When will the NAACP rebrand?

When will the NAACP rebrand?

Today, Pepsi Co, the parent of Quaker Oats decided to finally toss in the towel on the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake syrup after 131 years. The brand hearkens back to 1889, but, they only just woke up to realize they were embodying a racist stereotype.

We’re seeing a new found awareness, with statues being toppled, discussions of renaming places named for slave owners, members of the confederacy and even Christopher Columbus is finally being outed as a fairy tale of white privilege.

Which brings me to the recent firing of Ohio State Senator Dr. Steve Huffman who lost his ER job for saying “colored population.”

Yet this appears:  Ohio NAACP President Tom Roberts, a former state lawmaker who previously represented Huffman’s district said, “It is just unbelievable he would ask that kind of question or use that kind of terminology.”

NAACP stands for “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An organization founded in 1909.

As professionals in the naming and branding field, we offer a bit of advice, it’s time to change your name. Instead, try the National African American Coalition for Progress. Same great initials and a whole lot better imagery. If Aunt Jemima can do it, so can you.
We’d love to help work on this powerful change.

thumbnail of NAACP respositioning

Click on image to download 11×17 PDF suitable for printing.


What’s in a name? (Memorability? And a scarf?)

Logo for Super Evil Megacorp

Admit it, you want to answer their phones…

The first thing every naming company has to fight is “but that doesn’t sound professional” or “we can’t do that.”

So, when someone was coming up with the name for a gaming company- and landed on “Super Evil Megacorp” it was pure brilliance, but I’m sure their mothers all scowled.

What better way to talk to gamers, who think they are out there battling evil at every turn (Grand Theft Auto excluded).

So when Tim Cook announced the next guest to the stage at the 2014 Apple Keynote and said “And we had to pick a developer with the coolest name you’ve ever seen: Super Evil Megacorp. That alone is the reason to bring them on to stage.” how much more free advertising can you ask for?

Super Evil Mega Scarf

Who wears a scarf in CA in Sept?

Apparently that wasn’t enough for the public relations brain trust at Super Evil- they went one more step and sent out their developer with a scarf hanging around his neck (remember, this is California in September where the temperature never goes under 60). Do a search- and “Scarf steals show” is an actual buzz topic on the intertubes.

Sometimes, taking your company name so seriously ends up making you just another commodity out there. How many “A1, Prime, Best, Quality, AAA, Expert” whatever’s are out there? Looking to the master of language mangling, Yoda- “there is no say, only do.” Don’t say your company is “Numbah 1” just work hard to be number 1.

While the ad agency world used to be dominated by the names of the founders- or their initials as they either died off- or took on too many partners - how we ended up with TBWA/Chiat Day among others, agencies now pride themselves on being cute, funny, odd. This list of 40 top strange agency names goes from some really neat names like “Captains of Industry” and “For Office Use Only” to the really odd “Wexley School for Girls” and “High Heels and Bananas” to “G and M Plumbing” which isn’t a plumber.

Of course, sometimes being cute doesn’t help with a search engine- how many times will “For Office Use Only” show up on a search? (We run into that problem too- people are always talking about “The Next Wave” of… but, when we named ourselves there was no Internet).

Effective brand names work well when people want to say your name- what fun would it be to say “Super Nice Megacorp” when answering the phone?

They also work when they are good conversations starters. “Hi, I’m David calling from Super Evil Megacorp”- how can you not take that call?


The importance of a name and search

iChat and Messages, same program, but one is unsearchable

iChat and Apple Messages are the same program, but the new name is unsearchable.

My last name is Esrati. For all the years of having it misspelled, mispronounced and having to answer questions about it’s origin, it became an amazing asset with the advent of the search engine. If you search for me, you’ll get one of three people, me, or my parents.

Apple had an application called “iChat” for years. With the advent of System 10.8 it went from being iChat to becoming the innocuous sounding “Messages” and that’s when Google suddenly became useless. iChat was a very specific program that ran on the mac, while “Messages” are what every email program sends- as well as every other chat program- and, how many times have you searched for  “Error message….XYZ” All of a sudden, access to useful, pertinent information about a very specific program became impossible to find via search.

