Choosing a new brand name ? Do an A.S.S. count.

ASSOCIATIONS + SLOGANS SCORE

Let’s say you’ve got two metaphorical names under consideration for your new computer company, Apple and Strawberry. Both names meet your baseline brand positioning criteria:

Simple, warm, human, approachable, organic, disruptive.

Half your team champions Apple and the other half love the name Strawberry. It’s pointed out that the names couldn’t be more similar – they are both red fruits. So why not flip a coin and move on?  The Chief Obfuscation Officer calls for a month of testing, reliably in the unreliable form of crowdsourcing or focus groups.

At which point you become the hero by jumping up and shouting, “I demand an A.S.S. test!”

A test that takes minutes to complete.

When leading name contenders are locked in a battle, tallying up the number of associations each have in our collective consciousness – in stories, legends, idioms, songs, culture, history, mythology, etc, tells you how emotionally connected people are to them. The more the better.

And it reveals what each brings to the table for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns.

 

Apple

  • Garden of Eden (apple w/ bite logo)

  • Issac Newton (product name)

  • William Tell

  • Snow White

  • The Tree of Life

  • McIntosh (product names McIntosh, eMac, iMac, Power Mac, MacBook, Mac Mini)

  • One smart apple

  • A bad apple

  • Easy as apple pie

  • An apple a day

  • Apple of my eye

  • Apple polisher

  • Big Apple

  • Apples and oranges

  • How ’bout them apples?

  • Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

  • Upset the applecart

 

 Strawberry

  • Strawberry Fields

  • Strawberry shortcake

  • Strawberry blonde

 

Sometimes the positioning of the name your looking for is simply a single big idea – an iconic, definitive name that captures the imagination.

This was the case for a B2B software startup we named, so the first and winning tactic was to find a name that had the most cultural connections that were really big ideas. The clear winner was Seven:

 

 Seven

  • Seven wonders of the world.

  • Seven musical notes.

  • Seven seas.

  • Seven days a week.

  • Seven continents.

  • Seven deadly sins.

  • Seven virtues.

  • Seven colors of the rainbow.

  • Seven chakras.

  • Seven years of bad luck.

  • Seven visible planets.

  • Seven heavens.

  • Seven dwarfs.

  • Seven samurai.

  • On the seventh day god rested.

  • Lucky number seven.

 

Of course there are many more, but you get the idea. Before we presented Seven to our client, we needed to determine if Seven could possibly be trademarked around the world, given the 700,000+ trademarked software names globally. We came up with a strategy, and Seven is trademarked worldwide. The ability to legally finesse a name like Seven is critical, because naming is not simply about finding the best name for the job, it’s about finding the best name for the job that you can legally use.

Apple vs. Strawberry isn’t a fair fight. But it’s not always so lopsided. If the A.S. portion of the test doesn’t produce a winner, move on to Slogans. Put two names side by side and see which inspires the most taglines that play off the name.

Of course none of the taglines anyone can remember actually play off the company name, they’re too expected and make the name one dimensional. Imagine, “Virgin, A Brand New Experience” or “Apple, Easy as Pie”.  Deadly.

But the exercise does reveal the power, connectivity and relevance of an unexpected name.

In this example, let’s say we’re naming a creative agency and a leading name contender is:

 

 Igor

  • Igor. Bringing Your Vision To Life.

  • Igor. Get Over The Hump.

  • Igor. A Few Spare Parts and a Good Storm.

  • Igor. Throw The Switch.

  • Igor. A Moveable Beast.

  • Igor. Own Your Shadow.

  • Igor. No Job Too Horrifying.

  • Igor. The Other White Meat.

  • Igor. Never Say Die.

  • Igor. A Good Brain Is Hard To Find.

  • Igor. Alive!

  • Igor. Better Living Through Science.

  • Igor. Building The Perfect Beast.

 

BOTTOMLINEThe number of ASSOCIATIONS or SLOGANS that potential metaphorical brand names generate tells you how emotionally connective each name is and how much branding, marketing & advertising ammunition they contain.

 

More on the existential hell of a naming agency naming itself.

The Happy Idiot: Exposé of Brand Naming Scams.

Takeaways:

If you’ve seen The Sting or an Ocean’s movie you know every con game has a name. The Happy Idiot, as it’s known in professional naming circles, is the reason ninety percent of agencies produce ineffective, forgettable names that are a money sucking drag on your branding, marketing and sales efforts.

It’s called The Happy Idiot because a naming, branding or advertising agency deliberately delivers a name that’s a liability to a smiling client who’s happy with the result. The Happy Idiot was designed to be the fastest, smoothest route to client buy-in on a name, with the least amount of effort by the agency. It came about because someone on the client side will always object to some facet of the most powerful, memorable, effective, interesting, conversation-owning names an agency presents. Rather than pushback and take the time and effort to give the client the confidence that a particular name is the best choice, the agency defers and smooths down the edges until there is nothing interesting or effective left in the names they are presenting.

The first step to protecting yourself is learning to spot The Happy Idiot.

There are three variants: The Happy Idiot, The Happy Idiot with a Passport and The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower.

To illustrate each, we’ll use actual names and case studies from a single anonymous naming agency.

