November 26, 2008
Surprisingly, in the midst of a looming recession, Mickey Drexler, J. Crew's CEO, has made the decision to position the new Madewell brand name to appeal to younger, edgier customers.
Drexler bought the Madewell brand and typography from a defunct clothing mill in New Bedford (Madewell Manufacturing Co., which closed in 1989). With a brand name from the past, the new line is designed to have a retro quality that will appeal to the savvy shopper looking for clothes that are simply "made well."
The product naming offered by Madewell also fits with Dexler's hip and eye catching positioning with names like High Line knits, Hawke fleece, and New Haven chinos.
I always like to see a good name come out of retirement and I find it interesting that one that hearkens back to a tough era in our past is gaining traction so quickly.
Another point of interest is that the savvy Drexler may work for J. Crew, but he owns this particular brand name. With the current state of the economy, customers will be looking more for quality, reliability and heritage in their brand names more than ever before. If quality truly is the key factor in today's market, Drexler may have found another winner with Madewell.
November 25, 2008
Betty James, Inventor of the Slinky Brand Name, Leaves Us a Product Name That Will Never Be Forgotten
Betty James, who named the Slinky toy, is dead at 90 and toyland is all the poorer for it.
Betty named the "walking" spring her engineer husband brought home "slinky" after looking up the word in the dictionary and finding that it meant "stealthy, sleek and sinuous." She then went on to run the company after her husband left her, as she continued to sell more than 300 million Slinkys by broadening the line to include Slinky Jr., Plastic Slinky, Slinky Dog, Slinky Pets, Crazy Slinky Eyes, and Neon Slinky before she died.
The name itself is instantly recognizable, as is the satisfying "grzzzzzink" sound the toy makes while going downstairs or balancing between your palms. But the Slinky song is what really sticks in the head:
Ev'ryone knows it's Slinky. It's Slinky, it's Slinky. For fun, it's a wonderful toy. It's fun for a girl and a boy.
The company used it for years because they were too broke to update it, and it is now one of the tunes everyone recalls from childhood.
The name resonates because Slinky is just a part of our life and the company never deviated from the original Slinky brand name. Even in the age of video and computer games, retro toys are still popular with boys and girls (and parents).
In fact, the Slinky is in the Toy Hall of Fame, alongside its newest low tech inductee, a stick. Go Slinky!
November 24, 2008
The Polaroid saga has entered into truly ironic brand naming territory.
This once tremendous brand name has not fared well in the era of the digital camera, while a recent fraud investigation probably hasn't been much help either.
It's former owner, Tom Petters, is in jail for recently bilking $33 billion from investors. This all started after Petters called Polaroid a "great brand" and "one of the most well recognized names in America" and said he would bring it back to life using the success of the JetBlue model.
Polaroid, which is facing a lawsuit from the large number of people that Petters ripped off and has been referred to by at least one analyst as a "beaten vagabond," is now introducing the Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Printer in a last ditch attempt to salvage its name from the scrap heap of history.
The PoGo will go head to head with Fuji's Instax digital camera with a built-in printer that Wired says will "ride the long tail of Polaroid nostalgia." Seems that Polaroid is attempting to do the same. The nostalgia for Polaroids is so great that you can get a program called Poladroid that actually makes normal .jpegs look like blurry Polaroids.
That product, and its Polaroid inspired naming, is funny enough, but Polaroid's decision to name its new product the PoGo reminds me of the famous Pogo comic strip and the quote from one of the characters: "We have met the enemy and he is us," a famous riff on General Hazard Perry's "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." Maybe the folks at Polaroid had this in mind when they named the new product.
Or perhaps they are simply hoping that the new printer will be more like a Pogo stick that will help the company bounce back from its self inflicted misery.
November 21, 2008
The name that has resulted from the merger of American beer giant Anheuser-Busch and Belgian beer behemoth InBev, not surprisingly is Anheuser-Busch InBev. The new company's vision statement points out that it strives to be "The Best Beer Company in a Better World".
This merger has created the world's largest brewer, thus also creating the biggest name in beer, ever. The new logo clearly displays the "vision" of the new organization and according to the company's site is designed to "reflect our collective vision, drive and energy." Further, "The combination of rich golden colors captures what we know and do best: our expertise and heritage in brewing great beer, which is so often a part of enjoyable moments shared by friends."
