Tag: "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.


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.

The Value Value Pricing Model: Pay LESS for the Best?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

There are all sorts of books on pricing out there. If you’re a consultant, a designer, a strategist or other consultative service provider – there’s a tome filled with pricing models that factor in cost of goods sold, value to customer, return on investment, profit margins, industry trends, and countless other stuff that’s quite obviously important to consider. But the one thing I haven’t seen?

A pricing model that gives the client an incentive to select the direction advised by the hired expert.

After many years of consulting, I’m beginning to notice that clients are extremely hesitant to take whatever the most promising path forward (as seen by the consultant, and often agreed to by the client) may be. For some reason , selecting the best advice (or if you’re coy and try to bury the strong option in a list, “Option 3”) is something that clients resist.

While hourly consulting agreements can factor in the additional work necessary to create strategic plans and execute less powerful options, they tend to be difficult to position because many clients want fixed costs. So…what if it was baked in up-front? What if we had contracts that said we’ll research an array of options, and if the *advised* option was selected a discount was guaranteed?

I’m uncertain if this is a viable model, but it’s intriguing to me. I’m sure it could be gamed by consultants who just want to sell work they’ve already done for another firm that didn’t choose to use it.  Or it could be that the consultant would just put a crappy option as their first choice (though that’s got some major risks if someone actually chose it.)

Namers? Designers? Strategists?

Would you be willing to give a 10% discount (or some other number) in return for the knowledge that your best work is more likely to see the light of day than a Frankenstein’s Monsterish amalgam of three different ideas that would just take up space in your portfolio?

There are a handful of times where an absolutely stunning concept couldn’t move forward. But if I’d said I’d take less to get that idea implemented *after* having developed and delivered the creative it would’ve sounded desperate.

If you’ve tried it, how did it go?

And any clients – or potential clients – reading the blog… Is this something you’d consider?

How about you aim that thing somewhere else?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

In the branding and advertising industries we’re supposedly hired as partners, experts and advisors. When the cost, time, and quality are dictated by the client to the agency that relationship is killed. We instead become supplicants.

I’ve learned I can’t run an agency without ensuring I’ve got a backbone. Agencies that truly supplicate themselves to the client are doing themselves and the clients a disservice. We cease being partners and become the paintbrush or the pack-mule that delivers exactly what the client wanted to see before they even knew we existed. We allow them to stay within their walls and execute the ideas they already have rather than helping them break out of what they see and think every day. That’s great if they’re experiencing unprecedented success, but typically they’re not when they knock on our doors. I understand and agree that the client ultimately should call the shots, but we’re supposed to help them aim and find alternative weapons to shoot.

Think about that. When a client dictates cost, time, and quality they’re basically aiming their weapon (that you’re supposed to be helping them aim and shoot) at you. They prevent the development of all the stuff that leads to success (like strategy, brainstorming, and iterative processes) by eliminating the time and money that is needed to enable it. In these instances the definition of quality is twisted to mean “what pleases the client” rather than “what will lead to success.” The project, even if it makes the client happy near-term, ends up in trouble because the trusted advisor wasn’t trusted to execute the job using the processes they’re comfortable with and something inevitably gets missed.

Great brands and campaigns come from a relationship of trust that has the agency working behind and with the client rather than in front of and for them. If an agency isn’t trusted to exist behind and within the defenses of an organization, and can’t be trusted to represent the clients best interests while candidly and visibly controlling at least one of the three critical aspects of the project (time, cost, quality) then that agency isn’t worth hiring. And agencies that find themselves in that situation after signing a contract need to think hard about whether the project can lead to success.

How often has your agency worked in front of and for a client? How many times has their focus been on your tactics and processes rather than on the strategies you bring that can get them to their goals? For us we’re finding that the frequency has gone way down. But early on it was almost constant.

How have you (or will you) turn(ed) around these relationships to enable you and your team to produce the work that gets the client where they want to go rather than what the want to see and hear?

Answer that and you’ve got a successful agency.

In response to the article Agency Decisions: Good Morale Or Bad Clients? By Branding Strategy Insider

When Omphaloskepsis Attacks

Posted by Tate Linden

A few months back we ordered a new piece of equipment for our office – our very first dedicated server. Sure, the trend seems to be about heading “TO THE CLOUD” for stuff like email hosting and file storage, but we’d already been there and didn’t much like the resulting rain. (Interesting side note: when someone else who shares the same IP address in the cloud with you decides to start spamming the world with their helpful Ch3ap V1agra emails it means that your own emails get trapped in the SPAM filters used by folks like the US Government – and pretty much anyone with a decent IT department.)

