Topic: Branding

Vanished Brands: Orange Whip

Robert Frank -- Drugstore, Detroit -- 1955

Robert Frank, ‘Drugstore, Detroit,’ from The Americans, 1955.

For no rational reason, I stumbled upon this particular Robert Frank photograph from his famous 1955 book, The Americans. Ordinary Americans drinking soda at a Detroit drugstore soda fountain in the mid-1950s. But I was struck by the incredible display of advertising overkill going on for a drink called “Orange Whip” — only ten cents a glass! The air is thick with Orange Whip signs, and the man in the foreground seems to be enjoying a glass of this marvelous elixir.

Wikipedia provides an succinct overview of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of Orange Whip:

An Orange Whip is a sweet cocktail, made with rum and vodka, containing the base alcohols mixed with cream and orange juice. It is typically blended to a froth like a milkshake, and poured over ice in a Collins glass.

“Orange Whip” has also been used as brand name for non-alcoholic drinks. In the 1950s, the Tropical Fruit Company marketed an “Orange Whip” concentrate to be served as a fountain beverage. Jeanne Carmen, an actress and pinup model from that period, was once dubbed “Miss Orange Whip”. The US Patent and Trademark Office lists various applications for the “Orange Whip” trademark to be applied to drinks and a chain of juice stores.

Jeanne Carmen (1930-2007) was known as the “Queen of the B-movies” back in the day. Here’s a picture of her, ostensibly in her official capacity as “Miss Orange Whip”:

Jeanne Carmen - Miss Orange Whip

Apparently Miss Carmen was also a virtuoso foot pianist. Who knew?

The non-alcoholic version of Orange Whip enjoyed one last hurrah in the Blues Brothers  movie of 1980. Again, I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:

The drink had a resurgence after the release of The Blues Brothers. In that movie, John Candy’s character, Jake’s parole officer, attends the film’s pivotal fund-raising concert in order to arrest the performing band, but decides he wants to see them perform first and orders drinks for himself and the uniformed state troopers he is with, saying: “Who wants an orange whip? Orange whip? Orange whip? Three orange whips!”

The drink was not in the original script. The costumer on the film, Sue Dugan, is the daughter of the late Kenny Dugan, Director of Sales for the Orange Whip Corporation. Mr. Dugan had been providing refreshments for the cast and asked if “Orange Whip” (the non-alcoholic beverage product) could be mentioned in the film. John Landis, the director, mentioned this to Candy, who improvised the exchange.

Here’s the “Orange Whip” clip from The Blues Brothers movie:

Sadly for fans of the soft drink, that particular Orange Whip is no more. But now you can groove to “a bounty of booty-shakin’ bliss” by the Minnesota cover band Orange Whip — who may or may not have recorded at Orange Whip Recording — while working out with your Orange Whip golf swing trainer. Another example of namevolution, I suppose, with new Orange Whips taking the place of the vanished Orange Whip soft drink brand that was.

See also:

Brand Mascots 100: Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean (AKA Don Limpio, Meister Proper, Monsieur Net)


Brand Mascots 100
No.97: Procter & Gamble’s Mr. Clean (AKA Don Limpio, Maestro Limpio, Monsieur Net)

CREATORS: Harry Barnhart (concept), Ernie Allen (art direction)
AGENCY: Tatham-Laird & Kudner, Chicago
CORPORATE OVERSEER: Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati
AD SPEAK / SPIEL: “Mr. Clean leaves a sheen where you clean”
TAGLINE: “When it comes to clean, there’s only one Mr.”