The branding geniuses at Apple apparently don’t use Google.

This isn’t the first time that Apple has made things difficult by not thinking about naming conventions. The Apple Macintosh has had an issue since the 2nd version came out. The original mac only had 128mb of RAM, version 2 has 512mb of RAM, but there wasn’t any indication that this Mac was different unless you got into the tiny print on a label on the back of the machine- and knew Apples product code or some such. The market had to distinguish between these two products- and version 2 became known as The Apple Fat Mac 512″ Hardly the marketers dream name.

Version three got the name MacPlus with a whopping 1 mb of RAM - and was “expandable to up to 4mb of RAM” if you were willing to risk electrocution and had a very long torx screwdriver.  Then came a whole long line of confusing names like the SE30, the FX, the 2CX, the Quadra which had numbers.  There are entire websites devoted to sorting out the differences of the different models and configurations.

Car makers generally try to avoid this problem by identifying products by model year and trim levels. Computer makers seem to be horrified by attaching a date to a computer, and at some point, Apple started naming models with nomenclature like “mid-2010” as if that’s more helpful than simply calling it by a model number- version 2.1 which Apple finally began doing, but only if you could boot the mac and check in “About this Mac.”

Branding and choice of names, be it in the company name (Apple had a long running lawsuit with Apple Corps, the Beatles label, over the name costing Apple hundreds of millions of dollars.).

When looking for a name of a product or your company, there is a lot more to it than making it easy to remember or spell or search. Make sure you think before you name, since it can become a very expensive and difficult proposition to fix later, or as in the iChat/Messages example- make your valued product worth considerably less to it’s users as frustration trumps productivity.


Self limiting your brand is a mistake

When it comes to branding, naming your company after your location isn’t a great idea. We watched a hair salon move four times from it’s original eponymous address 23 Second Street and the local grocery chain, Dorothy Lane Market doesn’t have a single location on Dorothy Lane.
Of course, that’s just in the name, but what about your audience? A local company makes tarps and tents. They’ve been doing it since 1948, and only see two markets, farmers and local tent rental. The only advertising they do is in a farm equipment guide. Are they self-limiting their brand and their sales? Of course. Every roll-off construction dumpster needs a tarp to cover the debris as they haul it to the dump, yet, despite making the same product to cover grain trucks, the demolition and waste hauling markets are ignored.

Sometimes companies get confused about what they really sell. Department stores used to be a convenience, in that all the things you need for your household are in one place. That was great until malls came around and did the same thing, only the specialty shops within the mall often offered more focused service, and a better branding experience. The reason for a department stores existence stopped once every single department was duplicated in the mall- at least to younger shoppers. Sears was the sole exception, having built strong brands in Craftsman, Die Hard and Kenmore, while the rest depended on other peoples brands to carry them.

Amazon is what it is today, because Jeff Bezos specifically didn’t call it Amazon Books, but just Amazon. Don’t limit your brand by making it synonymous with your first product, and don’t think any company only has, or will have just one market, because limiting your vision will limit your ability to grow in the future.

Everybody is a customer, especially at a tradeshow

You know the old adage about a happy customer telling 3 people and an unhappy one telling one hundred. Total bunk in the internet age. One person can tell the world anything they want- and people can choose to listen.

Which is why a few experiences I had at a trade show yesterday shocked me.

It doesn’t really matter what the products were- but, I listened to a national sales manager call a marketing professional a douche bag not once-but several times on the show floor. The owner of the company, was less than 10 yards away, sitting in oblivion while this arrogant neanderthal was embarrassing his brand. The company is one of five major manufacturers in China that probably 80% of the worlds product in this category. Needless to say- the caveman wasn’t helping.

