November 19th, 2013 by Jay | Topic:
Once again, Virgin demonstrates how to do branding. In this case, Virgin America transforms the boring airplane safety routine into a hip and funny song and dance number that actually makes you want to pay attention to the message being conveyed. There’s just enough sex, drugs, rock and roll and pure Freudian allusion to generate the creative friction to make this pop message truly pop.
Skeptical? Ask yourselves how many other safety routines have their own hashtag – #VXsafetydance — generating a whole bunch of social media buzz. Not since Laurie Anderson sang in 1982, “Good evening / This is your Captain / We are about to attempt a crash landing / Please extinguish all cigarettes / Place your tray tables in their upright, locked position,” has airplane safety crashed the culture like this.
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time.
NPR’s Michel Martin interviewed Pivot’s “docu-talk” host Meghan McCain recently. Here is a brief excerpt and you can read or listen to the complete interview as well as watch a clip of the program at Tell Me More.
Meghan McCain comes by her maverick credentials honestly. As the daughter of Arizona Sen. John McCain, she is no stranger to the political limelight. But that doesn’t mean she always agrees with her dad or Republican political orthodoxy.
It’s that unique perspective that is at the center of her new television show, Raising McCain. The newly launched Pivot network describes the program as a hybrid “docu-talk” show. Each episode features a different co-host and is filmed in a documentary style. But don’t expect crying on couches or gift baskets under the seat. She’s tackling topics like feminism; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; and young people in the military with an eye on her millennial target audience.
On her inspiration for Raising McCain
I’m such a child of the ’90s. I grew up watching MTV News and watching their “Choose or Lose” correspondents interview my dad. And I always thought they were such interesting, cool people. Tabitha Soren has had such a profound impact on my life. … I just wanted to do a talk show for young people that was discussing serious issues, but not doing it in a way that talks down to people that don’t have it all figured out.
On being an advocate for LGBT rights
You know I’ve never considered myself a journalist, ever. I’ve always considered myself a commentator. I mean I was born into a bias. … If someone wants to watch a more even opinion about coming out in America or gay rights, I’m not the girl for you. I have such a strong opinion. … What I’m always secretly trying to get is that young Republican kid in the middle of the country who is maybe struggling with how he feels about social issues and just knowing that there are other people out there that struggle with that.
On the government shutdown
The government shutdown right now — because we have this innate capability to compromise and work together — it makes me so sad. I don’t know when we’re going to this tipping point where hopefully things will come back around. But I was just talking to my father on the phone right before I came in here to do this interview and he’s saying that this is the worst time in Congress he’s ever seen in his entire career. I mean, what does that say?
On who is to blame for the current political climate
I blame cable news. I blame politicians as well. But at a certain point, I don’t understand some portion of the American public that supports radical personalities. I’ve never understood it. I always want to compromise, and I always want to find the other side of the opinion and see if I may be wrong. I’m open to my opinion being changed. I’m open to the idea that I could be wrong. And it’s just scary, crazy times that we’re living in. And Congress is a bunch of petulant children that can’t work together.
When naming, it is often tempting to create a very well-defined, buttoned-down and thorough brand positioning, rigidly specific down to the smallest detail. Such a positioning stance is often the outgrowth of a process in which competing client factions allow too many cooks into the kitchen and draft an overwhelming number of positioning “requirements” meant to satisfy each of those factions. This is a dangerous practice, as it often leads to the outcome of an empty set being created, as conflicting “rules” cancel each other out and leave a hollow space in which no possible name can exist, as in this example, exaggerated to make a point:
A sure way to spot when this demon rears its ugly head is if you find yourself or members of your team muttering, in reference to the search for the perfect name, “I’ll know it when I see it.” This is the kiss of death for a naming project, because it is highly likely that the impossible outcome of an empty set has been described, or the wrong filters are in place, or both. In such a situation, you could consider every word in the English language (Officially 1,013,913 as of January 1, 2012) as a potential name for your new company or product, plus another million invented or compound names, and still never “know it when you see it,” for the simple reason that no name can satisfy a brand positioning framework that defines an empty set. Such a situation is the cause of most aborted naming attempts.
To transcend the “empty set” conundrum the first thing you need to do is make sure you have no contradictions in the brand positioning. As the example above shows, no name can satisfy the requirements that it be an “invented abstraction with no prior meanings” and simultaneously “evoke our brand positioning, be memorable and help tell our unique story.” Another example of an empty set might be, “available for global trademark and exact match .com domain, be only one syllable, five letters max, easily understood and pronounceable in eastern as well as western languages, and yet be a common word that closely describes our brand position in our industry.” Time to order up a new dictionary, a new language, or a new parallel universe. So the first step toward recovery is to recognize that you have a problem, and make some changes in your approach.