A Cleaning Solution: “Mr. Clean was created by Linwood Burton, a marine ship cleaning businessman with accounts throughout the east coast of the United States. In the past, ships had to be cleaned using abrasives or solvents that were able to cut successfully through embedded grease and grime; however, past solvents were so dangerous to workers that Burton was motivated to finding a solution that was effective and less caustic. Burton, with fundamental knowledge in chemistry, developed Mr. Clean in an effort to clean ships without having to pay significant premiums in disability claims for his workers. He later sold the product to Procter & Gamble in 1958.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)

Birth Of A Mascot: “The product’s mascot is the character Mr. Clean. In 1957, Harry Barnhart conceived the idea and Ernie Allen in the art department at the advertising agency Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago, Illinois, drew Mr. Clean as a muscular, tanned, bald man who cleans things very well.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)

Cultural Precursor: It would appear that Mr.Barnhart and Mr. Allen’s 1957 conception of a “muscular, tanned, bald man” standing arms akimbo might have been influenced by Yul Brynner’s character of The King from Rodgers and Hammerstein 1951 production of The King and I, which was based on the 1944 novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon. Which was in turn derived from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of the actual fourth monarch of Siam, King Mongkut — AKA Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua — in the early 1860s.

Make A Wish: “According to Procter & Gamble, the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida, although some people may think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to appear magically at the appropriate time. Hal Mason, the head animator at Cascade Pictures in Hollywood, California modified the existing artwork in print advertising to be more readily used for the television commercials written, produced, and directed by Thomas Scott Cadden. The first actor to portray Mr. Clean in live action television commercials was House Peters, Jr.” (SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)

Just One Word–Plastics: The Graduate by Charles Webb was published in 1963. That summer Mr. Clean became the first liquid household cleaner sold in a plastic bottle. Coincidence? Or conspiracy Hmm…

Obligatory Apocalypse Now Reference: Larry Fishburne was cast at age 14 to play Tyrone “Clean” Miller in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now alongside Albert Hall, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest, Harrison Ford, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Sam Bottoms and a very Mr. Clean looking Marlon Brando.

International Aliases: Bulgaria: Mister Proper; France: Monsieur Propre; French Canada: Monsieur Net; Germany: Meister Proper; Holland: Meneer Proper; Italy: Mastro Lindo; Mexico: Maestro Limpio; Poland: Pan Proper; and Spain: Don Limpio.

Jingle: Original lyrics by Thomas Scott Cadden
Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime
And grease in just a minute
Mr. Clean will clean your whole house
And everything that’s in it
(SOURCE: Wikipedia-Mr.Clean)

From left to right, top to bottom: King Mongkut; Yul Brynner as The King; a young Mr. Clean; Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz; the current Mr. Clean logo; Larry Fishburne as Morpheus from the Matrix.

From left to right, top to bottom: King Mongkut of Siam; Yul Brynner as The King from The King And I; a young Mr. Clean; Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now; the current Mr. Clean logo; Larry Fishburne as Morpheus from The Matrix.

More Brand Mascots 100:

5 Reasons A Name May Be Killing Your Brand

If your brand isn’t reaching the potential you think it should, perhaps it’s time for a brand audit. Specifically, take a long, hard look at the name of your brand, and see if it might be suffering from one or more of these fatal flaws:

  1. Your brand has a boring, generic, descriptive name. This is causing it to blend in with a crowded field of weakly-named competitor brands. If you want people to notice, pay attention to and care about your brand, you must not act out of fear. Be bold and unafraid, not ruled by FOSO — Fear Of Standing Out.
  2. Your brand name is an invented mash-up with no meaning. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the semantic meaning of individual morphemes translates into real-world brand engagement. It doesn’t. Such names may technically (linguistically) have “meaning,” but, like snowflakes in a blizzard, they are not meaningful.
  3. You brand name came from a visit to the thesaurus. Nearly all companies who move beyond the boring, descriptive name and the incomprehensible mash-up go this route, so it’s another excellent way to get lost in the crowd. Get over the idea that finding the right experiential synonym for “advanced,” “intelligent” or “powerful” in a thesaurus will lead to the perfect name. It won’t, because those names have already been done to death. Ditch the thesaurus and go deep instead – a poetic metaphor that maps to your brand positioning will transform your brand identity from a liability to a powerful business asset. Let you competitors adopt boringly “appropriate” names from a thesaurus — they’ll be doing you a great favor.
  4. Your brand is shrouded in vacant, overused words like “solutions.” A quick web search will confirm that you can find a solution for nearly every problem, except perhaps for the problem of having too many “solutions.” Other empty vessels include “network,” “business,” “business solutions,” “leading provider” (“leading” anything, for that matter), or the ultimate, “a leading provider of business solutions.” Search that last phrase in Google, in quotes, and you will see that millions of results are found. Don’t toss your beautiful needle into that haystack.
  5. Your brand name is different only for the sake of being different or extreme in any way just for the sake of being extreme. The most powerful names are those that best support their brand’s positioning, no matter what, and depending on the circumstances, a name might be “extreme” or it might not. If your name is trying too hard to be different just in order to stand out, it won’t — it will blend in with all the other names that are also trying too hard, and failing, to stand out. This is a mistake frequently made by technology startups.

