Dan sees blue ovals, I see and enjoy branding irony — especially irony that appears unintended.

Take the example to the right, an ad for EagleBank, a community bank operating in the Washington, D.C. area.

While mingling with more than 9,000 other trademark lawyers from around the world who have descended upon the Washington, D.C. area for the International Trademark Association’s annual meeting, I noticed an EagleBank ad in one of the Metro stations, sporting the tagline “We’re listening” — positioned directly beneath the EagleBank name and logo.

My first thought was, I’ve heard about “eagle eyes” and the superior vision of eagles, but I’ve never associated eagles with exceptional hearing, much less listening skills.

Believe me, after nearly twenty-five years of marriage, trust me, I do know the difference between listening and hearing, but I think even my wife would agree hearing is a prerequisite to listening, so I’ll continue along this line of thought without skipping another beat.

So, as it appears, I’m not the only one who has wondered about the hearing prowess of the national bird, and as it turns out, eagles hear no better than humans. Since eagles are not renown for their hearing, but they are distinguished by their incredible sight, why associate tagline messaging around ears when the bird having exceptional sight is at the core of the brand’s name?

There actually is a phrase known as “eagle ears” — unfortunately for EagleBank, it means: “Someone who claims they can hear everything but cannot.” Ouch, how’s that for a dose of (presumably) unintended irony?

Earlier today Mark Prus wrote about the importance of checking for unintended and inappropriate meanings of brand names in foreign languages — I’m thinking that checking the Urban Dictionary for slang meanings might be as important too.

Interestingly, EagleBank’s website sports a different tagline: “Focused on You.” And, without a doubt, this tagline seems much more compatible with the EagleBank brand name.

Perhaps D*MNGOOD, the creative agency of record for EagleBank, is actually that, and noticed the need to bring some consistency between the brand name and tagline, but they’re still working through the old print media?

What do you think, how important is it for a brand name and the associated tagline to work together and avoid unintended irony?

  • Ross Fishman

    Good catch. I wrote about an analogous situation I noticed in an ad from a different bank, Ally Bank. The bold headline was: “ONLY TEENAGERS LOVE TO TALK ON THE PHONE MORE.”

    I was thinking – teenagers haven’t loved to talk on the phone in a VERY long time. They do everything else with them, of course, but “talk?” Not hardly.
    http://www.rossfishman.com/2012/03/when-your-marketers-are-still-living-in.html

  • Salcopy

    Steve, I’m with you on this one. There’s a real disconnect between the brand name and the tagline “We’re listening.” And the other (new?) tag, “Focused on you,” not only strengthens Eaglebank’s brand but also works a lot better with the aforementioned ad’s headline. Which is not to say “Focused on you” is terribly original, because many service-oriented brands could claim the same–but at least it marries well with this brand name.

  • S Pinsonnault

    To be honest I did not have the same reflex as you when I initially read the Eagle Bank ad. Maybe it’s because I’m not that quick or because it happens to be my mid-afternoon slump and I desperately need another coffee…In any event, to a certain extent, one must make sure that their taglines and brand name match.

    On a side note, I believe that it is very important to take a look in “urban dictionaries” to avoid any embarrassing references.

  • Mark Prus

    I’ve run large brands like Tums and Aquafresh. One of the foundations of the brand is a “style guide” that contains the strategic foundation of the brand and shows how to execute those foundations in every medium. With this inconsistent tagline, it is clear to me that EagleBank lacks such a strategic foundation (attention EagleBank…I’m available to help!).

    By the way, I don’t worry too much about the Urban Dictionary for branding advice. I wrote a blog post about this (http://nameflash.com/2010/04/is-the-urban-dictionary-a-bible-for-branding). Yes, by all means check the Urban Dictionary, but if you are concerned about what is in there, don’t dump your brand because of it…ask your target consumers what they think. You may find that the only people who know the slang are the 3 guys who came up with it and posted it on Urban Dictionary!

  • Steve Baird

    Great dialogue and thoughts here, thanks for sharing!

  • An interesting perspective. Rather than focus on the (in)congruence between name and tagline, it would be better to assess how a tagline helps position an organization and what kind of promise it makes to the target audience. In that regard, the slogan, “We’re listening,” is weak. First, it is a trite expression that’s overused in the financial industry, so to tell consumers you’re listening is to waste whatever attention you are lucky enough to grab with an undifferentiated message. Second, the promise Eagle makes to consumers is also ineffective. So what if the bank is “listening.” Consumers don’t care if a company “listens.” Consumers have problems/needs that they expect companies to solve. “Listening” is a passive form of engagement. Great, you listen… but what the heck are you doing about it? Listening is not enough with ACTION, RESPONSE. Simply put: How does listening help the consumer? (Tip: The bank should consider taking the answer to that question and spinning THAT into their tagline.)

    Back to the subject of (in)congruence between names and taglines… There doesn’t need to be any. Consumers don’t respond to brands logically, so they will never parse the language down to the level that the author does (a language-sensitive lawyer). If people actually ever spent two minutes thinking about the brands they love, they’d be full of questions. Why did a tech startup selling books name itself after a South American jungle/river (Amazon)? What does the name of the first mate in Herman Mellville’s “Moby Dick” have to do with cool coffee cafes (Starbucks)? What the heck is a Blackberry, or a Bluetooth? Why do young kids buy cool clothes at Old Navy?

    Savvy branding decisions will seldom hold up when scrutinized logically. Brands are built in the right brain, not the left.

  • rwordplay

    Irony might be a result, however, irony, when intended, is a specific rhetorical term that most people in advertising don’t understand. They are likely to confuse sarcasm or even parody with irony. That said, I think in the case of EagleBank, the error is likely due to 1) laziness and 2) ineptitude, 3) unsupervised children at work.

    It takes some wit to use a simile and a bit of brains to create a metaphor—qualities too often lacking in our business. That out of the way, while “Focused on You,” may at a glance appear more appropriate for the brand, let’s focus on the word “seem,” because when an eagle or any raptor focuses on you, it’s because you are “seen” as prey. (Hardly the relationship a consumer wants with their bank, although it may be true that many banks see their customers as just that.)

  • Red Bull is beginning to advertise for a new calorie-free option called “Red Bull Total Zero.” I couldn’t help but recall this post and think that applying “Total” to “Zero” is a bit of an ironic misstep … Also, a bigger trademark misstep given that on May 2 Coke prevailed in defending its “Zero” trademark at the TTAB, demonstrating that it has established 2(f) secondary meaning. http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2012/05/finding-cokes-zero-has-secondary.html

  • Red Bull is beginning to advertise for a new calorie-free option called “Red Bull Total Zero.” I couldn’t help but recall this post and think that applying “Total” to “Zero” is a bit of an ironic misstep … Also, a bigger trademark misstep given that on May 2 Coke prevailed in defending its “Zero” trademark at the TTAB, demonstrating that it has established 2(f) secondary meaning. http://thettablog.blogspot.com/2012/05/finding-cokes-zero-has-secondary.html — Draeke