Here are five steps to freeing yourself from the prison of an empty set brand positioning:
Resist the urge to box your brand into a corner. Create a cloud of positioning attributes and know your fundamental story, but don’t try to describe every little detail of the positioning and then expect to find a name that will align with all of them. You won’t.
Understand that while it’s true that a great name will map to and reinforce your brand positioning, such a name will also have the power to inform your brand positioning. It’s a two-way street: brand positioning leads to a name, but the perfect name also influences the brand positioning moving forward. For example, a very similar brand positioning could have led to the names Yahoo! and Excite, but the brand positioning that came after the names were chosen was necessarily very, very different; in the former, very powerful with great marketing legs for years to come; in the latter, well, a me-too derivative long since out of business.
Open your minds. Rather then merely describe your brand positioning with a descriptive or experiential name, like your competitors do, consider creating a highly-memorable evocative name that strongly differentiates your brand from your competition by demonstrating your brand positioning rather than explaining it. The key is to move beyond the literal and into the metaphorical. Think Amazon, Virgin, Twitter, Coach, Caterpillar, Yahoo!, Oracle, Apple. That’s not to say that great invented or experiential names aren’t out there, they’re just few and far between, so you have to work extra hard to identify them.
Evaluating names should be more like a Socratic dialog, not an exercise in democracy. Resist the urge to let everyone on your naming team, or your company, vote on the final name. Nobody’s first choice will survive. The “winning” name will be the one that is most people’s third choice, the one nobody loves but everyone can “live with.” Great brands are not created from such a shrug of the shoulders. A vigorous debate is not only beneficial, it is often a requirement for creating a powerful name. And if half the team loves a name and half the team hates it, you’re in a much better place than if you have immediate consensus one way or the other. When you adopt an amazing name, no matter how contentious the process may have been that got you there, the naysayers will eventually come around and embrace it–they always do. It just takes some people longer to understand the power of a truly different and memorable name that might at first be uncomfortable for them.
Informed outside council can be beneficial, while uninformed outside opinion can be damaging. In other words, if you are truly stuck in your naming process, you will likely benefit by hiring a naming agency (shameless plug here) to come in with a fresh perspective and get everyone on the team to see name development and brand positioning in a new light. The flip side is taking a short list of names to a focus group or other uninformed outside agent to solicit their opinions about the names. Doing so will almost certainly guarantee that the most unique and powerful names will be killed off, and the weakest, most typical or conformist names will be celebrated. This is especially damning, of course, when you are attempting to position your brand as bold, adventurous, and fiercely independent, as it will lead you to a name that betrays all those fine aspirations.
During your naming project, as you generate –> iterate –> regenerate –> and reiterate the name development process, keep the above points in mind and continue to make sure at every step of the way that you have not defined an empty set. Because if you have, you’ll never find the perfect name, since you wouldn’t know it if you saw it.
Brand Mascots 100
No.98: Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Skunk
A wonderful account of the origins of the ‘mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest’ called the Skunk Works courtesy of Lockheed Martin:
It was the wartime year of 1943 when Kelly Johnson brought together a hand-picked team of Lockheed Aircraft Corporation engineers and manufacturing people to rapidly and secretly complete the XP-80 project. Because the war effort was in full swing there was no space available at the Lockheed facility for Johnson’s effort. Consequently, Johnson’s organization operated out of a rented circus tent next to a manufacturing plant that produced a strong odor, which permeated the tent.
Each member of Johnson’s team was cautioned that design and production of the new XP-80 must be carried out in strict secrecy. No one was to discuss the project outside the small organization, and team members were even warned to be careful how they answered the phones.
A team engineer named Irv Culver was a fan of Al Capp’s newspaper comic strip, “Li’l Abner,” in which there was a running joke about a mysterious and malodorous place deep in the forest called the “Skonk Works.” There, a strong beverage was brewed from skunks, old shoes and other strange ingredients.
One day, Culver’s phone rang and he answered it by saying “Skonk Works, inside man Culver speaking.” Fellow employees quickly adopted the name for their mysterious division of Lockheed. “Skonk Works” became “Skunk Works.” The once informal nickname is now the registered trademark of the company: Skunk Works.
Created by ad exec Leo Burnett, Tony began his career in 1952, sharing package labels with Katy the Kangaroo on a new product, Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes of Corn. (Other contestants for representatives were Elmo the Elephant and Newt the Gnu.) Tony proved to be more popular than Katy, so she was retired after the first year.
