Years before the word “blog” was coined, our George Frazier, once a well-loved humor columnist in an otherwise humorless San Francisco Bay Area newspaper, began writing an occasional Idiom newspaper column featuring subjects related to naming. His blog-like broadsides were made to look like real newspaper articles prepared on news print with advertisements on the back, cut as if they were actually clipped from a newspaper, then slow-mailed to clients and prospects—many of whom never figured out how they actually got published!
Today, with the launch of Idiom’s new website, I am re-introducing one of my favorite such columns—a blast from the past that discusses the timeless pitfalls and pratfalls of “do-it-yourself” naming. Ironically, with blogging now the rage, this column, once masqueraded as a newspaper article, now has social media’s permission to be exactly what it is: a shameless, if hysterical b-l-o-g attempting to attract your attention, win your business and, I hope, make you laugh.
I originally introduced this column by attaching a note to our faux newspaper clipping that read, “My partner writes a newspaper column, but I have no idea why they print it…” Let me know what you think.
~ Rick Bragdon
If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would no doubt have some critical words to share with the world about the thoughtless, heartless and downright Scrooge-like behavior of business executives who ask their marketing or product-development teams to take responsibility for creating trademarkable brand names for new products and ventures. And I know that the world would take Dickens’ words seriously—after all, he would be 194 years old.
Dickens would be harping about attempts at “do-it-yourself creativity,” which was the norm back in the Dark Ages of Naming—before Rick Bragdon founded Idiom, endowed the Center for Creative Naming and was honored as the world’s first Board Certified Nameologist. In that primitive era, it was believed that nearly anyone with half a brain and an entire thesaurus could create a workable brand name. In creative terms, it was not unlike the Dark Ages of Grooming, when it was similarly believed that anyone with a large bowl and a sharp pair of scissors could create a workable haircut. The results of those mistaken beliefs were not pretty, unless you enjoyed riding around in a Volkswagen Thing while munching Screaming Yellow Zonkers and showing off your Prince Valiant haircut.
Now, even though I can’t get Dickens to write this column, I must point out in this “Tale of Two Names” that these are the best of times (at least at those enlightened companies hiring Idiom to take responsibility for creating their important new brand names) and the worst of times (at rival companies trying to save a few dollars attempting to create equally important new brand names “in- house”).
I could wax poetic to the very bottom of this page, enumerating the experiences at Best of Times, Inc., as Idiom manages their naming project from the first strategic considerations to the final trademark clearance. Lest I duplicate the contents of the previous 17 columns in this series (those who missed some of these columns can discuss the advantages of working with Idiom by contacting our Board Certified Nameologist at 415 788-7248), let’s take a look at the naming activities at Worst of Times, Inc.
The naming assignment, of course, has fallen on an incredibly busy and stressed marketing manager, who has been working the kind of hours that make it difficult to remember his wife’s name, much less create a brand name. But the boss has given the word: “Let’s do the naming ourselves. It can’t be that hard. Ask some of the creative people around here to help. Your deadline is one month and remember that we don’t have anything in the budget for naming.”
Much later that evening, our forlorn marketing manager is thumbing through a thesaurus hoping for a miracle while mentally composing an email announcing a company-wide naming contest. After falling asleep face-first in Roget’s list of synonyms for advantage (benefit, pro, plus, improvement, help), our hero knows that pro naming help would be an advantage, benefit, plus and improvement over trying to create a brand name without a net.
A week later, he leads a “brainstorming” meeting with the “creatives” within Worst of Times, Inc. After about 45 minutes of shouting out ideas, everyone agrees that they’ve thought of just about every name possible for the new product—106 names in all. A week later, the company naming contest adds 27 new names and 52 complaints about the paucity of prizes. After staring at the list of names for another week, our name-it-yourself martyr sends an email to his boss with his leading name candidates: Profile, Signature, Criterion, Horizon, Vector, Caliber, Atlas, Orion, Mercury, Everest and Galaxy.
Another week passes before the boss emails back: “Those names look okay to me. They seem a little familiar, but we’re right on our deadline, so get our corporate attorney to do a quick trademark search.”
The corporate attorney, whose specialty is acquisitions and luncheons, waits a week before replying, with these words: “I’m not really a trademark specialist, but I’m looking for a trademark attorney to check them out.” Another week passes, along with the final deadline. Finally, the corporate attorney calls our hero from a lunch meeting and says, “I finally found a good trademark attorney. She said that she would check out our names, if we insisted, but that she could almost guarantee that none of them would be legally available in any trademark category, including organic fertilizer and animal husbandry.”
Our marketing manager is now a complete wreck. He has no viable name candidates. He’s behind on all of his other projects. His boss is unsympathetic. In desperation, he sends more names to the corporate attorney. The results are the same. Nothing—not even Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare or Dickens—is legally available. Why didn’t someone warn him that the US Trademark Registry was a veritable minefield?
The deadline has long passed, the legal fees are mounting and the new product is languishing in a nameless purgatory. These, truly, are the worst of times at Worst of Times, Inc. Of course, Best of Times, under the creative guidance of Idiom, has its product in the marketplace with a unique and memorable new brand name.
Finally, in complete desperation, our hero enters the boss’s office and says, “I think we need some professional help with our naming.” The boss, munching on a bowl of Screaming Yellow Zonkers, shakes his bowl-cut hair while fingering the key to his VW Thing and says, “Naming just can’t be that difficult.”
With Idiom, naming isn’t difficult at all. We have fun, complete our projects on-time and on-budget, while creating great brand names that succeed in the marketplace. For more information, contact Rick Bragdon by calling 415 788-7248 or emailing him at Rick@IdiomNaming.com. If you don’t, the best of times can easily become the worst of times. Just ask Dickens.