-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

When you finally identify a name for your business, product or service, you must conduct proper due diligence to ensure that you have a legal right to use the name. Trademark searches are mandatory and I’d strongly recommend talking to a great trademark attorney. A little upfront time and money can save you a ton of heartache and cash at a later point (if, for example, the name you decide to use is challenged by someone who is already using a similar name).

One of the other things you should do is conduct foreign language checks using native speakers to identify if the name has unfavorable meaning in a foreign language. Even if you do not plan to market in a foreign country, you do not want your name associated with unfavorable meanings. Here are some examples that prove the point:

  • Barf Detergent – In Persian apparently Barf means snow. But can you imagine the conflict in the mind of an English speaker when seeing a detergent called Barf?

  • Vicks – When Vicks was introduced in Germany, somebody forgot that the German pronunciation of “v” is “f” which made their “Vicks” brand name sound like slang for sexual intercourse (the name in German speaking countries is now Wick which translates correctly).
  • Scat Airlines – An airline based in Kazakhstan. Not sure if an English speaker would fly them.

  • Emerdata – This is the reincarnation of Cambridge Analytica. I find great irony in the fact that the name translations in Portuguese and Italian refer to the act of defecation.
  • IKEA – IKEA has a unique naming convention that often leads to translation errors. For example, some product names sounded like sex acts. And in many cases, IKEA names just sound amusing to English speakers:

Perhaps there is an alternative strategy to conducting a disaster check on international translation. What if you actively looked for names that translate well across the major languages of the world? As an example, one of the reasons that Kit Kat is so successful in Japan is the name “Kit Kat” famously translates to “You will surely win.”

“Good Translation” might be an excellent naming strategy!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

About 6 months ago I wrote a blog post about the future of name development and the use of Artificial Intelligence to name things. I also made a prediction that AI was going to get better and better as it practices name development.

Since that time, AI is getting better at developing names. Check out these potential names for tomato varieties from a recent post by Janelle Shane.

  • Floranta
  • Sweet Lightning
  • Speckled Boy
  • Flavelle
  • Pinkery Plum
  • Market Days
  • Fancy Bell
  • Mountain Gem
  • Garden Sunrise
  • Honey Basket
  • Cold Brandy
  • Sun Heart
  • Flaminga
  • Sunberry
  • Special Baby
  • Golden Pow

I’m pretty impressed by some of these!

Of course, AI also generates names that might be considered to be bad choices, like these examples:

  • Birdabee
  • Sandwoot
  • Shampy
  • Bear Plum
  • The Bango
  • Grannywine
  • Sun Burger
  • Bungersine
  • First No.4
  • Smoll Pineapple
  • The Ball
  • Golden Cherry Striped Rock
  • Eggs
  • Old German Baby
  • Frankster Black
  • Bumbertime
  • Ranny Blue Ribber
  • Adoly Pepp Of The Wonder
  • Cherry, End Students
  • Small Of The Elf
  • Champ German Ponder
  • Pearly Pemper
  • Green Zebra Pleaser
  • Flute First

As predicted, AI is getting better at developing names. And this should increase the demand for professional branding services by experienced human beings! When AI was generating bad names it was easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But now that AI is doing a better job, clients will have a harder time choosing a name because the list of 100 names contains 85 good ones! Clients will need the assistance of a branding expert to help make a branding decision, and perhaps a research expert to get consumer feedback on names.

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Recently, I came across a snappy-looking website with unconventional design for a small consulting company. It’s cleverly done, easy to navigate, and appears to have good information.

I say “appears to have” because there’s one slight problem: it’s challenging to read it. The design motif has small white type on large circles that are color-coded for the different sections. You have to be very motivated to read more than a few paragraphs on some of those circles.

It reminded me of an anecdote related by a writer colleague that occurred at a design staff meeting. The creative head held up a print piece the group had recently produced, and asked, “What’s wrong with this?”

Lots of designers chimed in with thoughts, each of which she dismissed with a “Nope.”

My colleague, who was the only writer in the room and had known right away what the problem was, finally spoke: “You can’t read it.”

“Right!” said the design chief.

Like the website, it was an interesting design and looked good. But as often happens, the designer(s) saw text as simply a design element and failed to remember that the copy needs to be readable, too.