In 1953, Kellogg’s advertising agency further developed Tony with a four color spread in the August issue of Life magazine. His career since would be the envy of any human star. Various animation studios draw Tony, with the majority of the work being handled by Hanna-Barbera.
The voice of Tony
Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft was an American voice actor and singer best known as the deep voice behind Tony the Tiger’s “They’re grrreat!” in Frosted Flakes television commercials for more than five decades. Ravenscroft was also known, however uncredited, as the vocalist for the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the classic Christmas television special, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! His voice acting career began in 1940 and lasted until his death in 2005 at age 91. (Source: Wikipedia; Thurl Ravenscroft.)
A clip of Tony jamming on the Monkeys TV program in which Kellogg’s was a sponsor.
The Brand Identity 100
No.99: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Here is an excerpt from the official history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration “Meatball” logo on the NASA History Program Office website.
Bringing back memories of NASA’s early successes, this logo dates back to 1959, when the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) metamorphosed into an agency that would advance both space and aeronautics: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). After a NASA Lewis Research Center illustrator’s design was chosen for the new agency’s official seal, the head of Lewis’ Research Reports Division, James Modarelli, was asked by the executive secretary of NACA to design a logo that could be used for less formal purposes. Mr. Modarelli simplified the seal, leaving only the white stars and orbital path on a round field of blue with a red airfoil. Then he added white N-A-S-A lettering.
In the “meatball” design, the sphere represents a planet, the stars represent space, the red chevron is a wing representing aeronautics (the latest design in hypersonic wings at the time the logo was developed), and then there is an orbiting spacecraft going around the wing.
Known officially as the insignia, NASA’s round logo was not called the “meatball” until 1975, when NASA decided a more modern logo was in order and switched to the “worm”–a red, stylized rendering of the letters N-A-S-A.
The use of “meatball” for “any combination of raw or cooked meat shaped into balls” dates back much farther, at least to 1838 (the Oxford English Dictionary’s oldest citation). An 1877 recipe used mutton and veal necks, but variously seasoned meatballs had been known by other names in other cultures. There were spicy Greek keftedes containing minced veal, onions, herbs, and breadcrumbs; olde English pome-dorries (dating back to at least A.D. 1381) made of beef and egg yolks or pork liver and flour; and the much loved Italian and Swedish meatballs (whose ethnic names I could not find in time for this article). “Meatball” has also been used for a dull, unattractive person and for a penant for battle efficiency or an athletic scholarship.
The use of “meatball” in aeronautics also predates NASA’s round insignia, but not by much. In 1957, the U.S. Navy referred to a “meatball of light” in its procedure for landing aircraft on aircraft carriers: “The mirror reflects a bright light astern and upward into a beam which the pilot follows straight to a landing by keeping the “meatball” of light precisely centred in the mirror.”1 This eventually became known as the meatball landing system.
In 1992, Administrator Dan Goldin brought NASA’s meatball back from retirement to invoke memories of the one-giant-leap-for-mankind glory days of Apollo and to show that “the magic is back at NASA.” Lewis’ hangar and publications now reflect this change. But nostalgia has its price.
When the “meatball” was designed in 1959, printing was a completely photographic process. Photocopiers were just beginning to be available, and their quality was too poor for printing; no one was even dreaming of digital printing.
“It’s a design nightmare,” sighs Greg Patt, Graphics Manager for Lewis’ Publishing Services contractor, Cortez III. “It doesn’t print well on laser printers because of the gradations on the airfoil, and it can’t be used at less than 5/8 inch because the stars disappear and the type becomes illegible.”
Brand Mascots 100
No.100: United States Forest Service’s Smokey Bear
Smokey Bear often called Smokey the Bear or simply Smokey is a mascot of the United States Forest Service created to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. Smokey’s debut poster was released on August 9, 1944, which is considered his anniversary date. Overseen by the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, the first poster was illustrated by Albert Staehle. In it Smokey was depicted wearing jeans and a campaign hat, pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath reads, “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” Knickerbocker Bears gained the license to produce Smokey bear dolls in 1944. Also in 1944, Forest Service worker Rudy Wendelin became the full-time campaign artist; he was considered Smokey Bear’s “caretaker” until he retired in 1973. (source: Wikipedia: Smokey Bear)
For a better understanding of the naming process and Zinzin’s philosophy, in a portable, printer-friendly form, download our free Naming & Branding Manifesto and Guide PDFs. Available on our Downloads page.
