Category: Naming

FAIL: PETCO Thinks We’re Idiots? Yes. Yes they do.


Well, PETCO certainly doesn’t win any points for the creativity of their product name, but when it comes to the art of needlessly clarifying proper use of the product I think I’ve just witnessed perfection.

This, folks, is why I don’t hire lawyers to write copy.


Stokefire Welcomes… Truth.

Woe betide anyone visiting Stokefire HQ on a day (like today) that there’s client-involved brainstorming to be had. If you do our boss may also betide you a bunch of cheap beer and takeout food. You’ve been warned. No… that’s not quite right.



And yes, this really is on the big sign in our lobby.

Today's Welcome Sign at Stokefire

Learning the Lingo While Teaching

Posted By:
Tate Linden

Quick update!

Last week I spoke to a great group of coaches and organizational developers about my developing book applying Gandhi’s wisdom to branding. His quote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony” seemed to make sense to everyone, but when I used it in practice to reference the thinking, saying and doing of an organization’s leadership everyone was left scratching their heads.

What I learned from the experience is that there’s too much awkwardness and wiggle room in explaining someone’s reason for doing or saying something as “their thinking”, or worse, “their THINK”. I spent half the session doing verbal gymnastics to make “think” stay within the model I was discussing instead of using the Think/Say/Do model as way to introduce the conceptual and them immediately applying more business- or brand-appropriate language.

Leaders speak of their intent or motivation, and since that’s who I’m speaking with and about there’s no reason to make them try to learn some buzz-wordy “my THINK is X” phrasing when all we’re talking about is what gets us out of bed in the morning. What really surprised me, though, was that until now I’d been so absorbed in the development and application of the philosophy that I’d completely ignored how awkward it was to discuss.

Many thanks to the ASTD and CBODN members who helped me discover the problem and watched me work through it in real time. Both cool and humbling to experience.

(And if you want to buy the post image on a tee? Gandhi just might approve.)

The Terrorists Formerly Known as al-Qaida (That Could’ve Been)

Posted By:
Tate Linden

Can changing the name of an organization without changing anything else actually work?

The news today says Osama bin Laden was recently considering a rebrand. And before anyone tries to tell a joke about it – The Daily Mash sort of predicted this all the way back in ’07,  so… you’re already behind the times.

The AP helped break the story:

The problem with the name al-Qaida, bin Laden wrote in a letter recovered from his compound in Pakistan, was that it lacked a religious element, something to convince Muslims worldwide that they are in a holy war with America.

Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.

As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group’s full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word “jihad,” bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to “claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam.” Maybe it was time for al-Qaida to bring back its original name.

(via an article by MATT APUZZO, which can also be found on Google News)

But was the problem really about al-Qaida’s brand?

It’s easy to make that assumption. Think about all the organizations – governmental, business, or grass-roots – that have assumed it was true that all we have to do is call something by another name and SUCCESS WILL BE OURS.

Remember Blackwater? They rebranded to the easy-to-spell but hard-to-say “Xe” to escape their scandalous past. And then they continued to behave scandalously, tarnishing their new brand in exactly the same way they’d done the last.

Or “Diebold Election Systems” changing their name to “Premier Election Systems” after the CEO used his corporate influence to raise funds and directly support a presidential candidate that his machines were responsible for electing. Even with the rebrand the division was sold for a loss, rebranded a second time, and then sold again.

Or the shell game AIG went through via an interim AIU Holdings brand to today’s Chartis. Which until recently was led by the same people that had caused the scandal in the first place.

Reactionary rebranding – trying to cover up a tangible screw-up or known negative affiliation – by just calling yourself something else violates the essence of my (admittedly evolving) personal theory on identity.

It’s not what you say that matters. It’s also not what you do. It’s your reasons for saying and doing – and whether others believe in and relate to those reasons – that matter.

Great brands are only effective when the communicated intent is believable and meshes well with motivations of the people they need to impact.

The problem with an al-Qaida rebrand (had bin Laden not been killed) would’ve been that the only thing changed were words. The deeds and the intent behind them wouldn’t change. Changing the existing perception of the intent isn’t something that can be done by just slapping on a new slogan or name. If that worked all that folks like Bernie Madoff would’ve had to do is change their names and adopt nifty slogans so all would be forgiven.

Sadly for Bernie and al-Qaida it just doesn’t work that way.



