May 27, 2005
Word Play - Guess the Google
It's a game that presents a bunch of related images and the player has to figure out the word that ties them all together. Based on Google's image search results, the images are a fairly random collection of associated images. Most of the words are not long or complicated. The trick is typing in the right one as quickly as possible.
The skill of pinpointing the connective word is similar to finding a good brand name ... something that wraps up a collection of ideas, thoughts and beliefs into a single word or name. It's fun to play a few times although it starts to get very repetitive quickly as words are repeated.
The game could be retooled to work as a research application. BrainJuicer, an internet-based market research company, do something similar by gathering customer's brand word associations.
May 26, 2005
“Three is a magic number…”
I’m not about to quote Paul Simon’s excellent song that’s no doubt been earning him some nice royalties from being used as the sonic branding of the BBC3 TV. I chose it as an eye-catching and entirely appropriate title for this piece that’s been in gestation for several months. The nub of the matter is the phenomenon of the three-letter name. It started at Christmas when I saw TV ads for furniture at nauseam. DFS, MFI, SCS all melded together. When you’ve seen one sofa ad you’ve seen them all....
It wasn’t the drink that prompted lack of clear recognition, it was the names and sofa's that were much of a muchness. Had I been inclined to venture out on Boxing Day in search of a sofa, I’d most likely ended-up in the wrong furniture superstore or not known whether I was at the right one. The names said nothing to me and I’d no idea whether they were abbreviations for longer names.
The question is where to start with this topic of three-letter names? A for ‘abbreviations’ would seem a good place to start. There are enough of them out there, be it RSA (Royal Society of Arts), DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), IoD (The Institute of Directors). Love them or hate them they are part of the everyday world of names.
So what is it about three? There are names of two letters and four letters too. There’s a really nice rhythm to the three letter name, it’s very 1,2, 3, A, B, C, doe, rae, me, baby you and me. It’s contained and complete, simple and rounded, short and defined.
The three-letter abbreviation is a convenient way of shortening a three word name. The abbreviation often takes the form the trade mark such as ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries). That one in particular has a lovely roundness and look, think of the iconic ICI trade mark. It’s often the abbreviation that’s the predominant brand name or logo as it’s used across brand communications, literature, products etc. A three-letter name can provide invaluable shorthand. Very much in keeping with a trade mark ‘badge’ of trade. They save time on typing and provide practical logos that are better to work with than a longer name. Government loves them, business loves them, and organisations love them.
So what is the point of an abbreviated name? Essentially they’re there to simplify and provide ‘stand out’ and make communication easier. The problem is that they can be very lacking in character, personality and warmth. I think it’s quite hard to feel affectionate about an abbreviation or such a short word unless it is a real word.
Many abbreviated names arise as a result of internal and peer use. Therein can lie a paradox for they can mean different things to different people and sometimes be easily confused and mixed-up. The key in establishing communications stand out is context and how well-known they are and in what context they are used. Having a three-letter name that’s also an abbreviation for a piece of technology or process in your sector can cause real problems.
Abbreviations like BBC and ITV are so well known and familiar that there’s no need to explain them and there’s little likelihood of confusion. Abbreviated names like these are more of a challenge to any other businesses in different sectors, Taking ‘BBC’ as an example there’s also a BBC trade mark belonging to BBC Fire Prevention. No confusion, as the British Broadcasting Corporation isn’t involved in the fire prevention sector. ITV is ITV Network’s property and demonstrates the benefit of having a name with an uncommon consonant. It’s pretty much their unique mark and doesn’t suffer erosion or confusion. For broadcasters the advantage they have is in having their three-letter marks in our faces everyday. They also need a very compact mark for screen use, so graphic flexibility is extremely important.
So is the success of three letter names dependent upon their high profile, familiarity and the success of brand and marketing communications? I would argue that the answer to this is usually ‘yes’ unless the abbreviation is a three-letter word in its own right e.g. ASK and IT’S the Italian themed restaurants (interesting that I get these two confused). I have come across businesses that haven’t considered the three-letter word that their name spells or how their name might be abbreviated – it’s easy to have blind spot where your own name is concerned. You’d be wise to consider the issues of having a name that abbreviates to something like BUT, NOT, NIT, TIT etc.
If we think of the origins of these names the majority emerge as a result of common use, or are created as shorthand, it’s like naming by default. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t names that work (though not all do), but it does require a commitment to establishing and maintaining strong brand and owners being prepared to live alongside others with not dissimilar names. You have to be engaging and have a focused offer.
One man’s three-letter abbreviation is quite commonly someone else’s too, be it another business, organisation, object or process. Three letter name spotting could be a game ‘guess what this means?’
Another concern relates to intellectual property rights. Phonetic similarity becomes a key issue as marks that look and sound identical or similar can be challenged. A business wanting to adopt a three-letter word or abbreviation may find that there are other trade marks that present a problem. It’s also a challenge for a business using one and needing to defend it, how similar is similar and when do you challenge other marks? For instance CBC and CBG could be easily confused, as could NRD and NRP. BCC and BCG, SDP and SPP, you get the idea. There are phonetic rules to bear in mind and searching names requires that these be applied. Lawyers and trade mark agents find searches for these names complex. They frequently have to advise clients of the limited rights they can own in them and that any tests regarding confusion would be key if challenged. In addition many owners of these marks have used them without searching or registering them. This highlights the common misunderstanding of the differences between company names and trade marks.
I find abbreviated and three-letter names can get lost in the world of the Internet and businesses need to give care to looking at the way that they can be found on the www. Most three-letter name combinations have already gone as domains addresses for the top-level domain names. Many were registered by other three letter name businesses for defensive purposes to pick-up mistyping errors.
We’ve never been specifically asked to create a three-letter or abbreviated name, but abbreviation is an issue even for two word names and can lead to rejecting an otherwise good name, after all names like abbreviations for names like Taylor Arbuckle Trantor and Symmetry in Computing might require a second thought.
A selection of three letter names – see if you know what they stand for…
May 25, 2005
Shop Horror – shop name puns that come up trumps
One of the benefits of having an addiction to Radio 4 is the sheer delight of coming across enthusiasts of the small things in life. One such enthusiast is Guy Swillingham whose passion has manifest itself in a new book of punned shop names; "Shop Horror" The Best of the Worst in British Shop Names" is aptly titled. It is a joyous celebration of names you love, love to hate and are likely to remember.
I imagine we’ve all seen at least one hairdresser called ‘Curl Up & Dye’ (left out of the book as it’s so common). I’m really pleased to see that Shop Horror and the website, documents the variety of punned names spread far and wide across the country. I’ve got my own list of punned shop names that’s miniscule in comparisons to Guy Swillingham’s. I think about ‘The Joy of Sox’ (a sock retailer in Toronto), ‘Miss Behaviour’ a lingerie shop I sometimes pass. 'The Cod Almighty' chip shop. Two of my favourites are business names, the gloriously named ‘Napoleon Boiler Parts’ and ‘Jim’ll Mix It!’ cement.
Guy’s quest in diligently collecting and documenting these shops and creating a book ensures that the sum is greater than the parts. No wonder the likes of Ian Hislop give their approval. It’s definitely a book with a high chortle value. There’s just something very satisfying about a good pun. Put it on a shop sign and delight the public by sharing the joke. Very ‘Thong in Cheek’ (an underwear shop).
The pictures of the shop fronts add considerably to the effect. They range from fairly obvious to truly ingenious and even risqué. There’s something reassuring about them. None of these are large multiples and it confirms that one man’s pun is another man’s poison. There’s a definite ‘local shops for local people’ feel, a reflection of the sense of humour of the owners, their desire to achieve a bit of local ‘stand out’ and a willingness to pun and demonstrate a sense of humour. I wonder whether the owners of these shops are without exception jovial and even whether there’s a tendency to share a particular star sign.
Punning shop names are a nationwide enthusiasm. I did note that Brighton is “the shop pun capital of Britain”. There could be a guided tour in the summer season with an ice cream for refreshments and a saucy postcard to mark the event!
There’s an interesting range of shop names on offer imitating idiomatic terms and familiar phrases. ‘Woks Cooking’, ‘Junk & Disorderly’, ‘Rhythm & Booze’. The word ‘Wok’ in particular presents plenty of punning opportunity.
Others take on board film and book titles. ‘Brighton Wok’ and ‘Feast of Eden’, ‘Blazing Saddles’ and ‘Hire Society’ are fine examples.
Celebrities (not necessarily still living) get a look in with names like ‘The Shirley Temple Restaurant’ (Shirley is a suburb of Birmingham). A particular favourite of mine is ‘Floral ‘n’ Hardy’ as it references the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy and also suggests that flowers and plants are hardy and long lasting. ‘Jack the Stripper’ a door and furniture stripping business renders the sinister humorous.
Musical association is another theme. ‘Shoe-be-Do’ was inspired by the owner humming “shoobie-shoobie-do” (the tune of ‘Strangers in the Night’ comes to mind). ‘Wooden it be Nice’ is a shop local to me in Hackney, London. I experience a magical Beach Boys moment every time I pass.
‘British Hairways’, complete with a red, white and blue identity, demonstrates the dilemma of a brand owner. Take legal action for passing-off or infringement and risk negative publicity.
Battersea Dogs Home were able to take a magnanimous view of the name of the Sheffield chip shop ‘Battersea Cod’s Home’. They saw it as raising awareness (albeit many miles from London) and humour won the day. It’s one of Guys’ top shop pun names as ‘Batter’ and ‘Sea’ are the perfect accompaniment to Cod in the nautical theme stakes. Names that work in this way are the Holy Grail of pun names.
It’s certainly unwise to use a well-known brand name or trade mark as a shop name unless you own it. Best to steer away from calling your shop ‘My IKEA’, ‘You get the IKEA’ etc. It would undoubtedly land you in a heap of trouble!
Punned names can work well for the small business, where friendliness and a certain idiosyncranicity are appropriate. They demonstrate the importance of the name to a business. Neither Guy nor I am aware of a punned name for a large business or nationwide multiple store.
Some of my favourites include ‘Walter Wall Carpets’. People regularly ask for “Mr Wall”, who of course does not exist. Guy came across four more ‘Walter Wall’ carpet shops on his travels, none of them related. Shop Horror Snap could be a new game. ‘Knead the Dough’ and ‘Prawnbrokers’ play on monetary loss and gain and I thought both were witty.
When I spoke to Guy he told me of his fascination for comedy being used in commerce and the way in which his recording of the shops became a two year long quest. There was no short cut to identifying the shops. It required diligence and patience by targeting an area and sifting through telephone directories and listings then visiting them. “I’ve seen parts of Britain that I wouldn’t normally have cause to visit…Sometimes I got there and the shop had gone or closed and other times I found ones that weren’t listed so it was a bit of an adventure”.
We discussed whether punning is British pre-occupation and it appears not. However, the English language having an unusually large vocabulary; words that are pronounced the same but spelt differently and having different meanings and make it a rich source to be creative with.
Guy says that the trick with punning is “not to be too clever and only to reference one source in the pun’. “Puns that reinforce the negative can work really well like ‘Vinyl Resting Place’. That’s one of my favourites as you know that if it wasn’t for that shop existing the records would probably have been thrown away.”
The book truly shows the tip of the iceberg, He logged 900 shops and photographed 600 of them. He estimates that there are around 400 to 600 ‘good to reasonable’ ones that work, and the remainder don’t or try to be just too clever. I’d like to see the sequal book and am intrigued at just how bad the ones that don’t work are!
Shop Horror is a great read and a tribute to the punning ingenuity of the British shop keeper. The last page has names that now rest in peace, what a shame that record shop ‘Deckadance’ and ‘Back to the Fuchsia’ have gone to that name store in the sky!
Would a shop by any other name be as sweet? What would Shakespeare make of it?
At LingoLAB we’ve yet to receive a specific request for a punned name, though they inevitably manifest themselves in naming sessions. My favourite was one we thought of when looking at naming mobile phones ‘My Little Phoney’. I could just see a pastel turquoise mobile phone resplendent with mane and a bow!
Guy Swillingham Shop Horror
You can join the hunt by emailing suggestions to:
May 24, 2005
Why not a single hidden value?
Instead of a plethora of published, meaningless values (the more you have, the more you lay yourself wide open and the more challenging and confusing it becomes for your employees), why not have a single unpublished one?
For the past five years, I’ve been championing the idea of a single core value that encapsulates everything that the company or the brand stands for. Created by representatives from as many levels of the company as possible - rather than the management in glorious isolation - to encourage buy-in, the whole idea is that the core value is not published on a website or emblazoned on T shirts. It should simply be reflected in everything that the company or brand does visually, verbally and vocally.
The beauty of a single core value is its simplicity and acceptability. It can also be used as the benchmark for design, tone of voice, marketing and promotion to ensure complete consistency.
To give you some working examples, a leader in mobile customer services created ‘Freedom’ as their core value, A Reading based solicitors practice, who were keen to break the mould, ‘Bright’ (not in the sense of intelligent (!) but vibrant). A leader in e-mail security who were over-focused on technology, ‘People’. A Government training organisation, ‘Partner’. An accountancy firm, who wanted to be more human, ‘Approachable’. A London design group, ‘Spirited’. A new product development company, ‘Inspired’. A new glucose measuring device, ‘Effortless’.