For almost one hundred years the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, better known as the New Haven Railroad, was the primary means of passenger and freight transportation in southern New England. Chartered in 1872, this merger between the New York & New Haven and Hartford & New Haven railroads later included the long desired rail link between Boston and New York. Approximately one hundred small independent railroads were built in southern New England between 1826 and the 1880s. By 1904, the majority were absorbed into the vast New Haven system. At its peak in 1929, the New Haven Railroad owned and operated 2,131 miles of track throughout eastern New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.
June 29th, 2012 by Jay | Topic:
These photos say a lot about the value of keeping your brand messages simple and direct. Yes, this isn’t a perfect product comparison–a better image for the Apple presentation would be for iOS rather than iPhone. The point, however, remains valid–compare the product messaging language shown in each of these slides, by Research In Motion and Apple, respectively:
BlackBerry® WebWorks™ & bbUI.js
Note how RIM, like many companies, feels compelled to slap ®’s and ™’s on on everything, to brand every component, create a breadcrumb of cascading sub-brands, and end with the convoluted gobbledegook of “bbUI.js.” Yes, I know this is for developers, but still, the message gets out to the world that this is a techy, geeky, cold, inhuman environment–not the best message when your products are being killed by the simplicity of Apple. And when creating a long string of nonsense like this, it’s no wonder that typographical mistakes intrude, such as the ampersand that is superscripted like the ™ it follows. Who really wants to proofread lines like this, let alone read them?
Am I harping on minor details? Perhaps. But my point is that details matter. I’m not claiming that overzealous trademark tagging or botched ampersand sizing is why RIM is laying off workers and delaying phones. But it IS indicative of the kinds of decisions companies make every day that often lead, in total, to a march toward irrelevancy. Look at Apple’s slide by comparison: just the phone’s name, no nonsense, no need to ® and ™ it for this event. This clean message is indicative of Apple’s approach to keeping everything they do as clean and simple as possible. Details matter, because they are the manifestations of what’s going on at deeper levels.
Amtrak “renominalization” — i.e. renaming — by Harry Shearer
The great Harry Shearer gives us a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a hypothetical Amtrak renaming / rebranding project, from his KCRW radio show, Le Show. It’s probably ten years old by now, but it’s a classic. If you’ve ever been involved in naming or branding, from the agency side or the client side, you might experience a little Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome shock of recognition when you hear this. Enjoy (or weep).
Top: John Stezaker, Pair IV. Collage, 2007. Whitechapel Gallery, London. Bottom: John Baldessari, Man and Woman with Bridge, 1984. Black-and-white photograph on board.
I really care about meaning in art. I want things to look simple, but to raise issues, and to have more than one level of comprehension. John Baldessari
Our lives are inundated with images, and arranging and re-arranging them is often how we tell stories, convey meaning, or throw wrenches into the works of literal interpretation. Advertising creates image juxtapositions to communicate the messages of commerce: “you want this,” or “buy now.” In either case, the story, no matter how inventive, always has a rational, understandable outcome: a product is being peddled, it’s a great product, and you should buy it. Art, on the other hand, creates an open-ended type of non-linear narrative whose meaning is unique to the viewer / perceiver, rather than dictated by the producer (artist). The most powerful brand names function in the same way that art does: they have great depth and multiple meanings, creating manifold pathways for audience participation, which fosters emotional investment and attachment in the brand. By giving people the power to create their own narratives to explain the “meaning” of a brand name, they become participants in the creation of the brand, the very definition of brand engagement.
The works above, by the British conceptual artist John Stezaker and the American conceptual artist John Baldessari, deftly illustrate this concept of creating user engagement. In similar ways, and with a similar economy of means, they each set up a narrative event between a man and a woman, and it is up to the viewer to complete the story. There is no “right” answer. The story isn’t fixed, predetermined, or laden with ulterior motives. And it can evolve and morph over time — just like the best brands.
(NOTE: If you are on an iPad or other non-Flash browser, and you just have whitespace above where a video should be, go to this page to watch the video.)
It Takes a Great Name to Launch a Successful Startup. So says Mashable, and they are absolutely right. They have posted a video of the latest episode in their TechStars series that highlights the value of having a great name. The video begins with the declaration, “A great product is nothing without a great name,” and here is the teaser on the web page: “A good product and a solid, engaging pitch is what will sell your company to customers, but a good name can get you in the door. If potential customers don’t feel inspired by its brand, a startup may lose that business before it gets a chance to sell.”
Great advice. The key word here is inspired. And while the three startups featured in this episode did at least improve their names, the results do not quite live up to the goal of being inspiring. Let’s take a closer look.
