Wordy Wednesday: naming
What have cute little meerkats and a portly and rather annoying Welsh opera singer got to do with naming choices?
They’ve become stars because Compare the Market and Go Compare chose generic names, making it difficult for the public to distinguish one from the other, or from the dozen or so other price comparison websites out there.
As a result, clever ad agencies had to come up with ‘sticky’ brand assets that would make the companies stand out, and the companies themselves were required to spend millions on TV, billboard, radio and press ads to establish the link with their brands.
So, if you can’t get to sleep at night because tenor Wynne Evans is in your head singing ‘Go compare, go compare. When in doubt, check it out. Go compare’, while twirling his moustaches, or you find yourself blurting out ‘Simples’ in a Sergei-like accent at all sorts of inappropriate junctures, BLAME THE NAME.
I started thinking about all this last night, when an entrepreneurial friend dropped by to talk about his soon-to-be-launched food delivery service, and mentioned in passing that ‘the important thing is not to call it what it is‘. Intrigued, I asked him why not, and he said ‘Because if you try to call something what it is, you end up sounding exactly like every other bugger.’
He backed up his reasoning by reeling off a list of about a dozen interchangeable internet book site names from a decade ago (I’ve already forgotten them), and around 50 indistinguishable direct-from-farm services (nope, can’t remember a single one of them, either). John also mentioned that he’d had to buy 181 urls in order to make sure others couldn’t use a similar domain to cannibalise his business.
Count them. 181 urls… Just hearing about them made me shiver, taking me back to the last brainstorming session I did before deciding to jack in my – up until then – lucrative naming sideline five years ago.
I used to enjoy naming. I liked to involve key clients in the brainstorming process, and would often persuade them to employ my graphic design partner too, as we always had a laugh together, and she was also brilliant at visualising people’s ideas, sensing hidden patterns and creating order from a storm of ideas. I even enjoyed the ritual of preparing for a morning’s sesson:
- squaring off blocks of yellow post-it notes and notes pads
- tacking virgin sheets of A2 paper up on the walls
- breathing in the faint, cut-wood smell of the fragile, black & yellow-edged curls falling from the Staedtler Noris HB pencils as I sharpened them
- tuning in to the crinkle of cellophane as I unwrapped a box of Faber-Castell rubbers
It was like a meditation, clearing and calming my mind as around me people set out chilled bottles of Perrier and Evian, piled fruit in bowls and arranged sticky pastries on platters as the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafted in from the kitchen.
My final naming session was with a branding consultant, and involved just the two of us. We worked well together and had fun bouncing ideas off each other, keeping our minds open and building on each other’s ideas.
By lunchtime we’d generated almost 100 names, and were feeling pretty damned smug. The top seven names were compelling and creative, and we felt any one of them would perfectly represent the brand, and the next 15 were pretty damn good too. Even the middle 30 or so were not half bad.
Unfortunately, however, by the time all the domain name checks had been done (and the client, of course, wanted not only to be able to trademark the new name and get the .com but also secure the .co.uk, the .org and the .net), we were way down into the ‘they’ll do, but only just’ end of the list. And eventually, once those had been emasculated in committee and mangled by legal, we were in decidedly brown and sticky territory…
It was at that point that I discovered I’d lost my love of naming.