The Happy Idiot 

In this classic version the agency invents a word with no resemblance to any existing word. Because the name neither means nor implies anything, there are no objections from the client. It’s been sanitized for their protection. But in order to sell the name the agency needs to convince the client that the invented word has positive, relevant meaning. The agency breaks the name down into morphemes(a morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of a language) and assigns positive meaning to each. They have someone with a masters degree in linguistics from Berkeley or Stanford certify the meanings – in languages neither the client or their target audience speaks – to give it weight and to assure the client that this meaningless construction is  not only full of meaning, it’s perfect for them.

When an agency rolls out morphemic rationale, you’re being played:

 

 Mirvie

“Mirvie is a rich coining that draws on several Romance languages: Mira means “objective” in Italian, “purpose” or “look!” in Spanish, and the feminine form of “wonderful” in Latin. Vie is “life” in French and “means” or “paths” in Italian. Mirvie suggests the wonder of pregnancy, a means to your objective, and lifesaving, targeted insights”

 

Is it possible the naming agency believes, “Mirvie suggests the wonder of pregnancy, a means to your objective, and lifesaving, targeted insights”? Depends on what they’re smoking. What matters is the client believes it. Nobody objects, a positive meaning was  established by an expert no one feels qualified to argue with, job done! Client is happy.

When agencies rely heavily on this strategy, it’s referred to as morpheme addiction.

Invented words have their place in naming, but their rationale cannot be morphemic pretzel logic based on multiple languages foreign to the audience. An invented name has to work on its own, without explanation, in the context of the company or product it represents: Neoverse, Ventrix. The only exceptions are names of pharmaceuticals and chemicals, where global regulations prohibit rational names.

 

The Happy Idiot with a Passport

Same basics as the original, but this variation uses real words from foreign languages that neither the client nor the client’s target audience speaks. The Happy Idiot with a Passport produces names that the client can’t object to because they don’t mean anything to the client. Foreign language names function as invented names, but the positive meanings the agency claims the name has are based on their meaning in an obscure language.

When an agency tries to sell you on a meaning in a language unfamiliar to your customers, you’re being played:

 

Ikena

“Ikena, a Hawaiian word meaning “vista, perspective, knowledge.” The name also recalls “I ken” (an older English word for “know”) and “I can” 

 

The Happy Idiot and Happy Idiot with a Passport both reveal an essential naming truth: having a meaning doesn’t make a name meaningful. Ikena has a meaning but is meaningless unless you speak Hawaiian. Mirvie’s morphemes may have meaning, but Mirvie is meaningless to everyone. Which is why in our opinion, both naming approaches are scams.  They’re nothing more than a sales pitch to a client to end a project.

Foreign language names can make reasonable brand names, but they have to work based on their look, sound and personality. Their “meaning” is irrelevant to anyone who doesn’t speak the language.

 

The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower

The Wallflower version employs the one thousand most common words used by brand names, words like Acorn, Active, Arc, Atlas, Bird, Blossom, Blue, Bridge, Bright, Care, Clear, Complete, Core, Curve, Edge, Engage, Ever, Expert, Flex, Fly, Force, Front, Fusion, Future, Gain, Go, Green, Harbor, Hill, Hub, Key, Lead, Light, Line, On, Next, Now, Path, Plus, Point, Power, Pro, Pulse, River, Sense, Scape, Shift, Shine, Sky, Song, Span, Splash, Star, Stream, Sun, Up, Via, Vista, Wave, Wise and Zip. A single word Wallflower is rarely presented. They are overwhelmingly “Compound Wallflowers”, as a combination of two excruciatingly common words is much easier to trademark than one. These words are so generic they don’t draw any objection from the client and each contains a slight, one-dimensional positive attribute. And so common their effect is that of white noise on the audience. They’re Wallflowers, forgotten in a heartbeat.

When an agency takes the path of least resistance by presenting pairings of white noise words, you’re being sold a Wallflower:

Combining these wallflowers has gifted six different clients of this one agency with these six names:

Bridgescape

Bridgespan

Everbridge

Flybridge

Gainbridge

PSI Bridge

 

What’s Lost in a Happy Idiot Process?

The names appeal only to the client and not to the client’s customers. Happy Idiot names are incapable of doing anything a great brand name does. Specifically:

Define, dominate and own your category.

– Memorable, absolutely unforgettable.

– Support a unique brand positioning.

– Tells the world that you’re not a commodity.

– Go viral, propelling itself through the world on its own.

– Demonstrates that you’re different.

– Create positive and lasting engagement with your audience.

– Provide a deep well of marketing and advertising images.

 

Preventing a H.I. Jacking

If you’re looking for an advertising, branding or naming agency to create a brand name, have a quick look at their naming portfolio. Agencies who’ve somehow found a way to ethically rationalize The Happy Idiot don’t just dabble, they’re all in. The vast majority of their portfolio will be chock-full of Compound Wallflowers and mind-mangling Invented/Foreign Language names. Now that you can spot a Happy Idiot, identifying the purveyors is straightforward.

 

The Definitive Guide to Naming Products & Companies

 

Legendary Names Have Very Specific DNA in Common

Category-defining brand names all share a well-defined set of qualities.  To find your perfect name, you need to identify and seek out these qualities.

Our guidebook provides the clear principles & actionable insights necessary for you to create the most powerful name in your space, like a brand naming expert.  An essential framework, it gives your team a shared set of criteria and a strategy for evaluating names.

Download The Naming Guide: