For those readers getting curiouser and curiouser about the title of this post, we refer you to the winner of the Best Design Agency… Stranger & Stranger.
Author Archives: Greg
In a previous post (“Give a Man a Fish…”) I concluded with a promise to do a post in the spirit of James Burke’s great Connections television series, in which he showed the little-known historical connections among various scientific and technological advances. Fans of our sister blog, Brighter Products, are aware that I’ve done a few like this already (see, for example, “Where Is Blake Edwards Now That We Really Need Him?”), but this time I’m going to see if I can top myself, and do James Burke proud.
Starting with Yuengling beer. This has come on to our radar for several reasons. For one thing, we had mentioned it in the Brighter Products post “…Not Only Queerer Than We Suppose, But Queerer Than We Can Suppose.”. For another, Athol noticed that Dan Daub, Mayor of Tower City, PA, wore a cowboy hat crafted from a box of his hometown beer, Yuengling, at the Republican National Convention.
Apparently, Athol spotted this in the context of his interest in hard-to-pronounce (or spell) Chinese names. I have the advantage of being a Pennsylvania native, and knew at least the rough outlines of why he was off-base; for more, here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia Yuengling page:
“Yuengling is pronounced YING-ling, and is an Anglicized version of Jüngling, its founder’s surname and the German term for “young man”. Many Americans who aren’t familiar with the brand often mistake it for a Chinese import because the name Yuengling sounds Chinese when pronounced correctly.”
So—not every Chinese (or even “Chinese”) name is hard to pronounce. In fact, an easy-to-pronounce Chinese name is at the top of my personal list of Reverse and Perverse Winning Names. These are names, often from family names of the founder, that all but scream: “This has to be a good product, because nobody would ever try it based on the brand name.” My favorite? If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, do yourself the favor of trying Yick Lung (yep—pronounced “Yick Lung”) potato chips. Their barbecue chips are the best I’ve ever had.
Other strong contenders include two now-defunct outfits: Crass Soda, and another gem from the Keystone State, Harshbarger’s Dairy. IMO, the slogan “Harshbarger’s—A Lactose-Intolerant’s Worst Nightmare” all but writes itself.
Turns out that Frédéric Fekkai is an immigrant of French-Algerian background, has had a successful salon in New York City, and is now going national with his products.
I stand by my criticism of the brand name, however, and will surprise Athol by deviating from my usual right wing, pro-free-market political stances. I would argue that the all-time greatest naming agency used to be run by the Federal Government. It was called Ellis Island. (Great at slogans, too, but “Giving the hairy and garlicky a fighting chance in the New Jerusalem since 1892” is way too P.I. for today’s mealy-mouthed history books.)
To fully appreciate the value of the services that Ellis Island used to provide, consider the following counterfactual: Frédéric Fekkai moved from France to New York in 1979, and is just now (2012) launching his products nationwide. Had he had to go through Ellis Island, by now every second home in the U.S. would have Figby’s Shampoo in the bathroom, and Figby, Inc. would have bought out rival Garnier Nutrisse. I bring up the latter just to see if anyone agrees with my contention that Garnier Nutrisse is an okay name for a shampoo, but a GREAT name for a really gay secret agent. Think Paul Lynde instead of Sean Connery (younger readers: Carson Kressley instead of Daniel Craig): “Nutrisse…Garnier Nutrisse.”
The Reverse and Perverse category is not original with me; I was introduced to the concept in an article I read some time ago, which cited the example of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, a brand name that left no doubt that, at one point, there really was a Mr. Hellman mixing up batches of this stuff. “Hellman’s” couldn’t possibly have been the output of naming consultants and focus groups—unlike, say, the bland, near-generic Best Foods brand.
The hipper readers are already on to this one: Best Foods and Hellman’s are exactly the same product, with the two brands used in different geographic areas (see their shared Wikipedia page). I happened to be thinking about this as I ran across some actual Hellman’s—not Best Foods—mayo in a recent run to Grocery Outlet.
Grocery Outlet is worthy of a full post on its own. Short version: it’s a Western-states deep-discount grocery chain specializing in bargain-priced overstocks and closeouts. Their opportunistic (their word, not mine) buyers wind up stocking their shelves with products from just about everywhere. On my first visit, I wound up with a bottle of house brand Winn-Dixie salad dressing. The closest Winn-Dixie supermarket is in Louisiana. I still have no idea how that bottle made it to the Bay Area.
But Hellman’s and Winn-Dixie aren’t the prize winner: that honor goes to Authentic Asia™ Tom Yum Soup (mentioned in Brighter Products post “M-m-m-m-m…Meat!”), which, according to the Authentic Asia™ web site, isn’t even sold on this continent…but that didn’t stop the adventurous types at Grocery Outlet.
So it will come as no surprise that Grocery Outlet is the global, cosmopolitan outfit that enabled me to join the august company of Brighter Products’ wine expert, Deep Creek Cellars’ Paul Roberts, in tasting an Argentine Malbec.
Regret to say, I came away rather unimpressed by the 2009 Espiritu de Argentina. On the other hand, we probably should consider that:
1. The wine cost $2.99 a bottle
2. It had a screw-top.
3. I bought it at Grocery Outlet, for Pete’s sake!
Do the kinds of things in the list above affect our judgment of consumer goods such as wine? You betcha, Red Ryder. A number of studies have been done, showing different reactions to exactly the same wine, when presented as priced higher or lower, or as coming from different places (California vs. North Dakota), or simply with a fancy vs. plain label. (The last one was what got me started on this, from a Science Channel program that I saw on cable, but was unable to locate on their web site…Science Channel, please contact SV Marketeerfor web design services.)
In fairness, I decided to push the boat out a bit by springing for a $3.99 bottle of the 2011 Falling Star Malbec. IMO, a slight improvement over the Espiritu de Argentina, but it’s also from Grocery Outlet, and also with a screw top, so my expectations weren’t overwhelming. Would I have liked it more had I purchased it on-line from the Wine Legacy web site, where it enjoys a better review, and goes for $8.50 a bottle? Depends; the findings from the Wired Science study, and the logic of Art Poulos in Brighter Products post “Tetter and Kibes” point in opposite directions.
So…if you’re in the wine business, you need to pay attention to marketing and packaging, as well as the quality of what goes into the bottles. You know who else knows this? The Chinese! I recently participated in a Mechanical Turk study that asked my opinion of various candidate labels for Chinese wine. Fortunately, no one had the bad taste to suggest “The East Is Red”.
And…those of you who have been paying careful attention will note that we started with Chinese/”Chinese” names for adult beverages…and are winding up on the same!
Over to you, Mr. Burke.
Didn’t think we’d live to see it, but we’ve just encountered a worse naming/branding idea than Mondelez:
Quick: if you suddenly encounter the term “Fekkai”, you immediately think of:
A. An example of Hungarian cuisine which, according to European Union regulations, cannot be exported.
B. The hamlet voted “Most Polluted Village in China” for the third straight year.
C. The Finnish word for “smoker’s cough”.
D. An especially disgusting sub-genre of Japanese cartoon porn.
E. Women’s hair care products.
For those of you who think Fekkai is a great brand for women’s hair care, and immediately chose, “E”, please quietly turn yourselves into the authorities, and/or contact Brighter Naming for further advice.
My mother (and yours, no doubt) advised “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Frankly, I prefer Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s take (“If you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”) However, out of deference to mothers everywhere, here goes:
Two Nice Things About the New Brand Name Fekkai
1. At least they had the sense to make this a woman’s product, minimizing the chance of fisticuffs during the inevitable misunderstandings. Had this been a men’s hair care product…
Would-Be Hipster: “I’m looking for some Fekkai.”
Floyd the Barber: “This is a family establishment, buster!” POW!
2. Fekkai can serve as a beacon of hope to struggling naming consultancies in the same way that Secret Ceremony serves as an inspiration to striving screenwriters. I.e.: “If this can get green-lit all the way to production and release, then there’s hope for any and all of us!”
“…and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats forever.”
Most of us have heard this proverb, and, in its spirit, I thought I’d share some ideas on naming with our readers. None of the ideas below are remotely adequate to replace a full naming effort of the sort provided by Brighter Naming. However, paying attention to a few common-sense decision rules can speed your naming project along—if not by providing a brilliant new name, at least these can help weed out obvious clunkers.
Marus’ Three Laws of Phonetic Naming
1. A name should be easy to pronounce. If you hear someone say the name, it should be easy for you to say it yourself, and have it sound the same.
2. A name should be easy to read. Several people should be able to see the written version of the name, and pronounce it the same way when they read it out loud.
3. A name should be easy to spell. If several people hear a name, they should ideally come up with the same spelling when each of them writes it down.
The first encounter with a name may come visually or aurally. Passing on information about that particular product may also be done aurally or visually—and it’s nice not to have variations in spelling or pronunciation creep in anywhere during the process of communication.
I came up with these three rules when I started to wonder why Athol, I, and others whom we had never met would come up with similar reactions to various brand names. My guess is that we’re all unconsciously applying the Three Laws cited above.