The typography of "AB" also hearkens back to the old Anheuser-Busch logo, which has used an eagle motif since 1872, although some say theirs was "fiercer."
However, in the end this is a corporate logo. The average beer drinker will be interacting with the familiar naming and branding on the beer brands that the company sells, which include Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Beck's. The merger itself is something that is mostly happening behind the scenes. Yet, the logo is designed to be "a beacon of a bright, vibrant future for employees, customers, consumers and the communities where we work and live."
Given that in reality the image is one that will rest on legal documents and memos, after all, it has a refreshing quality and will not look out of place in an international corporate environment.
November 20, 2008
It seems that 2008 was a bad year for product launches. Americans, distracted by the economy and the election, were woefully unaware of new product names.
Even the Nintendo Wii Fit, which was the most memorable new product launch as determined by a recent survey, was only recalled by 22% of respondents.
Americans appear to be clinging to tried and trusted brand names, as evidenced by the fact that the launches that proved most memorable to consumers were all orchestrated by well-known, established brand names.
As evidence, following the Wii Fit was the iPod Touch, Bud Light Lime, and McDonald's Southern Style Chicken Biscuit & Sandwich.
Part of this is the obvious affect of logo recognition, which always plays its part. But even with a memorable logo, never forget that failure can lurk just around the corner. The Wii Fit was popular, but Wii Music isn't living up to expectations.
Even the big names are resorting to interesting means of differentiating themselves to win over consumers.
McDonald's, another winner this year, is quietly trying to leverage the Quarter Pounder brand name by introducing stand alone stores in Japan that surprisingly do not have the golden arches and simply sell, you guessed it, Quarter Pounders.
Of course we cannot forget the role that packaging also plays in the successful launch of new products.
One way to get customers to instantly like a new product, in coordination with a new product name, is to try and get around annoying packaging.
There is a virtual revolt going on over "clamshell packaging." The disgust on the blogoshere over this kind of packaging was sparked by a recent New York Times article that notes that many established brands like Sony, Amazon, and Best Buy are offering user friendly alternatives to avoid "Wrap Rage," which is defined as the frustration we all feel after spending hours opening up packaging designed to cut us or tear our fingernails.
So when releasing a new product into struggling economic conditions, keep in mind that everything from the product name to the user-friendly packaging all play its part in determining success.
November 19, 2008
One of the benefits of being a naming company is getting the opportunity to work in many diverse businesses and industries both domestically and globally.
It's surprising to us at Strategic Name Development that although the businesses and industries may vary, the naming challenges are more similar than dissimilar.
And yet, despite these similarities, every single day is different. It makes for interesting work and reminds me of what Confucius says about one's career: "Find something you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life."
We love what we do.
From time to time the media contacts us for a story on some of the work that we've done. The subject of brand name development seems to have inherent interest to the press.
A recent Finance and Commerce article, that targets senior executives, featured Strategic Name Development. Yes, it mentions some of the names we created, like Cenovus, an oil company spinoff from EnCana, and the Baconator, and Maxtra, a global motorcycle brand for the number one motorcycle manufacturer in China.
But what you may find even more interesting is our thoughts on the name development process discussed in the article.
November 18, 2008
Attempts to euphemize the $700 billion bailout seem to have been largely unsuccessful so far.
The New York Times, Wall Street Journal , and NPR all continue to refer to a "bailout" in their headlines, even if they use more formal terminology later on in their stories, while a Google Blog Search produces nearly 1 million results for the same term.
Part of the difficulty with the implementation of the plan may be because of the alternatives we've given to "bailout."
Take "Troubled Asset Relief Program." While the American economy is definitely in need of relief, what exactly are troubled assets? Are they more like troubled waters, or troubled minds? Do we build bridges over them, or send them for counseling? "Toxic assets" seems much closer to the mark, though the word "worthless" does occur to a mind that insists on calling a spade a bloody shovel.
And then there's the acronym "TARP." One generally spreads a tarp over things to protect them. Fine, insofar as it goes, but a tarpaulin protects things by covering them up. Frankly, a bailout sounds more above-board than a cover-up.
More than a year ago, the banks tried to stave off debt problems by creating a "Super SIV." To the non-investor, that sounds like a weapon.
As for the "Master Liquidity Enhancement Conduit," that sounds like something you might need that bloody shovel to dig through.
