Too Many Have Forgotten How to Play the Name Game

For Brands (and Agencies), the Moniker Does Matter

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Let's see, what to call it? How about: The Great Naming Crisis of 2007?

OK, so it's a bit obvious and a touch melodramatic, but I'm trying to make a point. Agencies, marketers and media companies pay little heed to names anymore. Worse, many show a palpable lack of respect for the value of this key brand-building block.

This week, Publicis' shops Starcom, Leo Burnett and Digitas announced they were collaborating on a new agency that will go by the name ... Insight Factory. Sounds sort of familiar? Maybe you live in the U.K., where there's a company called The Insight Factory. Or maybe you're getting it confused with The Idea Factory in Pollock Pines, Calif., or maybe you're thinking of The Idea Factory from Singapore, which also has an office in San Francisco, Calif.. And then there's Idea City, GSD&M's new venture, which is not to be confused with Idea City (a Canadian conference) or The Idea Conference, an Ad Age event that took place last Thursday.

Nor is this just about agencies. Let's do a quick tech tour. You probably know your iPod from your iPhone, but what about your IPartee from your Ipicit, your Iqzone from your iReader and your iRows and Isolatr from your iStorage and iTaggit? And that's to say nothing of all those people who decided that Google and Yahoo's success was owing to those circular vowels. Yes that's you, Voodoovox, BooBox, Boompa, Boonex, Jooce, Joost, Oodle, Ookles, Ooma, Orgoo, OoVoo and Yoono.

In branding names are important -- maybe not as much as what a brand does, but they do matter. The great brands have names that mean something, stand out from the crowd, names that are sufficiently sturdy and original that a brand can be built on them.

Of course it might seem old-fashioned to go for a name based on the founder, founder's daughter or town of origin. And McDonald's, Adidas, Wendy's, Mercedes, Ikea, Nokia and Crispin Porter & Bogusky are all taken, anyway. The whole abbreviation kick is kind of passé too. Who wants to be IBM, GE, BBC, AT&T, BP or TBWA today? (Did Euro RSCG MVBMS steal all the letters or something?)

Even if those are yesterday's naming conventions, surely there's still a place for the original and evocative name, one that speaks to a company's central premise and brand attitude. It worked for Amazon, Target, Starbucks, JetBlue, Mini and Virgin, didn't it?

So why have we got to this point? Interbrand and Futurebrand didn't want to comment, but Dean Crutchfield, VP-director of marketing at Wolff-Olins, had the cajones to talk me through it. "The best names communicate who, what, why or an attitude. They're critical, a cornerstone of a brand. ... The agencies you're talking about here do great work and I respect them, but using 'factory' is an odd choice. It sounds like something mass-produced, something ... commoditized. I might have suggested clinic or surgery. As to the [tech agencies] ... they're just becoming a big blancmange."

Why? "Partly because it's never been so difficult. You name a name and someone already owns it; you almost have to make something up," added Crutchfield. "It's also because people don't want to pay much anymore. ... The days of $2 million fees for naming are gone. And everyone wants their name in eight weeks or less; no one wants to spend too long."

Crutchfield is biased, given his company would certainly love to see people spend more time and money on the process, but his sentiments were echoed by dozens and dozens of people I polled. Variants of "it's embarrassing -- they've got no imagination, so why would you hire them?" were common.

Me, I'm off to change my name to make sure it still cuts it in this digital age: Joonah Bloom has a certain ring to it, don't you think?
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