A few comments and examples:
Aside from the sheer lunacy of abandoning a universally known and respected brand name, much of the negative reaction to the Kraft-Mondelez fiasco may stem from the shift from a simple name that does very well under all three Laws, to one that has real problems, especially with the latter two. Quick: is it mon-de-LEES, mon-de-LAYS, or mon-DELL-ez? If you hear a Kraft employee talking about mon-de-LAYS, is it spelled Mondelez? Or Mondelay’s? Or Mondellaise? Didn’t have that problem with “Kraft”, did you?
These laws are to a great degree culture-bound, and illustrate the problems of bringing new names across linguistic boundaries. (See Athol’s “Hello China – Please give us names we can pronounce,” and “Phonetics”.) Some brands can get “grandfathered”—they’ve been around so long that they’ve become part of our culture, and the original pronunciation issues are completely forgotten. Best example: do you use English or French rules of pronunciation when you say “Chevrolet”?
For our next foray, we’ll apply the Laws (and some other criteria) to a variety of names and topics. In homage to James Burke’s great TV series Connections, we’ll see if we’re up to the challenge of an essay that links Yuengling beer, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Chinese wine labels, and Espiritu de Argentina Malbec.
Until then…gone fishin’.
© 2012 – All rights reserved – www.BrighterNaming.com
In developing a previous post on this blog (“On The Level(s)”), Athol and I fell into a colloquy on the use of the letter “X” in naming. I liked the name (but not the content) of FX Network’s Brand X, starring Russell Brand. Athol mentioned The X Factor, which I thought sounded like a ripoff of The X Files…and we were off to the races.
It occurred to me that any letter of the alphabet might have its own resonance, which could be leveraged in naming. “X”, with connotations of adult content on the one hand, and the unknown on the other, seemed like an especially strong candidate. I thought of comic books and movies about X-Men, and then I remembered…
In the thick of James Bond mania in the mid 1960s, the very talented writer of (mostly) science fiction, Robert Sheckley, came out with a spy novel, The Game of X. Sheckley took Hitchcock’s theme—ordinary man, wrong place-wrong time, finds it in himself to perform extraordinary deeds—and took it just as far as it could go. The Game of X tells the story of an average Joe, who, through a combination of extraordinary luck and perfect decision making, becomes a super secret agent. The general effect is as though Jimmy Stewart had morphed into Roger Moore by the end of North By Northwest.
Hmm…books with capital letters in the title…our next stop has to be Sue Grafton, who started her series about spunky female P.I. Kinsey Milhone with A is For Alibi, and has since worked her way through V is for Vengeance. (BTW, if you’re wondering about our choice of words in the title: turns out that “Xenocide” is not actually a word, though it has been used as the title of a 1991 science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card!)
How do I judge Grafton’s choice, purely as a marketing technique? I’d say pretty good, and we have that rarity in marketing: a side-by-side with something close to scientific precision.
Karen Kijewski is a California-based author of a series of mysteries featuring tough-as-nails Sacramento resident amateur sleuth Kat Colorado…any of this sounding familiar? It should; if you read either Grafton or Kijewski, you’ll find yourself on to the ultimate Amazon “If you liked this…you’ll also like that.” IMO, the Kat Colorados are every bit as good (and individual) as the Kinsey Milhones… so why is one much more famous than the other, even though they’re working the same territory in a way we haven’t seen since The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean?
Here’s one theory: take a look at the following table…
…and ask yourself the following question: I’m looking to pick up a work I know I’ll like at an airport books store, between flights; how can I remember whether or not I’ve already read a work by one of my favorite authors?
Answer: Grafton gives you an ordered taxonomy of titles, and helps you out. Kijewski…not so much.
I first ran across the airport bookstore theory a while back when I read an article about how the novels in the Travis McGee series (by the late, lamented John D. MacDonald) got their names. (Since his passing, his works no longer dominate airport book shops, so some “high concept” for our younger readers: imagine Robert B. Parker’s Spenser gets an epiphany that he has no earthly reason to put up with New England winters and his over-educated girlfriend, and moves his operations to a Florida houseboat. A little over-simplified, but you get the idea.)
For purposes of comparison, consider these five McGee titles:
- The Turquoise Lament (1973)
- The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974)
- The Empty Copper Sea (1978)
- The Green Ripper (1979)
- Free Fall in Crimson (1981)
Though the colors are not in any particular order (cf. Grafton), they have the advantage of cuing people whose memories and thought processes are more visual than verbal; you don’t even need to remember the title of the last one you purchased, just whether or not the color on the cover looks familiar.