Posted by:
Isabella Medina

I work for @Thingnamer.  He’s very skilled at what he does.  (For the moment let’s ignore those recent intra-team squabbles about names evoking images of portly men’s middles.)  Our Thingnamer does not take the naming task lightly.  There are many factors taken into account.  And the potential impact of the right (or wrong) choice can be huge.  Thankfully the balance here sways forcefully to the hugely-right impacts.

But what about thingnaming as a pursuit?  A friend recently pointed out (thank you, Lauren), that “thingnaming” was the first task actually assigned to humankind.  Amazing, right?  I checked.

That story goes back to the opening pages of the Old Testament.  We have Adam (aka “the man”) alone, in that perfect garden – surrounded by beauty of every sort imaginable, but a little lonesome.  God brings to the man “every beast of the field and every bird of the sky” which he had just created.  Then comes the assignment:  “He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”  I find that pretty amazing.  What responsibility.  What authority.  What fun!

That story led me to wondering… how did Adam’s task compare to Thingnamer’s?  A few things come to mind.  For starters, Adam was working from the blankest of slates.  Even if we ignore the fact that he had no one to argue with him (yet), how much difference would it have made if he named a camel a ralwit or a pib or a mandelwesterbing instead?  (I know Adam was not naming things in English – the point is the same.)

Our Thingnamer has to devise a name within the context of all the gazillion things that have been named between then and now.  That seems much more complicated.  Everything that’s been named before contributes to assumptions, impressions, and ideas that one will have about the newly-named thing.  All the accumulated cultural influences, language developments and popular trends influence the reception and reaction to a newly-named thing.  Wow – it seems that problem would become increasingly complicated as time goes on.  (This reminds me of a favorite Peanuts comic strip, when Peppermint Patty turns to her friend Charlie Brown and declares “History should be studied in the morning… before anything else can happen.”)  Yes!  I suspect thingnaming may continue to grow challenging as the years go by, but remarkably, I doubt that we will ever be in danger of running out of names.

Since Adam started from such a blank slate, I don’t think we can ascribe any particular meaning to the names he chose.  He may have chosen certain names because he liked how they sounded, or others because they made sense as related to those of other similar creatures.  We may never know.

But modern-day thingnaming could take the task in a number of different directions:

There is the “name does not matter” camp.  As Will Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  We-just-LIKE-that-name goes in this group.

There are the parents who name their children after other family members – an effort to honor them, or to carry forward their legacy and heritage.

Other parents-to-be scour naming books to find one with a worthy meaning – an attempt to call forth that noble trait in their child.  An act of faith, as it were.

And then there are our Thingnamer’s names. He (and his cohorts) work very hard to speak The Truth by the names they choose.  To pack as much meaning and description, right-impression and appeal, into the names they devise.  A name thusly designed by Thingnamer is the first chance for a business – or a someone – to speak their identity to the world at large.  A very substantial communication.

Given all that, I’d say that for Adam – he who lived in the truly perfect world – his first assignment was pretty easy.

Buying a bike because the brand just feels right…

I’ve been researching bikes to use on my 15 mile round-trip commute.  My criteria? (None of which have anything to do with branding or naming so you can just skip ahead if you’re only reading for that…)

  1. It can’t be one of those ephemeral light-weight bikes that Lance uses in the Tour. First, it’d get stolen, and second, I’ve got no reason to pay to have my bike weigh five to ten pounds less when I need to lose 40 pounds myself.
  2. It needs to be able to carry a load. Not just me, but also a rack loaded with work stuff like computer, clothing, presentation materials, my pet rock collection, etc. It isn’t uncommon for me to drive home with about 30 pounds of stuff that I need to schlep.
  3. It needs to be easy to repair. If I can’t fix the problem with a patch kit, tire levers, or a hex wrench I’m like as not to be walking home.
  4. It needs to accept all of the accumulated biking stuff that I’ve carried along through the years. Clipless pedals, rack, fenders, lights…
  5. It needs to have decent reviews online.
  6. It needs to cost less than $1000.
  7. It needs to make me not feel like a doofus when I’m riding it. No fixies, no electric assist, no relaxed riding position…

In my three month search I came across about a dozen brands that have bikes that hit on four or five of the points, but none that scored across the board. Mostly the price let me down (Trek 520), or sometimes it was sold out (Novara Randonee – also, I’m nowhere near French enough to ride it), or they appear to be rebranded women’s bicycles (Cannondale Adventure 2 – c’mon that’s a pretty doofus-looking bike… you gotta admit.)

