From the book “Shoot the Puppy: A Survival Guide to the Curious Jargon of Modern Life“, by linguist Tony Thorne, Head of the Language Centre at Kings College London:
Meaning: how radical concepts are destroyed by too much consultation
I first heard this bizword when I shared a microphone recently with a Californian, Steve Manning. The occasion was a BBC radio discussion of the ongoing craze for re-branding companies, something Steve, boss of the US naming agency, Igor (as in the doctor’s assistant in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein), is an expert on.
Vanillacide is an updated version of the old notions of death-by-committee, or the death-of-a-thousand-cuts by which new and creative proposals are diluted and diluted until they become universally acceptable – and wholly unoriginal.
Agencies like Igor pitch new names to companies looking for a change of image. In Steve’s own words, ‘The best way to get 100 people to sign off on a name is to come up with something that has no meaning and offends no one – the surest pathway to vanillacide.’
This example of what used to be called a ‘portmanteau word’, known to linguists as a ‘blend’, is formed by bolting together the suffix of ‘suicide’ (if you think of it as self-destruction) or ‘homicide’ (if you think it’s a crime) and the slang use of ‘vanilla’ meaning insipid, conformist or harmless, which probably began with the gay and feminist movements in the late 1970s.
It’s not only progressives such as Steve Manning who perceive a general tendency in global corporate capitalism towards a deadening uniformity. Insider ironists now refer to ‘blanding’ and ‘blandwidth’. Timid, over-systematised decision-makers are accused scornfully of ‘blanding out’.
Doubts about conformism coincide with growing doubts about the value of using focus groups to test new names, products or services. There is, however, a trick for getting round the play-safe herd instinct displayed by committees or focus groups: it’s sometimes referred to as ‘wild-carding’ and consists of giving your client a list containing your favoured suggestions, plus at least a couple of ultra-radical, even crazy solutions.
In rejecting the most extreme, they are likely to ‘compromise’ on something that is still fairly daring. It might not work for everyone, but the Californian corrective to vanillacide is to junk consensus-seeking and embrace go-with-the-gut antimethodology, or, to use another trendy biz-term, ‘corporate voodoo’.
The most common mistake in naming is choosing a name that gets lost in the sea of competitive sound alikes. We’ve cobbled together a list of clothing brand names that contain the word “Bay”, with a few “Harbor” names thrown in for spice.
“Harbor Bay” wins the coveted Gold Ridicule for including both words.
This mistake is easily avoided by creating a Competitive Taxonomy prior to naming:
St. John’s Bay
It’s an opportunity to define how your audience thinks about you. Take it. And remember – Naming & Positioning is a competitive sport, so don’t skip this vital step
“Viad Corp (NYSE: VVI) today introduced an umbrella brand, Pursuit, for its unique collection of iconic experiences. With locations that span Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Glacier, Denali and Kenai Fjords national parks and Vancouver, British Columbia, the creation of a unifying brand is a logical next step to facilitate guest interaction with us across all geographies. “
“We believe that collecting memories is far more important than collecting things.
We share yourlonging to explore. To get out into the world in search of remarkable
experiences. To stride eagerly through your bucket-list and tick off
dreams fulfilled. This is what we call ‘living’.”
We have gathered a collection of adventure travel experiences, each of
them thoughtfully united by their power to inspire and invigorate. As
a brand, Pursuit weaves elements of wonder and amazement across our
range of awe-inspiring experiences.”
It would, if and only if your naming committee understands the difference between what is true and what is relevant. If your company needed to name “A messaging app for teams” and the name “Slack” was proposed, this is the type of feedback you could expect:
“In business, Slack means “characterized by a lack of work or activity; quiet. “Business was rather slack””
“A Slacker is someone who works as little as possible. A terrible message for our target audience”
“Slack means slow, sluggish, or indolent, not active or busy; dull; not brisk. Moving very slowly, as the tide, wind, or water. Neglect, reduce, tardy”
“Every definition and association we can find of Slack is negative”
All of the above is true. The only real question being, is any of it it relevant? Does this mean Slack would be a terrible name or a great name? Most naming committees would laugh Slack out of the room if anyone suggested it, given all the “negatives surrounding the word – and the complete lack of “positives”.
And let’s not forget the team member who will wrongly assert, “No one will take us seriously with a name like Slack”.
Obviously Slack is a highly effective name. It’s clear that a names’ successes doesn’t depend upon positive associations, nor is it harmed by a plethora of negative associations.
Slack works because it addresses the problem; the reason the tool is needed -to take up the Slack. And because Slack is naming the problem rather than the solution, it stands out and demonstrates that something different is happening at Slack. Its associations that would wrongly be deemed “negative” for a name, like Slacker and Slaking Off, means the name Slack has stopping power. And a sense of humanity demonstrated through humor. It’s engaging, different, human and unforgettable. It demands and receives your attention. What more could you want?
How can you make sure a name like Slack doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor of your next naming project? We’ve spelled it out simply and precisely in the 28 pages of the Igor Naming Guide.
Navel is one of 5 new brands we’ve named for Target’s startup incubator so far in 2016.
The Startup – Superior yoga wear designed specifically for new moms.
Define the positioning: The job was to find a name that worked with the ideas of mother-child connection, core strengthening, yoga and Buddhism.
Find the confluence: There is only one name that can perfectly pull all four ideas together and provide a deep well of imagery and associations for branding, marketing & advertising: Navel.
Vet for trademark: And it had to be a single-word name available to trademark worldwide – no small feat in the crowded clothing category.