Let’s finish it out with one more recommendation of a personal favorite…and maybe yet another sensory-based title sequence. Though I’m far from a feminist, I can certainly enjoy a well-written work about a strong female protagonist, be she Kinsey Milhone, Kat Colorado…or my all-time favorite in this category, Chicago PD Lieutenant Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels. The truly amazing writings of J.A. Konrath include, among others:
- Fuzzy Navel (2008) – 5th in Jack Daniels series
- Dirty Martini (2007) – 4th in Jack Daniels series
- Rusty Nail (2006) – 3rd in Jack Daniels series
- Bloody Mary (2005) – 2nd in Jack Daniels series
- Whiskey Sour (2004) – 1st in Jack Daniels series
Trust me on this…check these out.
Well, time for me to get back to the old Mechanical Turk, top up my Amazon account so I can order up a new “Jack” Daniels—even though Konrath has somewhat broken the pattern by calling #7 Shaken. Good or bad marketing? We shall see…
Brighter Naming generally focuses on company and product names, and Jess Holden’s post on that site focused on the impact of peoples’ names. However, there’s another category where naming is crucial: creative works, such as books, movies, and TV shows.
If you don’t think naming is important here, ask yourself how much you’d shell out for a book or a movie called Mules in Horse Harness. (Hint: frankly, my dear, I don’t think you’d give a damn.)
1. The show’s star is named Russell Brand.
2. He works blue (X-rated).
3. Everybody remembers the TV commercials where the sponsors’ product (often a laundry detergent) always beat “Brand X”.
Or does everyone really remember the original Brand X commercials? Russell Brand is 37 (b. 1975), and I’m pretty sure he’s not aiming at an older demographic. When was the last time a genuine commercial featuring “Brand X” aired? Looks like “Brand X” has become a cultural meme, with a life of its own.
Wish the same could be said of the show, which could more accurately be titled A British ‘Comedian’ Marginally Less Grating Than Ricky Gervais. (At least that would properly set viewer expectations.) In the bigger picture, I write off the likes of Brand X as an inevitable cost of business for a cable network that is trying to be really experimental, and pushing the envelope. FX also brings us the informatively-named American Horror Story, which brings its viewers…an American Horror Story. Name freaks should also get a kick out of the eponymous Louie—not for the title of the show, but for the very odd name of its star, Louis C.K.
My actual favorite on FX is the animated Unsupervised—which turns out to be much more than the Beavis and Butthead knockoff you’d expect.
Does FX have a good show with a multi-layered title? Anger Management assumes the viewers are in on the joke about star Charlie Sheen’s off-screen antics. IMO, he’s back in top form, giving a weekly clinic on comic timing.
Now, what did I do with that remote?
So I get an e-mail from Athol, sharing with me the breaking news that there are not now, nor have there ever been, any nuts in the well-respected coffee brand, Chock Full o’ Nuts.
I had never assumed that there were any nuts in Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee, much in the way that I don’t look for nuts in my Grape Nuts. Nor grapes, for that matter. (The foregoing illustrates the concept of “First liar doesn’t stand a chance.”)
In the days prior to naming consultants like Athol, and web sites like Brighter Naming, lots of names came from the product inventors and manufacturers themselves, for reasons unique, idiosyncratic, and/or whimsical.
However, when C.W. Post his own self came up with “Grape Nuts”, I sincerely doubt that one of his motives was to see how much he could get away with under First Amendment protections. I don’t think the same can be said for the charlatans who gave us Country Time Lemonade Mix, a brand notable for a) its homey, evocative name; b) its pitch-perfect commercials, showing Gramps on the porch of the family farm house; and c) 0% lemon content. (Adding to the weirdness…this stuff is apparently made by, of all companies, Kraft Foods. See “It Wasn’t Broke, but We’ll Fix It…and Fix It GOOD” on our sister blog, Brighter Products.)
And for Pete’s sake, why is there even such a thing as “lemonade mix”? Lemonade is water, sugar, lemons and ice cubes—and you have to add two of those ingredients to the mix anyway! I mean, are we turning into a nation of—
Sorry—but this loops me back to the title. Comedian-actor Denis Leary is—with all due respect to Messrs Miller and Maher—the go-to guy for a truly politically incorrect rant. One of my favorites is his take on flavored coffees. He gets some at the 7-11, tells the clerk some foul-up poured maple syrup into the coffee pot, gets informed of “the flavor of the day”…and winds up with his plans for a restaurant that serves 4 items: steaks, whisky, cigarettes, and BLACK COFFEE.