I’d never really put much thought into servers. I worked at IBM, General Electric, ADP, and a slew of small businesses at which servers existed and no one really noticed outside of the tech group.  Honestly? I can’t remember any of the server names that my previous employers used, and yet I do remember that an annoying window appeared every time I had to log in.

So when we got this new server our tech expert asked the innocuous question… “What do you want to call it?”

I’ll bypass the obvious fact that you should not ask a guy who names stuff for a living this sort of off-hand question. Pretty much ever.

I will instead focus on what happened next.

I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but as I recall… In a quick back and forth with Katie (my convergent-thinking co-conspirator and developer of some of the best damn copy concepts I’ve ever read) I mentioned that lots of organizations pull names from the Bible, or historical figures, or types of animals, or colors or fruits. Katie’s very well-reasoned response was to suggest that we use the name Orange.

This story very well could have ended right there. And many at Stokefire wish that it had.

I liked the concept… Orange fits both as a color and a fruit. (Though I acknowledge that probably went without saying.) And orange is the color of Stokefire. Nifty. Multi-faceted concepts are things we strive to find for our clients, so it stands to reason we would strive to find a way to apply this for ourselves. I couldn’t help myself. I wondered if we could get more. What if we could develop a system of naming our servers (since we’ll have more than one or two eventually) based on types of oranges so we can stay in the orangey sweet spot?

Katie played along. She suggested Clementine and Mandarin.

Pretty cool.

But maybe we could get even more value out of it. Maybe we could find a type of orange that tied in with an even deeper message to start with. This was going to be a server that is at the center of our organization for the foreseeable future. It’s the center around which we’ll grow. The ancient Greeks called this concept Omphalos. But in English? We have a different word for it.


Katie’s response to this completely legitimate server name and very common species of orange?

Not. Good.

And the response from the team when we shared the name idea? Well… At least one of them actively reached out to our tech and told him not to name the server yet because they were going to try to talk some sense into me. Without prompting of any kind from me the entire team voluntarily set to developing a slew of alternatives to consider and then voted as a team and shared the results of the democratic creative process. The voice of Stokefire was heard.

Navel did not win.

As a server name I admit it sucks. The existence of its homophonic twin (Naval) means that any time anyone says the name to the uninitiated they’ll have to spell it, thus wasting time. The mental imagery that cropped up shortly after I presented the name (mostly because the team started referring to the server as “Tate’s Navel”) is likely less appealing than I would wish. Sure, it’s been a few years since I’ve done a stomach crunch, and… well… that’s probably enough about that. The intuitive link to orange isn’t particularly strong. And it doesn’t really fit with the Stokefire attitude either.

So why did I choose it? Or, as Dan O’Brien – our tech – tweeted:

Sometimes what makes a name great has nothing to do with the charts and creativity used to create and evaluate it. It has to do with how it changes behavior.

This story is a lot less compelling if we have to tell it as the “you should’ve heard the name we ALMOST got for this server.” Who wants to hear about that? We don’t have to remind people of what almost was, because every time we log in we get to stare right at our Navel.

In the grand scheme of things? No one cares what a server is named, and the consequence of that name (as long as it doesn’t cause a lawsuit) is negligible. And yet Stokefire has a server name that incites passionate discourse, disgusted looks, volunteer flash-mobs with pitchforks, and endless jokes at my expense. Okay so maybe those aren’t great things, but they’re still… things.

Hey. And there’s this. I bet that ten years from now every one of Stokefire’s employees will still remember the name of that damn server.

Baby Name Judgement: A %(*# Finding

For those of you that don’t yet know, my wife and I are the proud parents of another wonderful baby boy. On 1/16/2010 Sarah brought seven pounds, six ounces of newly minted Linden into the world.  There were a couple complications after delivery, but I am exceedingly happy and proud to say that both Mommy and Baby are doing just fine.

That said… Let’s get to the point of this post.  Baby Names.  More specifically, our baby’s name. Upon hearing my second-born son’s name I have received comments such as:

  • Oh. So you’re naming your kids after presidents, are you? (Our eldest son is named Theodore/Teddy.)
  • Wow… That’s… Interesting.
  • Why(?!) did you choose that name?
  • That child will need a strong constitution if he’s going to handle that name.

Yep. Apparently the name has some negatives.

Interestingly though, nearly every negative we’ve received has been from people at least a decade older than I am. It’s like there’s some sort of translation error that hooks the name to some bad experience.  (And before you ask, We did not name him Saddam Hitler Linden.)

Those in their teens through their forties tell us the name is cool.

His name is Truman Maxwell Linden.

