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I have a great idea…

March 23, 2012

“Let’s let our employees name the company. What could possibly go wrong?”

Mondelēz. That’s what.

“Beg your pardon,” you say?


Kraft needs a new name for its snack division. They open the process to 1,000 employees, two of whom say something like “Delicious World.”

A little tinkering results in Mondelēz. One part Condoleezza and one part Mons d’ Elise.

I’m going to vote “no, thank you” on this one, Kraft.

Am I being a naming snob? No. I don’t believe great names only come from experts. One of the most successful naming endeavors I was a part of came from a woman who poked her head into a meeting and offered a suggestion born of a song she was listening to. Her suggestion became the name and *everyone* was thrilled.

But there’s something about this “win an Edible Arrangements gift certificate if you have the winning idea” sweepstakes of creative darts makes me a bit queasy.

Perhaps it’s the Business Week disaster massage Read more…


Clumsy naming

March 18, 2012

[This post is taken wholesale from my other blog. Once I wrote it, I asked myself for reprint rights and was granted permission to reproduce it here. ]

This week Sara Lee announced it had renamed its international coffee and tea company. According to their own press release they worked with IDEO and spent a reasonable six months looking for names for this company that sells coffee and tea in Europe. Thousands of candidates were pared down (also typical), tossing out anything that didn’t work for the brand’s strategy, audience, or creative goals.

After strategic analysis and creative editing, 50 or so names were then forced through myriad hurdles, most stumbling at one of the legal, marketing, or graphic roadblocks to a final name.

The result is D.E. Master Blenders 1753.


When naming a major international company, the naming strategy needs to ensure there are no linguistic or cultural problems with a name, that the trademark is clear in all countries where the company will operate or sell products, that at least one viable URL exists. The creative endeavors must make sure there’s euphony in the name. And memorability. An encapsulation of the brand’s personality that does a substantial portion of the brand’s marketing work each time someone reads, says, hears, or writes the name.

In Europe Sara Lee sold coffee under the name Douwe Egberts. The heritage of this is highlighted in the name D.E. Master Blenders 1753. Since I’m not aquainted with the Douwe Egberts brand, I don’t know how beloved it is, so I’ll say this gently: terrible name, Mr. Egberts.

So how does its successor, D.E. Master Blenders 1753, function as a name? Does it do it’s job?

Let’s start with the most obvious: it has to mean something to the people who buy or drink Sara Lee’s beverages. Does DE Master Blenders 1753 have audience relevance? Sure, for people used to Douwe Egberts, it does. Does it offer competitive differentiation? Well, no other coffee has such a technical, lengthy, or precise name.

Is it memorable? Sort of. Once you learn the story you can piece out the name from memory. And you won’t confuse it for any other brand, so it’s assuredly differentiated. Is the name sustainable? Yes. 1753 and DE are both the seeds of the brand, and that won’t change. And any beverage can be blended masterfully, so coffee and tea can make room for unforeseen products rather easily.

Is the designation of Master Blender credible? Maybe. I haven’t had their coffee. I’m willing to bet that a multinational corporation has a few coffee experts blending their beans, so I’ll stipulate their master blender status.

Is the name euphonic? No. Resonant? Nope. Evocative? Uh-uh. Exciting, compelling, moving, persuasive? Nope. Does it make you just a little giddy at the possibilities of engaging with this coffee? Not me.

Candidate for Periodic Table of Lengthy and Technical and Mundane Names?


This new corporation sounds as though it’s a coffee and tea company peripheral to the quasar pulse of the star known as SDSSp J153259.96-003944.1.

Look, naming for a huge multinational corporation is a rough gig. And the need to not ruffle feathers or step on toes leads most companies to choose a safe, expected, obvious choice.

I guess that’s good, since it leaves all the creative names for the rest of us.

Enjoy your cuppa and tell me what you think of the name DE Master Blenders 1753.

Downsizing hurts Downy

August 23, 2011

I’m assuming that Downy couldn’t afford to keep a proofreader on staff, and that they’re doing all their packaging and marketing in-house because there’s no way a professional agency would let this go out the door.

The smile on the model’s face tells me either this campaign is satirical, which I doubt, or that she’s as horrified as I am that Downy’s hocking an egregious spelling error as a brand name.

I understand why Apple was willing to brand the iPad despite the hideousness of the name. The technology won customers over and most of us forgot how terrible the name is. But laundry products are not amazing enough to erase an initial brand experience that says, “Try this. We can’t spell and we don’t know much, but we make things smell pretty.”

And it doesn’t help that the market is already confused. Googling “Downy Unstopables” then “Downy Unstoppables” reveals that corporate messages are all misspelled, and the shill bloggers hired to give away free samples mostly spell the word “unstoppables” correctly.