There are probably more reasons than bad brand naming that necessitated more drastic measures a year later, but we have to wonder if nominal polymorphism contributes to the continual redefinition of the 2008 bailout plan.
November 17, 2008
Buffalo, NY has a great new museum: The Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Or is it the Burchfield Penney Art Center?
A recent Buffalo News article spells it with hyphen as does the Burchfield-Penny Art Center website, while an article published one day earlier noted that the actual sign did away with the hyphen. The museum's head of marketing and PR says the hyphen "sort of went away through the process" as the museum rebranded itself.
Ironically, the museum has actually had an exhibition called "Art On the Hyphen: Cuban-American Artists of Western New York State."
Far be it for me to suggest that this is more of a mistake than a rebranding effort. The hyphen can be a very pesky piece of punctuation to handle in any naming process and is easily forgotten.
Too bad nobody warned the poor kid who changed his name to "Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk and The Flash Combined." Neat name, but "Spiderman" is technically spelled "Spider-Man," a fact that was not forgotten by the movies.
In reality, the hyphen is often misused by the press and it's no surprise that this slip-up also crosses over into brand naming.
Hyphens are especially difficult to incorporate into domain names since consumers frequently forget about it.
Keeping track of little things like punctuation is what being in name development is all about. For those of you who think you have the apostrophe under control, take this test to see if you are really "apostrophe proof."
November 14, 2008
Who doesn't like Italian food?
With a last name like Lozito, I may be a bit biased. However, I've had the opportunity to travel to many countries on many continents and in my opinion Italian food is hard to beat. Wiener schnitzel anyone? :)
I also have the privileged of bringing to your attention a line of high-quality Italian cheeses that allow us to savor the rich tradition of authentic Italian foods with the new Piacci™ brand.
Piacci™, as you may know, comes from the Italian word "piacere" which means pleasure. What could be more pleasurable than a traditional Italian meal with authentic Italian cheese?
"Now everyone can savor the premium Italian cheese experience with family and friends," said Kirk Scott, Director of Retail Marketing.
The Strategic Name Development team found partnering with the Piacci™ marketing team at Grande was the extra ingredient that allowed us to create a beautiful Italian name - Piacci™.
Please see the video link below to watch Judy Sipe, Chief Culinary Officer of The Food Channel™, discuss how to make a white pizza with Piacci™ cheese.
November 13, 2008
Now is the time of year when skiers start heading to the stores to buy their equipment and season tickets, and this year the ski world has adopted a "why worry?" attitude towards the recession.
The thinking behind this viewpoint is that skiers are passionate about their sport and are willing to spend for it even in tough times. Over the next few weeks we'll see if that optimism is truly well-placed.
One thing is for sure, there's plenty to buy. New mid-fat skis retail between $700-$900 before you buy the bindings and the new "Grizzly" ski from marker with Marker bindings will set you back $1600. And if you're going to buy that, you may as well spring for the Swamy g.cell ski gloves with a built in cell phone for $500. I know that at least one member of our team is tempted to get both.
In addition to all the expensive new gear, Ski resorts are working hard to pull skiers back to the slopes by appealing to the "soulful" element of the sport.
In fact, Ski Idaho's new slogan is "Idaho &mdash The Soul of Skiing."
DC (an extreme sports equipment manufacturer) is also making an effort at marketing wordplay by selling snowboard's with its "Enjoy the Ride More" campaign (note that word more - in tough times, consumers are certainly searching for more).
Utah ski stores are cautiously expecting the best, but Vail, Colorado is taking no chances. They have put an extra half million into promoting the resort, referring to the national economic situation as an "emergency."
The slogan "Ever Vail" has been one output from this effort, which wonderfully appeals to the timelessness of the sport, but I would also think that bringing back retro brand names like Dynastar Twister is a smart marketing decision as well.
Skiers are loyal to their sport, which also suggests that they are loyal to their sports' brands. Offering retro brand names and promoting areas by emphasizing their emotional appeal is definitely a good way to start enticing skiers back to the powdery peaks.
The real appeal of skiing is that it is a passion handed down from parents to children and sometimes all people need is just a little reminder of why they love it so much in the first place.
November 11, 2008
Where do I begin?
Many of you who read our blog regularly know that we go out of our way to accent the positive. In this case, it's just not possible or appropriate.