I’d like a reservation, even if the non-smoking area is of the jazz-club variety (i.e., the first six inches above the floor.)
So that’s the reference to Mr. Leary; “egg cream” is left as an exercise for the reader.
Now if I say “Shelby”…I have to give a disclaimer about blatant, politically incorrect gender bias. I assume that members of the fairer sex are going to say “Huh?” The guys will all say “Cobra”.
Three reasons for this post: one, we recently ran a post on sister site Brighter Products about cult brands. (See “…Not Only Queerer Than We Suppose, But Queerer Than We Can Suppose.”) Two, the late, great designer, hot rodder, and entrepreneur Carroll Shelby recently passed away (aged 89, on May 10, 2012.) And, three…well, normally I’m immune to status symbols and cult brands. My $25 Casio works as well, if not better, than your pricey Breitling or Cartier. But when it comes to cars…my limited edition, first model year Shelby CSX is (last I looked) still running.
Shelby is also interesting as a contender for the title of Oddest Combination of Unrelated Products Under the Same Brand. Outside of cars and racing, his other claim to fame was his…chili mix.
Have to say, though, that the “winnah and still champeen” in this division has to be the inimitable Fleischmann’s. Though various sales and mergers have divided up the ownership of this brand, I find the search engine results somewhere between amusing and amazing, as the first page gives you hits for their big 3: yeast, margarine, and gin. (Though the last is an ad from a distributor, not the current parent company, Sazerac. And, the first page had a new one even to me: Fleischmann’s vinegar.)
Apparently, somewhere out there, someone is pulling a loaf of home-made bread out of the oven, slathering a slice with margarine, and washing it down with a Gibson.
Every so often you see a new name that makes you smack your forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” I had such a moment when an ad for Verizon’s “The Uppernet” showed on my TV.
Here’s my take on this name, good and otherwise:
1. It’s “sticky”. You hear it once and it’s instantly in your memory.
2. It’s related to the services it’s represents. On the Verizon page headed “Welcome to the Uppernet”, there is the following description: “…the enterprise-class platform that features comprehensive security, hybrid capability and drag-and-drop interoperability…flexible, high-performance, on-demand cloud computing services that scale to your specific business needs.” Sounds like the Uppernet to me.
3. It’s aggressive. Once you’ve claimed “The Uppernet”, what is your competition going to call their services? The Lowernet? The Mediocrenet?
1. It’s not organically connected to the company name. Verizon will need to repeat their commercials ad nauseam to get people to automatically think of Verizon when they hear “Uppernet”. And, bizarrely, there’s no guarantee that this will work for everyone: years into the Energizer campaign, you could still find people who thought the rabbit was shilling for Duracell.
2. It’s very, very broad. At least so far, Verizon seems to be using “The Uppernet” more as a two-word slogan than as a coherent description of a product line. If you follow the instructions “Learn More about the Uppernet” by hitting the adjacent “Click Here” button, you go to a page where “The Uppernet” doesn’t even appear!
3. It’s aggressive. This name is like calling yourself “The Fastest Gun In The West.” You will be subject to constant scrutiny and challenges. Americans are generally OK with self-aggrandizement, as long as it’s based in reality. Verizon needs to understand that it will henceforth be held to a standard set forth by the inimitable Dizzy Dean: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
“It’s a naive domestic black frock without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”
At our sister blog, Brighter Products, we cover consumer goods ranging from fashion to wine, so we were excited when we spotted the news that researchers at the University of Western Australia had found a way to create clothing from wine and beer. The fabric is the end result of some processes that begin with “a skin-like rubbery layer covering a vat of wine that was contaminated with Acetobacter bacteria.”
What pushed this over into NameAward territory was the realization that, if they ever manage to get this going on a commercial scale, they’ll need a name and brand that will convince people to don clothes made from what could be described as an upscale cousin of pond scum.
We think these guys got off to a good start, by calling the new fabric Micro’be’. Funny punctuation is always a risky move in a name, but this one seems to cue pronunciation as “micro-bee” rather than “mike-robe”. It does at least start the process of imparting information about the provenance of this new product. Let’s face it: you really don’t want to be the guy at the returns counter when some trendies find out how this was made after they bought it. Looks like some similar thinking went into the slogan these characters have already cooked up: ‘Microbes à la mode’.
Some free marketing advice to our friends Down Under: this really will pose a challenge when you try to go mainstream and mass-market so we suggest “casting against type” for your celebrity endorser—figuring if Howie Mandel will wear it, anyone will. But there might not be enough Australian dollars in circulation to persuade the world’s most notorious mysophobe to slip into an outfit made of Micro’be’.