The first company featured in this clip, Urban Apt (“Urban Apartment”), was trapped by a generic name that was not only forgettable, but limited the service to “urban” and “apartments.” They changed their name to nest.io (that’s “Nestio”), adopting the “nest” metaphor that is, unfortunately, overused among businesses and products related to house and home — “Nestio is the easiest way to organize your home hunt” — such as the Nest thermostat (at nest.com), The Nest magazine, Nest interiors of San Francisco and, well, you get the idea. It’s a pretty crowded nest. Nest.io also suffers from the faddish construction of building your name around an alternate top level domain (TLD), in this case .io (del.icio.us being the most egregious example of this trend). However, the new name is an improvement over the anemic Urban Apt, so power to ‘em.
Next up is a company named Wiji, a name all the show’s mentors dumped on. So the company changed it to Immersive Labs. Again, not the most exciting name, but certainly better, and it does at least map well to what they are doing: “developing anonymous face detection technology designed to create amazing experiences, deliver targeted content and analyze the effectiveness of media assets,” i.e. immersive experiences. I think. It is a restrained, buttoned-down name that doesn’t try to hard, which probably works fine for a B2B company, which this is.
The last startup featured in this episode is a company formerly known as SocratED, the worst “before” name of the bunch. Asked to explain this name, TechStars co-founder David Tisch said, quite succinctly, “‘Socratic’ plus ‘Education’ equals ‘crap name.’” In the video, company CEO Lee Hoffman says, “Seeing as nobody was able to pronounce our old name, SocratED, we thought it might be a good idea to move to a much shorter, 4-letter domain that actually meant something. So we did, and we are now using Veri.com.” That’s just dandy, if you happen to have a 4-letter domain sitting around, or the will and funding to purchase one.
Once again, Veri isn’t the most inspiring brand name. An altered-spelling (another faddish trend) of “very,” which itself is pretty generic. It also fails to tell a compelling (inspiring) story or support any specific brand positioning; but then again, it’s hard to figure out from the website exactly what it is they are doing — something to do with self-education and tagging of content, but I don’t get any sense of Why they exist. The TechStars mentors/judges, however, were beside themselves that this company had scored a 4-letter domain name, and a conversation about this sprang up among the three mentors, TechStars co-founders David Cohen and David Tisch, and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, the VC firm:
David Cohen: That’s a good name, right? “Veri,” sort of “truth”?
Fred Wilson: Oh it’s excellent. They got that domain?
David Cohen: Yep.
Fred Wilson: “4-letter domains? Impossible, you can’t get a 4-letter domain.
David Cohen: “Where’d they get the money for that?” is the first question I ask.
David Tisch: “Well here’s the crazy thing. Lee has owned that domain for the past six years.
Fred Wilson: Well there you go. That’s awesome! They’re the team of the week just for that alone. That’s going from the outhouse to the penthouse.
That’s what happens when the bar is set low (must be better than SocratED), and a short, exact-match .com domain name is required. Even so, creating an amazing name is not impossible: look no further than the new name we created in the education space for Coursekit: Lore, also four letters, and for which the company was able to buy Lore.com. It just takes hard work is all, and a vision. Oh, and the budget to buy the domain.
Here is an interesting story from yesterday’s Marketplace broadcast. It outlines how, “brands are trying to squeeze into every crevice of our sonic lives,” with companies embedding audio logos in everything from refrigerators to washers. Nothing new right? “Why scare shoppers, when you can soothe them.” The following is a snippet from the introduction to this story:
“Kai Ryssdal: You talk to a marketing professional about how to sell more or how to build consumer confidence in whatever it is that you sell and they’ll say at some point in the conversation — brand, man. You gotta build your brand. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But branding is becoming more than just what you see or read. It’s also what you hear. Audio branding’s not new — think of the NBC chimes or the tones computers make when they boot up. But companies have started to really invest in creating sonic affinity for their products. From New York, Marketplace’s Sally Herships has the story.”
One of the propagators of this sort of jingly audio virus, Martyn Ware, founder and keyboardist of “80s superpower” The Human League, is interviewed in this story. Ware is the founder of an “audio branding” company called Sonic ID. Here is Mr. Ware describing a “soundscape” he created for an Atlantic City diamond store, Hearts On Fire: “So it’s twinkling, and sighing, and beautiful, slow-changing chord sequences that make you want to dwell longer, feel more magical and hopefully buy more diamonds.” Listen to the clip above, and see if you “feel more magical.”
In The Human League, Ware had a volatile relationship with vocalist and songwriter Philip Oakey. According to Wikipedia, “Ware insisted the band maintain their pure electronic sound while Oakey wanted to emulate more successful pop groups. The pair clashed continually, with Ware eventually walking out.” Apparently, in his new role creating branded “soundscapes” (what used to be called “Muzak”), Ware has found a way to make a business out of “pure electronic sound.”