, and spirulina, to pick three ingredients completely at random.

Chang’s peanut milk is sold under the brand name of “Signs and Wonders” and any doubts you have as to its healthful properties will be assuaged by a single glance at Signs and Wonders’ glowing spokesmodel.

Call it a sign, and wonder..

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Landor throws a Wrench into the works

Sometimes they pitch to us slow and over the plate. From PRNewswire via Yahoo! :

Charlie Wrench Named President of Landor Associates

Landor’s finest naming work to date. It’s provocative, refreshingly honest, and captures the essence of who they are, what they do and how they do it. Bravo.

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This name is a killer

From CNN via AP:

The movie “Murderball” has all the makings of a big hit: Tough guys, violence, a little sex and a U.S. sports team overcoming long odds. Reviews have been fabulous.

So why aren’t more people going to see it?

“Murderball” is the true story of the U.S. wheelchair rugby team, and the stars are real-life quadriplegic athletes. Their sport, also called quad rugby, is as much demolition derby as anything.

Ticket sales have been slow in comparison to the movie’s buzz, and the distributor worries that America just isn’t ready for a frank documentary — even a really good one — about guys in wheelchairs.

“The only explanation is that people don’t want to see something about handicapped people. There is some resistance,” said Mark Urman, head of the theatrical division at the New York-based THINKFilm.

The majority of people make a decision to go to a film based on two or three top-line cues. The name “Murderball” immediately appeals to exactly the audience who has no interest in this particular subject matter, they think “Woo-hoo! The new Van Damme pic!” and are disappointed when it’s not. The audience that would like to see a film like this sees the name on a marquee and thinks “Oh no, the new Van Damme pic.” It sounds like “Rollerball 3″.

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Cheeky blush name from Nars

Orgasm is not the type of word to be used recklessly when naming. Unless orgasm is attached to exactly the right product for exactly the right reason, it’s the type of name that would effectively come off as desperate and cloying (see Twattygirl), rendering it ineffectual.

Yesterday’s NY Times magazine brings us the story of an orgasm well spent:

Choosing a product based on color is perfectly reasonable. The choice may be subjective, but it’s also rational: the color you like best is the color you like best. So fans of, for example, a certain $25 shade of blush offered by a cosmetics company called Nars simply like that shade, and that’s why it has attracted a strong rating and by far the most reviews among blush shoppers who post on MakeupAlley.com. The fact that the shade happens to be called Orgasm doesn’t affect the consumer’s reaction to the actual color, which would be the same no matter what it was called.

Actually, we all know that isn’t quite true, and buyers of cosmetics probably know it better than most. Paula Begoun, who has written several consumer-oriented books about makeup and skin-care products, says that exotic or even baffling names have been part of the category at least since the 1950’s. With a lot of makeup, there isn’t really much to pay attention to besides color and texture, so a name that stands out means a product that stands out. ‘’Calling a color tan or mauve,’’ she observes, ‘’is just boring and banal.’’ This happens in many product categories (even paint colors have names like Garden Clogs and Squirrel’s Tail), but the practice is particularly noteworthy in the outlandish, sensational or nonsensical quality of makeup names. Benefit Cosmetics, which made its name with its names, now has top sellers like Me, Myself & I eye shadow. Urban Decay Lip Gunk comes in a color called Gash. Nars also sells a blush called Deep Throat.

Two marketing professors — Barbara Kahn of the Wharton School and Elizabeth Gelfland Miller of Boston College — have conducted some experiments to try to figure out what sort of effect mysterious names of colors and flavors have on consumers. They divided such names into categories: typical color names might be either ‘’common,’’ like dark green, or ‘’common descriptive,’’ like pine green; atypical names could be either ‘’unexpected descriptive’’ (Kermit green) or flat-out ‘’ambiguous’’ (friendly green). Nars Orgasm blush is certainly an atypical name, although I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it falls under ‘’unexpected descriptive’’ or simply ‘’ambiguous.’’

Kahn and Miller found that unusual names were more popular, unless the person was distracted during the process of choosing — that is, the unexpected won out when subjects were given the opportunity to think about it, as a shopper at a cosmetics counter generally does. Kahn suspected that certain words (like anything to do with sex) would always spark positive responses. But instead, the key seemed to be unexpectedness itself, which essentially engages the consumer in an attempt to solve the puzzle of the name. This rapid, essentially unconscious cognitive process, Kahn and Miller wrote recently in The Journal of Consumer Research, ‘’results in additional (positive) attributions about the product and thus, a more favorable response.’’ This seems to affect not only whether a person chooses to buy something but also, oddly, how much she enjoys it.

Kahn and Miller cite two theories of mental processing that may be at work. In the case of ‘’unexpected descriptive’’ names, we may be able to solve the puzzle to our satisfaction. With the more logic-defying names, we essentially conclude that there must be some reason for it, and given the circumstances (it’s a product for sale in a market society), the reason must be positive. A spokeswoman for Nars declined to share the company’s reasons for calling blush Orgasm or Deep Throat, perhaps sensing that the mystery is good for business.

Here is the article’s most important bit:

But instead, the key seemed to be unexpectedness itself, which essentially engages the consumer in an attempt to solve the puzzle of the name. This rapid, essentially unconscious cognitive process, Kahn and Miller wrote recently in The Journal of Consumer Research, ‘’results in additional (positive) attributions about the product and thus, a more favorable response.’’

A spot on observation. It comes down to making sure that puzzle is not too easy nor too difficult to solve. It’s about making the gap wide enough for your audience to lean forward and make the leap, but not so wide they have nowhere to land. If it is too short a jump it’s not interesting, too long and no one will even attempt the journey. And it is all about making sure that puzzle is multi-layered and contextual.

Nars is smart not telling you why the name was chosen. Once a magic trick is explained it’s just not the same. But we’re stupid so here goes.

In the context of blush, orgasm summons the idea of cheeks flush with that glowing afterglow, a happy, satisfying shade of red, exactly the specific act women are asking blush to perform.

The other layer to the name is that the whole point of using cosmetics is to help a girl maneuver into a position where an orgasm is possible, making the name a home run.

Editor’s note: Normally we would not reprint an entire article as above, but this is without question the best article on naming we have ever come across.

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