So the people who might actually become customers are introduced to the product spelled one way, then another.

That doesn’t inspire confidence. In chemically scented towels or anything else.

NPR segment on brand naming

August 15, 2011

This morning’s NPR segment on brand naming touches on a few important issues in brand naming. But they also missed a big consideration in getting a brand name just right.

Discussing some of the names considered for Google (BackRub) and Twitter (Twitch), the report notes how successful brands often have terrible naming candidates in their old branding folders. Jack Dorsey is quoted in the story as feeling better about the name Twitter than the other options. And for all the work and science and strategy behind brand naming, he’s exactly right to follow his gut. A name that feels right probably is. A name that makes you feel a bit excited, brave, and just slightly giggly is almost always the best name for your venture.

A name that feels safe or boring is probably not going to work as hard as it should for you. And a name that feels uncomfortable, terrifying, or off is never the one to select.

Throughout NPR’s piece, Jim Colgan and Lisa Chow kept asking people what they thought of the names “” and “Honestly Now.” But when trying out naming candidates, I always tell clients to ask people, “What do you think of when you hear the word [X].” If people think they’re helping you choose a name, they put all manner of baggage in their response. If you ask what they think of in relation to a word, the resulting response is indicative of what other people might think of the same word. And what clients and potential clients think when they hear your name is more important than any marketing scheme you can devise. Names are an essential vehicle for your brand story. If a name can carry at least its fair share of the branding work you won’t have to worry about telling customers anything. You can just do.

A name is just a word, until you fill it with brand equity and meaning and voice and experience. Make sure you choose the best word for the job by asking yourself and others how the word feels and what it evokes. If the answer fits your brand, you have your name.

The opportunity of forced rebranding

February 11, 2011

First comes the letter: attorneys from a similarly named company want you to cease and desist using your brand name.

Then comes the resistance. “But we love our name!” “But we had it first!” “But this name is perfect for us!”

Sometimes you can fight the request. Sometimes, whether for lack of time, money, or legal footing, you have to change your name.

And while many leadership teams resist this endeavor, which can be daunting, it often offers a great opportunity. Reassess your place in the market, hone your message, perfect your voice. And condense your brand’s very being into a single word.

Ahhhhh. A new name.

Recently, a graphic design boutique in Chicago got the cease and desist letter. “But wait!” cried the Owner and Creative Directo, Lisa Gainor. “Hello Designers is the perfect name for us! It’s friendly and playful and speaks to our design expertise! It has a lightness and a personal touch that represents our personality and our clients’ favorite experiences with us.”

And yet they had to change.

So after a strategic process of competitive market analysis, positioning, and brand voice consolidation, Hello Designers became Step Brightly.

The new name is playful, bright, active, and evocative. Step Brightly looks forward and struts toward a creative future. It’s memorable, credible, sustainable, and differentiated.

Does it work for you? Will you call Step Brightly when you need design?

Presentational wisdom

November 21, 2010

I’d like to pose a question to you creative professionals:

When presenting several options to a client, how do you order them?

In a naming presentation I try to put the strongest names third and almost last. I’ve been experimenting with where to put the expected, shocking, brazen, and clever options.

How do you visual types do it? Logos, websites, collateral, environmental, packaging designers, and creative directors: how do you present ideas? If you only present three, do you put the aspirational first? Last?

How about you verbal specialists? Do you begin slowly and ramp up toward the wildest ideas? Go back and forth between safe and scary? Tell us, advertising copywriters, content developers, and writers: how do you present your work?

I’ve mentioned before that I know, no matter where I hide it, the safe, expected choice is often what clients choose. Anyone found a way to steer clients away from the least creative option just by its presentation placement?

Verbal brander seeks visual experts

November 16, 2010

I wrote recently about how brilliant the Young and Rubicam campaign for the OED is. Save The Words was so much fun I forgot a few things, and appreciate designer Natalie Zensius’s take on the site.

What did I forget? That the design, the navigation, the functionality, the social networking capabilities, and the execution of are actually pretty bad.

While playing around on the site I got frustrated trying to find a word, trying to read the annoying fonts of the words, trying to remember which words I’d clicked, trying to see the selections available, and trying to send words to friends. A lot of trying but not much success or ease. Alarms should have gone off, but I’m a sucker for words. So I didn’t even notice my frustrations, let alone articulate them.

It’s taken a while, but I’m now prepared with a few caveats. When I said the campaign shimmered, I meant the idea. I meant the logocentricity of the site. And I forgot that, as a linguistic type, I am easily blinded by words. I was so busy drinking in obscure words I almost choked on the interface, architecture, and execution.

Thank goodness I work with great graphic designers, web coders, interface and architecture experts, and visual creatives who can point out the importance about things beyond my linguistic world. Because the synergy between words people and picture people is where great branding really happens.