Vampire video falls into a similar trap. It starts out as a good idea for communicating marketing information. But somewhere along the line, both the creative team and the marketers get seduced by the idea itself, and lose sight of the communications objective.

You usually wind up with a really well-produced video that’s interesting and even fun to watch—so much so that the original marketing objective has inadvertently taken a distant second place to the idea.

So how does this happen? Whether we’re predominantly on the visual or the writing side, even the most pragmatic among us chose this career because we love the creative part of the business.

Most marketers do, too. As one once told me, “You guys get to do all the fun stuff.” (Hard to remember that when it’s midnight and you’re still banging away to meet an 8 a.m. deadline.)

When solving communications problems with creative ideas is your stock in trade, it’s no surprise that some of those ideas will sweep you down a very different pathway than the one you set out for. It’s a seduction that we need to be continually on guard against.

Of course, neither showcase design nor vampire video has ever occurred in any of my projects. (Cue the trombones.)

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Awhile ago, I wrote about how casting decisions almost always make someone cranky. Lately I’ve been seeing lots of commercials that speak to the flip side of the crankiness factor.

Creative teams are always on the lookout for ways to connect with the zeitgeist. Most of the time, if you see a “hip” reference in an ad, it’s already gone mainstream and it ain’t hip anymore.

But advertising can move the social needle and get more people to migrate their views from the fringe of the bell curve into the big bulge of it. The more we’re exposed to an idea, circumstances or conditions, the more we tend to accept them as within the norm.

Case in point is the increasing portrayal in advertising of nonconventional families and pairings.

The first time or two some people see this, it can be jarring for them. But for the majority of people, I venture, this reaction fades over time as the imagery becomes part of the mainstream. I think one result is that while an individual’s feeling about, say, mixed-race couples might not change, regularly seeing nonconventional portrayals helps move people closer toward at least tolerance, if not acceptance.

Incidentally, despite the popularity of nonconventional casting in ads, there isn’t some vast coordinated conspiracy at work here, though some may suspect that. The advertising/communications community isn’t monolithic, except in its desire to connect with target audiences and to appear tuned in. That means independently latching on to the latest nifty trend.

So how do you “authentically” ride a social trend? In a word, subtly.

Here’s an example:

Years ago, we did a marketing video that included a planning session in a typical conference room and featured a half-dozen people representing various departments and responsibilities.

One of the actors we cast was a young woman in a wheelchair. The crew made two shots of her delivering her lines; one where the wheelchair was obvious, and the other, where only elements of the chair were visible and not immediately noticeable.

I told the editor to use the second shot.

“But don’t you want people to see that she’s in a wheelchair?” the producer asked.

“Not obviously so,” I replied. “The idea here is for the audience to focus on her and what she’s saying. The power of the wheelchair is that you don’t see it right away, if at all, and that it’s irrelevant to a person’s ability to contribute and be good at the job.”

The point? When nonconventional casting is not the star of the show, advertising can influence attitudes as well as sell product. When you make it the star—”look how hip we are”—you’re more likely to irritate people rather than influence them.

Can you believe it? Nine times, we’ve celebrated our birthday with you (our amazing readers and supporters) — it all started with Dr. No and the Parade of Horribles; then a Seth milestone here.

A Ron milestone there. We’ve hardly taken a day off, much less skipped a class, or been called out as absent from any serious discussion on any of the many IP topics we’re truly passionate about.

Let’s be clear, this is no fool’s paradise, we won’t be led down the primrose path, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee — are those enough hints to the first link in this blog post, Mr. Rooney?

Heartfelt thanks to all our regular writers (past and present), our guest bloggers, and also those who generously share their insights by posting comments or spreading the news in other ways.

What you’ve done over the past nine years to support our passion and to help make this dialogue and graceful collaboration a remarkable success, is not unnoticed, we appreciate each one of you.

By the way, we’ll be cutting more than virtual birthday cake on Thursday, at our Creative Brand Protection event, so here is your last chance to request an invite for a few remaining open seats.

We’re always looking forward, but every once in a while we look in the rear-view mirror and become amazed at how far we’ve come since our humble beginnings a short nine years ago.