Comments we receive from our contemporaries seem to be centered around a single concept… That of course we’re going to call him “Tru”. Which, in fact, we do.  Upon our confirmation of this, the hep-cat crowd tells me that this is one of the coolest names ever.

Or at least that’s the gist of it.

Initially I figured this must be because our combined baby-naming brilliance was too overwhelming to be appreciated by generations that came before mine, and while we named our child to honor someone in my wife’s family tree, we selected Truman also for its versatility, and (to us) exceptional nick-name potential.  But now I’m not so sure that brilliance was involved.

My second thought was that the full name was so bad people were scrambling to come up with something that might improve it marginally.  I had myself believing this for a few days, too.

And then…

After two weeks of almost no sleep (and even less for my lovely wife) I’m more inclined to think all the fresh-faced young’ns just don’t want to piss us off.

Probably the right move.


NOT Coming Soon to US Markets…

Alternate title – “Oh No You Di’nt!”

Take one Russian Energy Giant, add Nigeria’s State-operated energy company… and mix vigorously.

The resulting concoction?


I. Am. Not. Kidding.


No Longer On The Brink’s

Let’s just get this over with.

Broadview Security?


Not bad.  But not good either, is it?

I truly respect the leadership team over at Brink’s.  They really had their act together when they went through the selection process looking for a branding firm.  They researched a HUGE number of firms and went through three rounds of increasingly more challenging qualifications.  The final round had four companies.  Two of these were Stokefire and Landor.  We’re not privy to the names of the other agencies.

We were obviously disappointed that we didn’t earn the right to lead the project, but we understand that Brink’s was beholden to their Stockholders – and as with the IBM of old, no one gets ousted for buying Landor.  Stokefire embraced risk and encouraged that Brink’s look to define a brand with real meaning and connection with the target audience.  As you will see here, Landor (the organization selected to lead the project) didn’t quite take that approach.Trying to put that aside, let’s see whether the name adds value with a quick check of the FAINTS analytics…

Fidelity: The name certainly moves away from the Brink’s brand (though we doubt the presence of “BR” at the start is a coincidence.)  The name implies having a wide field of vision, something that seems a decent fit for a security company.  The name doesn’t bash the reader over the head with the metaphor, but it’s at least available and accurate.  Slight benefit with a wink and a nudge at the former spelling.

Availability: There are all sorts of Broadviews – including some in the security space.  And others in technology security.  That said, this Broadview can outspend all the others combined, so this isn’t a big deal.  Marketing spend cannot, however, make up for the fact that the root domain – broadview.com – is owned by a consulting firm. Sure, Google will send people to the right address, but not everyone Googles when a URL seems obvious.

Intangibles: It’s somewhat poetic, no?  Has a sense of calmness to it.  Unassuming.  At least until you see the big blue camera/eyeball staring at you.  (Or am I misinterpreting the blue marks around “view”?)  If the company  executed on the potential here it’d be positive.  As it stands we’re about even.

Need: We’re assuming the name needed to show that this was still the same stable company they’ve always been, just with a new name.  Other than the fact that they still feel the need to tell people that they are indeed the same company it appears that this name satisfies.  It’s accessible, simple, and conservative… just like the current brand.

Tangibles: It seems to do just fine here.  Pretty easy to pronounce and understand.  No hidden meanings in English. Spelling is straightforward.  Just guessing again, but I’d say that this probably was a major factor in the selection of the name.

Strategy: Marketing depth is decent – the name evokes everything from wide plains to panning cameras.  It falls down a bit on connection.  There was real room to develop a meaningful relationship with the consumer here – and this one does not.  On risk it fails badly… This is a name that takes no risk whatsoever.  And differentiation is weak as well.  About 98 companies share the broadview name according to D&B, and Broadview Security Inc is listed as number 10 in relevancy when searching.  (Again, money can offset this, but the name lacks potential on its own.)

Overall the name adds a little bit of value to the brand, but not much.  If you factor in the weight, and the fact that the assumed need is rather short-sighted, this name may just be a placeholder.  Certainly the new organization is treating it as such, with no reference to what the name might mean in their messaging.  They could be using any name at all (other than Brink’s of course) and have the same look, feel, and messaging as they do now.

It isn’t that the brand is bad.  It isn’t.  The score using FAINTS isn’t high, but it’s not working against the organization. It’s just… well… not good.  I worry that it is borderline forgettable given the lack of anything tangible to lock onto.  No imagery, no active metaphors, no tie-in to areas of expertise.

In the end it appears that Landor has delivered another traditional Landor identity.  Low risk.  Impersonal.  Respectable.  One of our peers in the industry calls ’em “Blandor” for this very reason.

For more analysis of the name check out these interesting articles by our peers.

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