The core value can be created in a series of interactive three hour workshops. Not only are they great fun for the participants but they have never failed to deliver.
© 2005 Johnny Bruce is a seasoned copywriter (www.adverb.co.uk) and a LingoLAB associate.
May 23, 2005
Sitting in the garden on a very warm Sunday afternoon I became aware of the little noises around me like the flip-flop of my daughter's feet across the decking, the buzz of a hopeful bee and the tiny tweating of the blue tits in their nest box.
What particularly delighted me, rather bizarrely, was the satisfying nature of onomatopoeia. Filp-flop is such a wonderfully simple descriptive name that has all the relaxed warmth of summer embedded into it. Some brand names have also managed to exploit the nature of a sound that imitates an experience.
Crunchie springs to mind. The great honeycomb centre that crunches and crumbles as you bite into it lives up to its name. The Crunchie bar was originally launched in 1929 by Fry's, later to merge with Cadbury. 'Thank Crunchie it's Friday' was part of the 'Friday Feeling' concept that's been running since the mid-80's.
Buzz was never really quite the right sound for an airline. Bees buzz, and tend to flit from flower to flower, do circular, repetitive dances and sometimes dive-bomb into windows - not quite the associations I want for a safe, fast flight. Buzz has now buzzed off to be part of Ryanair.
Talking of buzzing, here's a product that makes a feature of not making a sound. Whisper, the world's first completely silent vibrator has incorporated Whisperpower to illiminate that oh so embarassing buzz.
Mr Schweppes probably didn't realise how onomatoepiaic his name was. In 1783 he invented an efficient system for the manufacture of carbonated water. No doubt even then each bottle opened with a distinctive 'schhh' sound. The famous 'Schhh....you know who' campaign wasn't launched until the 1960's - and is still going.
Names always work harder the more relevant, positive and emotive associations they have. Onomatopoeia is a gift - if you can get it right.
May 20, 2005
Just a bit manky
Sitting on the tube trundling towards Covent Garden the other afternoon I looked up to view the ads overhead alongside the 'just a bit too small to read' tube map. Amongst the usual cheaper travel insurance and well-woman pills was a name that I felt just didn't communicate the trust and quality it was supposed to - Euromanx.
The thinking is clear, I think - an Isle of Man airway that flies to Europe, but unfortunately it doesn't add up to a good result. I have no idea what the airline is like, probably brilliant (www.euromanx.com) - but the name doesn't really add much.
Rather like Aeroflot, which sounds like aeroflop, the name sounds like a negative expression. The name conjures up the word 'manky' which has a dictionary definition of inferior and worthless. Whilst the name can be rationalised - it's always worth taking a quick reality test before investing in a full blown brand development programme.
May 17, 2005
Reformed: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
The Conservative party could potentially position themselves as the "Reform Conservatives." This new name seems oxymoronic. In an article in the Times (www.timesonline.co.uk) Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, states that the Conservatives need to reform. He mentions that the name "New Labour" did good things for his rivals.
But the difference between something being NEW and REFORMED is significant. By simply copying the approach of the Labour Party (circa 1997) and slapping on a word to modify the name just makes the conservatives look like they're desperately trying to keep up with the competition. It's a messy strategy because, the unlike Labour's NEW which is open to interpretation and common in fluffy marketing, REFORM denotes all the wrong things. Firstly, by using this description, it admits that things are wrong and bad and need to be reformed. The New in New Labour glosses over anything that came before it like fresh lick of paint. Reform does denote change but it also means that things were previously unformed or worse. And isn't being conservative by definition about conforming to conventional wisdom and not being radical. Perhaps Andrew Lansley is in the wrong party?
When I think of the idea of reform I think of things like "reformed alcoholics" or "getting the band back together" in a Spinal Tap sense. It also makes me think of a specific image: stacks of bureaucratic forms, piles of useless paper. These concepts don't conjure up images of a leading political party. So what would be a better name? What would the LingoLAB guys come up with? But then again, even if Labour are hard work, why help the Conservative Party?
Tristan Spill is to blame for many websites, including this one and is a LingoLAB associate.
May 14, 2005
How popular is any word in the English Language?
Check with WordCount. It visualises word usage based on frequency of use from the British National Corpus® and is searchable by word and by the word's ranking.
WordCount™ is an artistic experiment in the way we use language. It presents the 86,800 most frequently used English words, ranked in order of commonness. Each word is scaled to reflect its frequency relative to the words that precede and follow it, giving a visual barometer of relevance.
LingoLAB is a creative naming agency,
creating the language that makes brands successful.