The argument- the sales manager was very proud of his move to generic Italian city names for his product styles (the Chinese have a tendency to flub marketing 101, which caveman probably got a C) as part of his great line revamp. The customer tried to suggest that no one really cares if you call your line the Milan, Rome, Venice- all they care about is the manufacturers brand. Douche bag. Of course- the example that automotive companies learned the expense of sub-brand name plates a long time ago-  Acura dumped the “Legend” and the “Integra” moving to letters and numbers- because the fact that you owned an “Acura” was most important. Same goes for BMW, Mercedes, Infiniti etc.

Spend a hundred thousand dollars on a large trade show booth- and fail to do the most important thing at a trade show- listen to them..

Another company- an importer that calls itself “America’s smallest __________ company” was in attendance as well. The fact that they import all their re-branded product from Taiwan isn’t much of a secret- so you begin with a brand tagline that’s a lie. They were a supplier to our client- and I was there to share a few stories of why our client didn’t move as many of their premium priced products. The owner, an un-jolly fat man, told me right off that my client didn’t listen very well- and dropped the adage “That god gave you two ears and a mouth for good reason”- and then proceeded to call me an ass for trying to tell him some things that could have helped my client sell more of his product. The suggestions were simple- in this industry where the products run from $700 to $5000- his is one of the few brands that is eligible for financing (a financial industry racket)- my client hadn’t been either instructed or forced to register with the financing company.

Secondly- despite their grand proclamation of being “America’s…” the manual that I got with their product was in Chinglish. It surprised me. Instead of gracefully acknowledging their error- he blamed it on the Taiwanese. As I continued that trying to find where the battery was located on his vehicle- since it wasn’t covered in the manual I received- or on his website- or easily found on the web- he showed me… “it’s no secret where my battery is” and showed me- then shoved me off. Your website, your manual, your customer aren’t things to ignore or treat with disrespect in a highly competitive down market. Taking responsibility for your mistakes is the first step in not making them worse.

Great brands are built on trust. People still do business with people they know- and the impressions you make are lasting. I left “America’s smallest ________ Company” booth wishing I’d not bought their product. I left a major manufacturers booth- feeling less confident in their ability to build a brand that garners respect in the industry due to one reckless caveman working the floor. No amount of advertising changes the personal interactions and reputation that is set on a trade show floor.

Ad industry leaders have even written books on it: The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness at a trade show it’s extra important- because if you are smart: everybody is a customer.

Model names do make a difference

No, I’m not talking Naomi Cambell or Heidi Klum. We’re talking about the nomenclature of your products.

When Acura first came out they had two models- the Legend and the Integra. People started talking about their car model name instead of the brand name and Acura soon switched to numbers and letters ala Mercedes Benz, BMW, Jaguar et al.

Giving your brand top billing is great, but- make sure customers can actually identify your product clearly. With cars- it’s pretty simple because they have brand name, model number and model year. When it comes to computers and peripherals, cameras, hi-fi equipment and other stuff- most companies fail.

Computers should be easy- because you can turn them on and there should be a screen that has all the info. Apple has it under the “About my Mac” where you can copy the entire spec sheet. But- what if you CAN’T TURN IT ON- and are trying to identify it? Frustration sets in. This is critical for customer support- this is critical for the resale market (and never ignore the resale marker- because the value of your used goods is the best indicator of the value of your new products). Serial number look ups are great- if they are readily available online- but, then again- please don’t make it microscopic (Apple- are you listening?).

Recently trying to sell some old Pantone swatch books on Ebay I was having a hard time identifying what year each book was printed. For a company that likes to claim that you should buy new swatch books or chip fans- annually- shouldn’t the product date be on EVERY page you print?

When you look at the myriad of offerings from companies like Dell- compared to the simple product matrix from Apple- how do customers really choose between the 7 different 24″ monitors with different price points- and know what model does what? Did you make your product matrix and nomenclature too complex?

Customer frustration isn’t a good branding strategy. Think back to the early days of Sears & Roebuck: Good, Better, Best- and make sure the numbers and letters work in some kind of logical order (Hello Canon- 1D, 5D, 7D which is best? Most expensive? ARGH!).