Summer re-runs

One of our favorite articles about naming companies, from the London Telegraph:

Zounds! There’s a signo in my Xingux

By Brian Millar

It’s going to be a bad month for rainforests. Last week, the owner of the largest wireless phone network in the US announced it was changing its name from Cingular back to AT&T Wireless.

Just imagine the countless tons of stationery, junk mail, posters and shelf wobblers that are heading straight for the pulping mill. Not to mention the boxes of Kleenex used by the board and shareholders. All that money they gave to those nicely dressed people at the branding agency. All that talk about the added value a new name would bring.

It didn’t always work like this. Once upon a time, people didn’t really think too hard about names. Look at a list of the most valuable brands in the world, and you’ll see what I mean. Think of General Electric, General Motors and -my favourite – Standard & Poor’s. Standard? Poor’s? What kind of signals do these names give out?

Yet somehow these companies turned themselves into global giants, dragging their uninspiring, un-aspirational names along with them.

Then along came a new wave of entrepreneur who didn’t aspire to be another ICI. They wanted to express themselves as individuals. They were, after all, the Me Generation.

They created Virgin, Body Shop and Apple. Where they led, others were inspired to follow. The results were Yahoo! and Google and Snapple and Innocent and a whole shelfload of other evocatively named brands.

Of course, some people just have a flair for names, like Paula Yates. But not many of them seem to work for large corporations. So the suits turned to their smart pals in ad agencies for help.

This must have led to some good conversations, considering the kind of names ad agencies give themselves: “We need a snappy name. Call the guys at Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee and Schmetterer!”

To the admen, naming was old rope that wasn’t worth a lot of money. In its heyday, JWT named After Eight Mints and Mr Kipling Cakes, but gave the names away for free. In the case of Mr Kipling, they were actually forced to pitch for the advertising. Mr K drives an exceedingly hard bargain, it seems.

In the 1990s, the professionals moved in. The company-names-are-a-serious-business business was spearheaded by Landor Associates, a San Francisco-based design group that was so cool its headquarters were a ship. Landor brought “methodologies” with them. Rigorous, mysterious methodologies.

If you ever wondered where those bizarre unpronounceable company names come from, look to the Landor crew. Avolar, Midea, Avaya, Spherion, Onity, Lucent. And Lucent’s rival, Agilient. You know, like Lucent – but agile! Nice. Soon lots of big branding companies were picking up briefs and now our world is littered with Arrivas, Aptivas, Achievas and Avandas.

How did they persuade boards to part with vast sums of money for something that had always been free, and was better when it was? Here’s an answer from Interbrand’s website: “The chosen name, Xingux, is derived from a word with many positive connotations by using ’signo’ (sign) with the abstract device of starting and ending with a letter X. The visual identity communicates the dynamism of the group’s business.”

Browsing these explanations is like reading the minute scrawls of a lunatic obsessive recluse: “Qarana originated from an Indian language called Jain meaning ‘to cause’… Hospira… is an abstract of the words hospital, spirit and inspire and the Latin word spero meaning hope.”

So that’s the important Jain and ancient Roman markets sewn up then.

Why do supposedly rational boards buy this new age semantic twaddle and saddle themselves with names which are unmemorable at best and unpronounceable at worst? Maybe Steve Manning has the answer. He’s worked with the likes of Apple, Nike, Gap and MTV. His portfolio of names is simple and resonant: Tickle, Zounds and his own company, which is called Igor.

“Naming is messy, political and emotional,” says Manning. “Whenever a name stands out, someone will find a reason to object. I bet nobody had anything bad to say about Cingular or Consignia, because they don’t mean anything specific. But the trouble with meaningless names is that you have to spend millions making them mean something.”

So are we doomed to a semantically challenged future of driving to Accenture in our Alteras? Steve isn’t completely pessimistic. Take the Crossfire, one of Chrysler’s most successful recent products.

“Crossfire is a great name. It captures the mentality of the driver, an accountant who fantasises that he lives a James Bond-style double life. But imagine the meetings.

“‘Crossfire: gunfire that kills non-combatants. Death. War. Loss of control. Is this what we want folks to think about our car?’

“The Crossfire shows that some marketers still have the vision and fortitude to get a name like that through a big corporation.”

Maybe things will improve. Maybe names simply don’t matter. After all, Sir Martin Sorrell runs the biggest branding company on earth, and he’s in no hurry to change its name. It’s called WPP, which stands for Wire and Plastics Products.

# Brian Millar is creative director of Brand Tacticians, a company which is doing very nicely in spite of its boring name.

For more naming insanity, try our Landor naming quiz.

It’s not for girls

Why is this “Yorkie” candy bar from Nestle (Great Britain) not for girls?


“All because the lady loves… Milk Tray”, that’s why. Leading UK chocolatier Cadbury had been successfully branding chocolate both for women and by using women in its ads to promote chocolate’s sensual side. mouthOne of Cadbury’s most popular TV spots featured a suave cat burglar scaling a building, fighting off danger, using 007- like gadgets etc, all in an effort to leave a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray chocolates on a sleeping woman’s night table. The spots ended with the tagline, “And all because the lady loves Milk Tray”

Nestle countered with the “It’s not for girls” campaign, running spots of woman disguised as men in desperate attempts to buy a Yorkie. Of course the wily male candy clerk would trip them up, resulting in no sale. The Yorkie spots would end with a swarthy construction worker type manhandling a Yorkie bar. Sort of a Brit version of Toffeefay’s old “Toffeefay, it’s too good for kids” campaign.