Well, it’s almost time to celebrate another birthday here at DuetsBlog, and if we make it to March 5th, Duey will be ecstatic, thanks so much again to our many devoted readers and guest bloggers.

On Thursday March 8th, we’ll be doing more than cutting and sharing slices of our 9th Birthday Cake (promise it will be fresh, not four days old), we’ll be educating and entertaining our guests.

Beginning at 4 PM, in our newly reimagined cool office space, we’ll host a few hours of trademark and brand protection education, entertainment, food, drink, celebration, and conversation.

For the educational portion of the evening, we have assembled two dynamic panel discussions with valuable insights and guidance from a pair of national branding and design experts and leading trademark counsel for some very notable brands with global footprints.

Yours Truly, will moderate this panel of accomplished luminaries:

  • Shaelyn Crutchley, Former Senior Director, Head of Design – N. American Beverages, Pepsico
  • Aaron Keller, Co-Author: The Physics of Brand; Co-Founder Capsule Design
  • Rosalie O’Brien, Senior Associate General Counsel, University of Minnesota

Our focus will be on the development of a creative, coherent, and compelling brand protection strategy. In addition, we’ll look back together on Super Bowl LII through our collective brand protection eyes, discuss so-called trademark bullying, and the latest on trademark fair use.

Brad Walz, Winthrop Shareholder and Adjunct Professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law Trademark Clinic, will moderate a panel discussion joined by some of our esteemed alumni:

This panel will focus on the implementation and execution of creative trademark and brand protection strategies. Attendees will learn about the effective and efficient use of trademark watch services, brand registries, website complaint programs, USPTO Letters of Protest, cease and desist correspondence, TTAB and UDRP proceedings, and also, when federal district court may be necessary to achieve goals.

Space is limited for this special event, but we have set aside a few seats for readers who may not have received invitations, so please let me know if you’re interested in joining us.

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

A lot of entrepreneurs launch businesses behind a name they developed on their own. I get the fact that the name of the startup is intensely personal for the founders. Also money is tight in a startup and spending money to develop a name and do trademark research on it seems like a “nice to have” versus a “must do.”

But when you think about it, the company/product/service name is the first point of contact for a potential consumer and what could be more important than that?

I won’t suggest that founders abandon any hope of developing the name on their own. I will suggest that at a minimum founders need to get a “second opinion” on the names they develop.

Why is this important? Founders tend to have a very narrow view of the world that revolves around their particular product or service. Most entrepreneurs suffer from the “curse of knowledge” where they know a lot about their topic area and blindly assume that everyone else has a high level of understanding about their product or service.

My favorite example of this is Xobni (pronounced “zob-nee”). The company was founded in 2006 and made software for mobile and email applications. It raised millions of dollars from venture capitalists and was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. After incorporating some of its features into Yahoo Mail, Xobni was shut down. While Xobni disappeared, it remained famous as a prime example of the “curse of insider knowledge.” In other words, the founders developed the name and lived with it on a daily basis, but failed to take into account the fact that most consumers could not relate to the name in any way. The founders of Xobni loved the name because it was inbox spelled backwards. They also assumed that people would fall in love with the name in the same way that they did.

If you are interested in the science behind the “curse of knowledge” you will find more details in my book The Science of Branding which is available on Amazon.com.

There is another reason why founders should get a second opinion on their branding and that is because Google makes you stupid. OK, technically Google doesn’t make you stupid, but it does shield you from diversity. And a lack of diversity in branding will limit the appeal of your product or service.

This phenomenon is described in the book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.” The internet was developed as a means for humans to gain a broader view of the world. However, the use of AI by companies such as Google and Facebook is doing exactly the opposite. Because Google and Facebook are driven by advertising revenue, they intentionally provide you with a narrow view of the world because they think that will enhance their revenues. In most cases, people will enjoy their web browsing experience if they are presented with web pages that agree with their view of the world. Over time, you are exposed to highly filtered results that tend to sound familiar because your viewing horizon is limited by your web browsing experience. You will see fewer contrary points of view because Google serves up a world that aligns with your browsing history.

That is precisely why a “second branding opinion” is necessary. When I conduct a name development project I always ensure that I have a diverse panel of freelancers working on a project. I might have an artist, a scientist, a musician, a professional name developer, a pharmacist, and a NY Times best-selling author working on a project. Sometimes the best names come from the most unexpected places!

