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.

BlandorSays 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.

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.