The new "Smart Living" Manitoba slogan is anything but smart. Oops, the new slogan is "Start Living," but I immediately confused it with the Smart Living magazine.
That's the least of the problems I have with Manitoba's new "Start Living" slogan.
It now appears as though someone is taking the Manitoba taxpayers for an additional $2 million ride on top of their $3.1 million dollar "Spirited Energy" spending spree.
Finances aside, these Manitoba slogans have simply gone from bad to worse. Our Canadian neighbors deserve better than this and they're smarter than this.
One of the tests for a new destination slogan is whether or not another geographic area can make the same claim?
In this instance a better question may be who can't?
Or maybe even what geographic destination would want to make the claim "Start Living?" Doesn't this slogan imply that the people of Manitoba haven't been living up until now?
In several years of blogging, I don't think I've ever used the word dumb. As a professional courtesy I will continue not to use it, but the "Start Living" slogan is very silly. Very, very silly.
As you can see, I agree with Tom Brodbeck, writer for the Winnipeg Sun, and his recent articles criticizing the "Start Living" slogan. This new Manitoba moniker is most certainly Dead on Arrival.
I think the efforts of the Premier's Economic Advisory Council reminds me of the adage, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail."
Might I suggest an entirely new toolbox? Or carpenter?
November 10, 2008
Naming and branding is becoming a whole lot trickier thanks to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' decision to sell an unnumbered amount of new domain name suffixes. This flood of new domain name sales is expected to lead to major companies having to spend extravagantly just to protect the integrity of their brand names online.
Marriott and New York Life are already expressing their displeasure over the rules that could force banks to buy up all domain suffixes like ".hotels" or ".bank."
It's a controversal subject that I have written about before and will not go away.
There is no doubt that finding available domain names is difficult with 70 million domain names already taken, including all 3 to 4 letter combinations as well as most, if not all, of the words found in the dictionary. In fact, some groups now focus on purchasing expired names for reuse.
Since some people see domain names as an investment, over 80% of the registered domain names out there do not even have a site attached to them and are just waiting for a large corporate buyout.
It is debatable what the cost will be to companies or even what the effect of this rush of new suffixes will ultimately be, but it is frightening to think of some of the possible outcomes.
For instance, malicious programmers could easily create a bogus New York Life site with a new suffix like ".insurance" and start collecting private info from unsuspecting consumers.
It looks like the Internet is "going to get alot crazier." Anyone with a couple hundred dollars to spend will suddenly be empowered to grab a branded domain with a new suffix.
These new domain name regulations will certainly have a direct effect on the management of a company's brand naming which will likely create an entirely new set of challenges for people in the naming business.
We at Strategic Name Development will be watching these events with great interest and preparing ourselves accordingly.
November 7, 2008
The news that the Shrinky Dinks brand is for sale gives me an opportunity to write about how a good brand name acts as an asset in and of itself.
Shrinky Dinks was first a kitchen table invention that grew quickly. After running into distribution problems, the inventors decided to license the Shrinky Dinks name to Colorfoms and then to Milton Bradley. The name was then distributed to toy companies on a non-exclusive basis while the founder of the company, Betty Morris, sold the plastic toys.
Just like that Shrinky Dinks was back in business with one web site pulling in sales of over $20,000 a month. Total sales since the product's invention have topped $150 million, and Shrinky Dinks have become such a ubiquitous part of American life that they have gone up in the Space Shuttle.
They are also used on drink tags, Barbie products, and recently were the inspiration for new microfluidic devices for a professor at the University of California who remembered playing with them as a kid. They are even the subject of serious art competitions.
In fact, the name Shrinky Dinks is used pretty liberally in general. We seem to refer to any shrinking plastic product (you just need #6 plastic) as a "Shrinky Dink," but because it is so easy to package, it can be appended to almost any brand, especially when you consider that Smurf Shrinky Dinks seem to have been the company's biggest sellers.
This is quite simply a case of good brand name management that has made the name instantly recognizable and kid friendly.
I predict that it will be quickly picked up and find new life in years to come.
November 6, 2008
The Wall Street Journal recently suggested that frugality is trumping brand loyalty at the checkout line as consumers become more and more attracted to less expensive store brands.
This issue of bottom-line over brand is one I have examined before.
Store brands have come a long way from the boring "no names" of the recent past, offering a level of sophistication behind their brand naming strategy that is just as well thought out and planned as that of the major CPG companies.
Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens now refer to their store brands as "captive brands" in an attempt to make them sound more appealing, although it kind of sounds like their products that are being held hostage. This "captive" renaming makes it even more interesting to hear that some consumers buy the store brand product and then set if free by transfering it into a brand name container.
We've seen this trend towards buying store brands the last few years, especially with retailers like Supervalu (Cub Foods, Bristol Farms, Shop'n Save, etc.), Kroger, and Safeway who have shown significant gains on their store brand offerings.
The real gains, however, are made "where the fancy national brand hasn't noticeably differentiated its products."
The Wall Street Journal has reported that consumers find it hard to even tell the difference between a store brand and national brands when it comes to paper products, while private label personal care products have also seen a huge surge in sales.
Of course, this private label preference is partly due to the recession, but it is also due to the fact that CPG companies often face brand name dilution. Even in recessions, consumers tend to remain loyal to the brand names they feel very strongly about and scrimp on the ones that seem to matter less.
November 5, 2008
Coors' Banquet beer celebrated its 135 year anniversary last month.
Over those 135 years, the beer has been through several name changes - Original Coors and Golden Lager - but its current name, "Banquet," is a revival of the nickname given to the beer by miners who served it at banquets during their time off.
Throughout the 90's it was called "Original Coors" and then was renamed "Coors Original" in 2002. Last year the name switched again to "Banquet Beer" and sales have actually gone up as a result.
The brand name seems to be the element that drives sales in this case, mostly because Americans seem to be reacting to the brand's claim of being a true original, although a quality taste can't hurt sales either.
A quick look at the anger that consumers expressed when Old Dominion beer closed doors recently underlines the sense of regionalism and authenticity that today's beer drinkers seem to demand. A name like "Banquet Beer" is really not that far out there in that sense, especially when comparing it to smaller brand names like Dogfish and Magic Hat.
This is also an example of smartly revamping a brand name that is starting to get rusty. Making the brand name new by making it a classic is a tried and true formula for everything from Coke to iPod.
In any event, this seems like an excellent beer to enjoy the next time there is a viable reason to celebrate.
November 4, 2008
Starting a new political party is hard, but naming it is even harder, as a new political group in South Africa has discovered.
One of our staff members based in Cape Town reports that dissidents from the ruling party - the ANC or African National Congress - broke away a few weeks ago and tried to reinstate themselves as The South African National Congress only to learn that electoral laws stipulated that the name was too close to that of the ANC (much to the dismay of those who had already bought T-shirts).
They then tried to call themselves the South African Democratic Congress or SADEC, only to be turned away again because the name was already in use by a South African party that was unknown to even professional politicians.
This all follows the ANC's legal move to restrict not only the naming of opposing parties, but also the naming of their convention.
Currently, the party is simply referred to as the "Shikotas," an amalgamation of the names Mbhazima Shilowa and Mos iuoa Lekota, the party's two leaders.
However, the reality is that no matter what they eventually decide to name themselves, it certainly won't be a name that infringes upon the ANC's trademark.
This is all occurring in a maze of name change proposals that are meant to happen before 2010 when the country holds the World Cup.
Right now some of the country's major cities and towns, like Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown and East London, are set to be renamed so they do not sound so "colonial."
November 3, 2008
Hostess Twinkies are being turned into 100-calorie snacks via "Twinkie Bites." These are packs of three miniature Twinkies that bring the Twinkie taste into a cake shaped format.
Sales of 100 calorie snack packs bring in over $400 million a year, mostly by targeting women who want to control their snacking urges.
Five years ago these 100 calorie snacks were not even on the snacking screen. But today, despite the fact that offering 100 calories versions of famous splurge items is viewed as a little contentious since the temptation to pig out on them is extremely powerful, they have become a popular snacking option.
Supposedly, these calorie friendly packs are the answer to the Snackwell cookie, offering the consumer a way to literally have their Twinkie and eat it too, just in smaller portions. No matter the brand strategy, it seems that some consumers "can't wait."
You simply cannot argue with success here. Hostess has taken the very same products we all know and love, and reshaped and renamed Twinkie Bites. That's it.
Sales are so high that Interstate Bakeries may get out of the red after four years of bankruptcy largely because in these tough times, more and more people will be brown bagging it, which more often then not will include a light snack.
Who says renaming doesn't pay?