What's in an Advertising Agency Name?

From Zaaz to Odopod to Squeaky Wheel, We Get the Back Story on Unusual Monikers

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"When we started Odopod we wanted to create a company with the ideas and resources to execute big and the metabolism and culture to behave small," said Founder and Creative Director Tim Barber. "So when it came to naming the company we combined two pieces that got at this big/small idea. Odo -- this was Godzilla's island, the island where he had been a legend for generations and where he first came ashore. We loved the bigness and total domination of Godzilla. And Pod [because] at the same time we liked that we were a compact team that grew ideas, like a pod -- the compact, protective enclosure of a seed. For the record, Steve Jobs stole our thunder a year later when the iPod launched."

"We wanted a name that wasn't an acronym or the founders' names," said Shane Atchison, founder and CEO of Zaaz. "So we came up with Zaaz, mainly because it was short, succinct, available. Also it's a palindrome. We define it as something new, because that's something we aspire to do every day. There's no secret meaning behind it, just a made up word."

"We wanted a short, Latin, memorable and, most of all, uncomfortable name," said Nicolas Pimentel of +Castro, the Buenos Aires shop he founded last year that is already working for Nike and Lay's potato chips. "The most important thing you have to do if you want to innovate is to be willing to leave the comfort zone constantly. What one thing can constantly remind you of this? The name of your own agency. In a capitalist world, everyone tends to relate the word "Castro" to Fidel. Such a controversial person is a bit uncomfortable."

Have an unusual agency name? Tells us your story in the comments below.

CEO Daniel Stein on EVB: "At the time we named the company, we were three guys working out of our houses. We knew we wanted a name that would connote the idea of a creative collective dedicated to innovation and forward-thinking ideas. We landed on Evolution Bureau. Within the first year we found that clients were having a hard time spelling the full name, so we shortened the URL to EVB. Luckily, it was available."

Madrid-based Shackleton was inspired by the exploits of intrepid polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. The name reflects the agency's "nonconformity and ability to face the problems and solutions in a different way," said Shackleton's president, Pablo Alzugaray.

Critical Mass
"In science, a 'critical mass' is defined as an amount necessary to achieve a significant effect," explained Critical Mass CEO Dianne Wilkins. "It's that perfect mix of ingredients needed to start a chain reaction. In terms of the brand, our Critical Mass is a unique mix of people, ideas and results -- it's the combination of these things coming together as a catalyst for extraordinary experiences. The name really expresses something that is at the core of what we do -- we have an unrelenting desire to create experiences that make an impact on our clients' brands, their businesses and their customers."

Said Rokkan CEO John Noe: "It's Japanese for the 'sixth sense.' Two of us are Korean and one is Chinese. We just liked the way it looked and sounded. ... And thought the meaning was relevant. ... As much as we try to be thoughtful about strategy and process, we ultimately just go with our gut on things."

Gigunda Group
Ryan FitzSimons started a company from his Dartmouth dorm room in 1994 called the College Kit because they compiled welcome gifts containing products from brands that wanted to reach the college market. By 2003 the company's offerings had evolved to include nontraditional marketing such as event production, experiential marketing and sampling programs that extended beyond the college demographic, so a new name was needed. He wanted a name that communicated big ideas and considered numerous options, including Hippo House. "I was going back and forth debating what name to pick when my sister reminded me that when we were kids, instead of referring to something as 'huge' or 'enormous,' we would describe it as gigunda!" said Mr. FitzSimons. "I knew right away that should be the name of my agency. "

Sra. Rushmore
"We believed 11 years ago that a feminine name with the image of a little old lady would represent the care and fondness with which we'd want to do things for our clients," said agency President Roberto Lara. "We chose Sra. [pronounced senhora] Rushmore because she was the character in the first interactive campaign done in Spain 15 years ago, for our Pepsi client. She was an actress named Dolores Goodman, who was in movies like "Grease," and we got in touch with her and bought the rights to her image (which is displayed on the agency's home page at srarushmore.com)."