The most important thing is that you should never “settle” for a mediocre name for your brand, when a great name can be such a powerful force for business success. Find a lot more tips in our Naming & Branding Manifesto, or download our free Naming Guide, which includes the Manifesto and much more.

A “Generic Brand Video” that tells the truth about the worst in branding and advertising

This brilliant parody of a blandly generic corporate brand video began life as a poem by Kendra Eash in McSweeneys, This Is A Generic Brand Video. When the folks at the video stock company Dissolve saw the poem, they knew exactly what to do:

The minute we saw Kendra Eash’s brilliant “This Is a Generic Brand Video” on McSweeney’s, we knew it was our moral imperative to make that generic brand video so. No surprise, we had all the footage. (Dissolve: This Is a Generic Brand Video)

Indeed they did. The video is a sarcastic, satirical parody, but it is dead on in tone and the blank vacuity of its “message.” It perfectly illustrates the kind of empty, employee-break-room-inspirational-poster “positivity” that all too may companies aim for in their advertising, their messaging (think “leading provider of business solutions“) and, ultimately, in the names they choose for their company and products. It is thus a very effective cautionary example of what not to do.

Fast Company posted a nice article about this video (This Generic Brand Video Is The Greatest Thing About The Absolute Worst In Advertising), which also includes four real corporate brand videos from the likes of Acura, Mazda, Suncor and Cisco for comparison. The Suncor video is so “good” — in that it’s so tonally similar to the Dissolve/Eash video that it too seems like a parody — I’m compelled to include it here:

Where does this all lead? Hopefully not to the dark place that is the near future depicted in the great Alfonso Cuarón film Children of Men. Here is a compilation of clips from the movie that show some of the products that get their own “Generic Brand Video” treatments, such as Bliss, a happy pill, and Quietus, the legal suicide pill for when your depression is just too great to bear any longer:

The word quietus means an end to something unpleasant, such as tinnitus or a horrible life in a dystopian future, and is also a euphemism for death. It is the perfect smugly pseudo-comforting name for a suicide pill in a dystopian society, but what’s shocking is that it has shown up in a late-night infomercial as an apparently real “homeopathic medication” — Quietus — to combat tinnitus, or extreme ringing, buzzing or roaring in the ears:

This disturbing video is an unwittingly perfect commentary on the ubiquitous, persistent noise created by most brand messaging in our culture. Perhaps a little Quietus for the ear will help tune out such blandly “inspiring” advertising before the other Quietus becomes a pressing need.

Listen to the best naming project parody ever: Amtrak renaming project, by Harry Shearer

The Brand Identity 100: Japan Airlines (JAL)

Japan Airlines logo

The Brand Identity 100

No.98: Japan Airlines

In 1989 after Japan Airlines and Japan Air System merged, Landor Associates was hired to rebrand the airline. Landor’s efforts resulted in “grounding” the airline’s majestic red-crown crane livery, above, called tsurumaru (鶴丸) or “crane circle,” in favor of a drab-on-drab all-type treatment with decorative red box and complimentary gray rectangle. This visual travesty somehow managed to elude the brand authorities for nearly thirteen years. I know, I cringed every time I witnessed a JAL flight climbing out of SFO during this period; yes indeed, if getting stuck on the 101 freeway could be any worse, Landor’s design somehow managed to make it utterly unbearable. So when in 2002 JAL announced another rebranding campaign, you can imagine how excited I was; but that renewed sense of of hope quickly turned to horror when Landor was tasked — again — for the redesign. Needless to say, the ensuing nouveau drab-on-drab sans-serif all-type treatment with action swoosh de jour was no improvement.