I’d been at a loss for ages. And then REI had a sale… and think I’ve bought myself the perfect bike.

The Surly Cross-Check.

Why is it perfect? Well… with the sale it is under $1000, and it meets every other one of the criterion I set.

Added bonus? The brand name and bike name seem perfect for me.

Surly? It’s a name with edge and attitude – not unlike the brand we’ve endeavored to create at Stokefire.  And I’ve been known to be a bit prickly myself at times.

And Cross Check? It seems to work on two levels. First – it’s what I did throughout the entire comparison-shopping experience – always finding something amiss until now. Second – it’s the aggressive hockey-inspired move I’ll do to anyone that calls me a doofus while I’m astride my bike.

There is another bike made by Surly that I really wanted – but not because I thought it fit me. The name is the “Surly Long Haul Trucker” which is a wonderfully compelling (if mostly off-putting) mental image. But the fact that I could’ve put THIS on the fender probably would’ve made me buy it if it hadn’t been sold out during REI’s sale. Some things are just worth sacrificing one’s dignity and marital peace for.

(This would’ve been a much better post if I could have uploaded pictures. Here’s to hoping the good people at Lunar Pages or better people at Webmeadow can figure out how to get us workin’ again.)

Syfy executives nervously look at rising water. Landor abandons ship.

First the new Syfy channel leaders came out and said they were changing the name because “Sci Fi” was too limiting, and “Syfy” opened lots of doors for them.  The world at large wondered how a misspelled homophone could create any options at all.

Then the president of Syfy was accused of not being honest about the origins of the name and had to respond, saying all sorts of random things in the process, such as:
In response to a question about why they selected the name he said,

“…we didn’t come up with a name that we liked any better than what we’ve gone with…”

So basically he suggests they selected the name because they ran out of good ideas, or perhaps didn’t have any to begin with.
He followed this by saying…

Naming is an incredibly incredibly tough exercise.”

…and then almost immediately said…

“…the hardest and toughest thing to ever get to is a name that everybody likes…”

…which is exactly the wrong thing to try for in the first place.  What you want is to find a name that some people love and some people hate.  Something that creates an identity that people care about one way or the other.  (I happen to think he may have accidentally found this, but his answer suggests that he doesn’t understand the basics of creating a workable identity.  ALL great brands have people who hate them passionately.

Other tidbits he offered?

it’s cool and contemporary”

Great.  Cool and contemporary basically means that they have to do this all over again in a few years to stay cool and contemporary.  Remember when we thought Michael Jackson would always be cool?  If the King of Pop can’t do it why would we think anyone else could?  Cool moves on, and for a brand to remain cool it must constantly adapt.  Coolness is the most expensive and difficult image to maintain.

Yeah, the president of the channel may have earned a few points by being honest, but did nothing to suggest he really understands what he got out of the new brand.  And… if you want more proof that Syfy isn’t doing a good job with the brand. Check out the New York Post article in which Landor’s executive director denies that Landor had anything to do with the name.

In an earlier post I suggested that Landor fell down on the job by not preparing Syfy execs adequately to launch this brand.  I now believe that they’ve fallen down twice.  First, they were not able to get anyone ready to talk about the brand (whether or not Landor developed it or not – they were consulted and should be able to do this for any brand they are asked about, not just ones from their own minds) and then again when they deny they had anything to do with development of the brand.

Since when does a respectable branding firm not come to the aid of a client in trouble?

“While we’d love to take credit for all the branding initiatives
our clients take on,” writes Ken Runkel, executive director of Landor
Associates, the branding firm hired by Sci Fi. “We just can’t.

“Yes, we worked with the SciFi Channel, and it hired us to consult
on the project. However, Syfy was a name generated internally and
pre-tested at the channel before our involvement,” he wrote.

Does every one of Stokefire’s clients take every bit of advice we deliver?  Absolutely not.  That doesn’t eliminate our responsibility to defend our client and help them prepare for the pressure of a controversial brand launch.

Landor should better.  Syfy isn’t a horrible brand – it still has potential.  The fact that Landor isn’t moving to get the Syfy execs ready for onslaught seems to indicate that something bad happened along the way.

Anyone have any insight into why Landor is just walking away from this one?

My New Favorite Website.

Who knew making graphs could be so fun – and reading them so educational?

song chart memes
more graph humor and song chart memes

I’m tempted to start a naming contest for the first two… Poor Bono and horsey…

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