"Adam [Wohl] and I were freelancing, we needed to be a vendor in order to get (at the time) a big job, the budget would only accommodate for a vendor, no freelance," said Darrell Whitelaw, co-founder of MIR. "I had an S Corp that i used in the past to sell t-shirts and other mildly creative endeavors, so we filled out some paperwork for a DBA and the next day had a real company. The difficult part was choosing the name. We had batted around a few options, and since at the time we did a lot of social stuff we liked the ring of MIR, it has a lot of meanings in Russian, but we loved the idea of the obshchina, a community where people were reliant on one another to survive. It really summed up our goal as an agency partner and the way we wanted to do business. Looking back, we definitely 'settled' on MIR, we needed a company name in under 12 hours and it's just stuck. The logo has changed, but the name is here to stay."

Squeaky Wheel Media
"The word 'no' is the impetus for the name Squeaky," said CEO and Founder Anthony Del Monte. "I always felt that I needed to be the one who made a little noise. Being the youngest of a family of five kids all born back-to-back, making noise was the only mechanism I had in order to not be left out. Also, growing up in Jersey City, N.J., during the early '70s 'no' was a constant chorus. 'Mom can I have a skateboard?' 'No.' 'Can I have second helping?' 'No.' 'Can I get sneakers?' 'No.' 'Do you love me?' 'Yes.' (Lots of yeses in my life also.) But, by summoning the courage to hear a no you also become heard. When it was time to name my agency I focused on three drivers. It had to make sense: 'Squeaky wheel gets the grease' -- making the right noise for our clients communication needs. It had to be personal: my background and the need to make noise to be recognized. And it had to be fun and memorable. As a side note, other names considered: Spork Media -- an homage to utility and the device I used while eating so many free lunches in the '70s (too weird) -- and Old Dog Productions -- a tribute to my experience (too novice)."

Andrea Stillacci, who launched Paris agency Herezie at last year's Cannes Lions festival, said: "We always liked the Heretics. Their courage. Their faith. Their fearless challenge to dogmas and orthodoxy." Mr. Stillacci said "heresy" is derived from a Greek word meaning "power to change," and that also appealed to him and his business partner, Luc Wise. "If you think about it, what other name could better fit the idea of launching an independent agency, in France, right in the middle of the financial crisis?" said Mr. Stillacci. (Cheil Worldwide holds a minority stake.)

"In 1999 we wanted a unique name that communicated a bit about our business. And we wanted to own the URL (ignitedusa.com). The idea was to create an agency that sparked interest in consumers who were increasing avoiding one-way, traditional advertising. If we 'sparked' or 'ignited' their minds, this would lead to the kind of interest and reaction we were seeking to deliver for our clients. The original names was Ignited Minds. About four years ago, we decided to shorten it, make it easier to pronounce for our receptionist. More memorable. But the meaning essentially remains the same."

CEO Alan J. Herrick on the Sapient part of merged agency SapientNitro: "After combing through the dictionary, our co-founders stumbled upon the word 'sapient,' which refers to human wisdom but which also has a technical connotation from sci-fi novels. It suited our philosophy that all business solutions ultimately are about people, and technology is simply an enabler. As our company has evolved, 'sapient' still captures the human and insightful approach we take to solving clients' business problems."

"Digitaria was named after a star (Sirius B)," Daniel Khabie said of the name Digitaria. "The story is that the Dogon tribe believed that it was the Digitaria star (Sirius B) that made another star (Sirius A) shine brighter when it revolved around it. After stumbling across this story (in the search for our agency's name), we felt that this story's message mirrored exactly what we wanted our company to portray -- keep our clients' business at the center of what we do and be the thing that helps them to 'shine brighter.' The other nice component that tied to the story (which was coincidental) is that (as a digital agency) the name Digitaria had the immediate association to our service offerings."

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Contributing: Rupal Parekh, Maureen Morrison

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