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Custom Publishing

Custom publishing, an old idea that has seen a rebirth, strikes again. The latest is a tri-branded effort:

OfficeMax partnered with Marvel Entertainment and TeachersCount in a nationwide contest to find the “OfficeMax Super Hero Teacher of the Year” earlier this year. Of the 4,200 entries submitted, six winning middle school teachers and the students who nominated them were announced in June. The 12 winners are now featured as illustrated characters in the new custom comic book.

And DM News reports that custom publishing will continue on its hot streak:

Recent journalism graduates can look toward custom publishing for good news in entering the ever-competitive publishing world.

A new study from the Custom Publishing Council , an organization representing custom publishers in North America, and the Publications Management newsletter, claimed growth in individual areas of custom publishing and overall spending has led custom publishers to their fifth consecutive year of growth.

More blogs about custom publishing.

A sale of two titties

In an apparent attempt to sell breast implants to an ever younger audience, doctors and scientists have developed an alternative to saline and silicone, Gummy Bear implants:

“You can literally cut across the implant, squeeze it, and it kind of bulges out just like gummy bear candy would do,” said Dr. Mike Zwicklbauer, a plastic surgeon at the Plastic Surgery Center of Hampton Roads. “Then it goes right back in.”

The FDA has recently approved the “gummy bear” implants for study. And the Plastic Surgery Center of Hampton Roads is one of the few places taking part.

Bonnie Tomlin got the gummy bear implants two months ago, one of 18 women participating in the study. “First thing I thought was, oh my gosh…”

The rest of the article is here, if you must. For more on “sexuality and the gummy bear”, start here.

Speaking of Dickens, while shopping at Mollie Stones in Sausalito, CA, for a barbeque I was to host yesterday afternoon, I spied this tomato:


“Ka-ching!”, I thought. The image of The Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich was bought by for $28,000.00, as part of a viral marketing campaign. Golden Palace has also purchased a rock that sort of looks like Jesus, paid $25,000 for one of William Shatner’s kidney stones (as if they are rare), and purchased an “Australian man’s frying pan bearing the likeness of Jesus Christ in burned leftover lemon mustard cream sauce”.

Any ten-percenters out there interested in representing the Igor tomato, get in touch.

A really, really, really, really, really rainy day. Really.

Next time you find yourself cooped up with a bunch of bored kids some rainy day, fear not. The online games and quizes that will keep your kids engaged all day.

In the “Mouse Traps” section kids will have fun answering trivia questions like, “Are you limited to only one named inventor on a patent application?” and ”Can you get a patent on a design for a holiday ornament?” and ”Do trademark attorneys have to register to practice at the US Patent and Trademark Office?”. In the “Chicken or Egg section”, the wee ones can have hours of fun trying to remember the correct evolution of different product and company logos over the last 75 years!

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Indiana Jonesing

If you always had a hankerin’ to see Indiana, this could be the nudge that puts an end to your procrastinations. As if you needed another reason, Indiana now boasts more potential terrorist targets than any other state. We can see the Blandorian branding effort coming…“Indiana, Right on Target!”

BlandorSays Blandor the Imponderable: “It’s paramount that Indiana carpe diem while the fish is frying and the skillet is hot. As my putative father was fond of saying, ‘Wearing a merkin on your head is better than letting your bald spot reflect unwanted glare.’”

Mechanically separated chicken

Bought this can of smoked sausages in Penn Yan, NY. last week.Prairie_belt_sausage Expiration date is Oct. ‘07. The interesting thing is that the first listed ingredient is “Mechanically separated chicken”. I began wondering why they would use the less than appetizing phrase “Mechanically separated” as a leadoff, since all processed meat in a can is. Then I realized that mechanized food processing was a big deal in the forties– a selling point, cutting edge, less likely to contain germs, etc. Could it be that the label and the ingredient list remain unchanged these many years? Nah, nothing so romantic going on here. From the U.S.D.A. website:

Mechanically separated poultry is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since the late 1960’s. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it was safe and could be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as “mechanically separated chicken or turkey” in the product’s ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996. Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. It is not permitted in hot dogs or any other processed product.

The Government website also reveals that the ingredients of hot dogs and bologna can be identical, it’s all about how you slice it.

We are unable to find the manufacturer of Prarie Belt, listed as “Praireland Foods, West Point, MS.”, ANYWHERE. However the product name, “Prairie Belt”, does get top dishonorable mention in this Vienna Sausage taste test.

praire_belt_label If you’re plum out of ideas, you will appreciate the ’serving suggestion” depicted on the can, “dump the sausages out on a plate” (next to a child’s receding hairline, mind you). If you remain peckish, take heart (and spleen), the 5 oz. can goes for 50 cents at Dollar General stores. If you are unable to locate a can, fear not. Mechanically separated chicken can be readily had in both Slim Jims and SPAM.

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