Thankfully in January, 2011, following its corporate restructuring, Japan Airlines returned to the classic tsurumaru logo:

The Tsurumaru JAL logo was created in 1958 by Jerry Huff, the creative director at Botsford, Constantine and Gardner of San Francisco, which had been the advertising agency for Japan Airlines from its earliest days. JAL had used several logos up until 1958. When the airline arranged to buy new DC8, they decided to create a new official logo to announce the inauguration of their jet service world wide.

In the creation of the logo, Huff was inspired by the personal crests of Samurai families. In a book he’d been given, We Japanese, he found pages of crests, including the crane. On his choice of the crane, he writes: “I had faith that it was the perfect symbol for Japan Air Lines. I found that the Crane myth was all positive—it mates for life (loyalty), and flies high for miles without tiring (strength.)” (Wikipedia: Japan Airlines)

This harkens back to a bygone era in which a creative director could “have faith” that he had created the perfect design, without relying on market research, focus groups and quant maps to bleed the soul out of a design.

Virgin America Safety Video #VXsafetydance

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.

‘Raising McCain’: Not Your Mother’s Talk Show


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.

More: Read our Pivot Case Study.

A “lyrical flowchart” of Hey Jude by The Beatles

Smart branding from Lucid Software, a company that makes the Lucidchart charting software. (Just don’t tell The Beatles.)

Five steps to avoid defining an empty set in your brand positioning

Venn diagram - those who get it - those who do not get it

Image: Dave Walker, The Cartoon Blog.

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:

Venn diagram - empty set brand positioning

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Cautionary tale: Krafting a failed name: Mondelez, or how not to do corporate rebranding.

Brand Mascots 100: Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Skunk


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.

Brand Mascots 100: Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Cereal’s Tony the Tiger


Brand Mascots 100
No.99: Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Cereal’s Tony the Tiger.

A brief history of Tony (via Tony the Tiger)

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.)

Resources: Video

A clip of Tony jamming on the Monkeys TV program in which Kellogg’s was a sponsor.

The Brand Identity 100: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Logo

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: United States Forest Service’s Smokey Bear

United States Forest Service's Smokey Bear

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)

Resources / Video / Film
History of Smokey Bear from National Archives and Records Administration.

Naming a company, product or service? Get Zinzin’s free Naming & Branding Manifesto & Guide

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The Brand Identity 100: The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad

New York_New Haven_Hartford_Logo

The Brand Identity 100
No.100: The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad

Here is a brief history of the The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

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.

Today’s talk: authentic brand stories and names

I’ll be giving a talk at 1:00 pm today, “Get Real: Creating Authentic Brand Stories and Names,” at the Where’s the Money — Access to Capital Business Expo in San Francisco 2012. Stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.

Keep it real. Keep it simple. Keep it real simple.

BlackBerry vs iPhone presentations

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
  • iPhone 4S

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 renaming project, by Harry Shearer

All aboard the renominalization train

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).

Face off: John Stezaker and John Baldessari show how to create audience engagement

John Stezaker - Pair IV

John Baldessari - Man and Woman with Bridge

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.

(Hat tip to Melanie Seyer for connecting the Baldessari to the Stezaker, on her blog melsbox: Stezaker, Baldessari & Hyperreality.)

TechStars: It Takes a Great Name to Launch a Successful Startup

(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 (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, The Nest magazine, Nest interiors of San Francisco and, well, you get the idea. It’s a pretty crowded nest. also suffers from the faddish construction of building your name around an alternate top level domain (TLD), in this case .io ( 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” 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 It just takes hard work is all, and a vision. Oh, and the budget to buy the domain.