Entrepreneurs should expand their horizons for branding and at a minimum make sure they get a second opinion on the names for their company/product/service!

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Admit it, when you saw the headline, many of you finished the jingle featured in Farmers Insurance TV commercials.

Farmers has a great campaign going. Geico has a good campaign going. Both are entertaining. First, Farmers:

Their “Hall of Claims” series, developed by RPA, showcases weird situations that Farmers has paid claims on. RPA’s latest iteration on the “University of Farmers” campaign is terrific. It has a catchy jingle and a catchy tagline, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

Right off the bat, every ad is unmistakably Farmers, from the opening shot of the set to the friendly, matter-of-fact delivery of spokesman J.K. Simmons. A consistent and long-term campaign, it always offers fresh interest.

Geico’s ads, developed by the Martin Agency, take a different tack. You don’t know whose ad it is until the payoff line hits partway through, like “Casual Friday at Buckingham Palace? Surprising. What’s not surprising? How much money [particular customer] saved by switching to Geico.”

The Farmers “Hall of Claims” ads are stronger than Geico’s “Surprising” series for a couple of reasons:

First, Geico’s creative doesn’t relate specifically to insurance the way that Farmers’ does. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a weak campaign, but it does mean that they need to hammer harder and more often to establish the connection.

Second, there’s no immediately discernable Geico style since the scenarios are wildly different from one another. That raises the odds that, except for the more intriguing scenarios, someone will skip or otherwise tune them out with nary a thought of Geico. It’s also a factor that other companies are running campaigns that use the same “surprise” approach. That makes the competition for mindshare that much harder when there’s no obvious or intuitive link to the advertiser.

Our personal favorite Geico ad is Casual Friday at Buckingham Palace. As we fast-forward through commercial breaks, we’ll actually stop at that one to see it again. Funny stuff, well written and brilliantly acted.

Now compare that to any Farmers ad of the weird things they’ve insured. The difference is that one is entertainment sponsored by Geico, the other is indelible proof points, unforgettably Farmers, presented in an entertaining fashion.

That’s the difference between a great campaign and a good one. I like them both.

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

Hello (again) DuetsBlog! Readers may have noted my recent absence from the blog. I recently embarked on a new stage of my career as in-house corporate counsel, and Steve gave me the opportunity to contribute as a guest blogger.

Even in my in-house role, I remain a trademark law hobbyist. One of the great hidden gems of the Trademark Office’s online database are “file wrappers” – the aged paper folders that served as the formal records for trademark registrations until the early 2000s, when the PTO went fully digital. As a means of preserving the old paper records, the Trademark Office provides public access to full-color scans of these folders.

For example, I’m willing to wager that nearly every reader of this blog owns a pair of GOLD TOE socks. And sure enough, Gildan USA Inc. owns a trademark registration dating back to 1964, No. 770,389 for the GOLD TOE trademark.

One interesting thing to note – as the classic GOLD TOE socks have gold weaving on the toe section, one would expect a modern-day application to require a Section 2(f) claim of acquired distinctiveness. And sure enough, TSDR states the registration is subject to a Section 2(f) claim, but that limitation is nowhere to be found on the registration certificate itself. The renewal filings of record also fail to make any reference to a Section 2(f) claim. So where did it come from?

Here, the file jacket has the answer – and seems to suggest just how precarious PTO record-keeping once was. The first page contains a litany of stamps recording various filings dating back from 1963 all the way to 2004 – still, no Section 2(f) claim. But on page 2, at the very bottom, some Trademark Office employee appears to have made the notation “2(f),” in pencil:

When exactly was this claim made? Did the registration owner make a declaration as to sufficient past use? That’s unclear – all we have is a simple notation.

So, if you have some free time this weekend, I can think of no better way to spend it than delving into the trove of file wrappers preserved on the PTO website. If you find an interesting one, let us know!

-Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash Name Development

Janelle Shane is a research scientist who likes to play around with neural networks. Recently she’s been having fun investigating whether neural networks can replace traditional means of creative development. As a professional name developer, I’m watching her work closely because I’ve been told that my chosen career is about to be destroyed by the use of artificial intelligence to develop brand names.

Based on the results thus far, I’m not worried. While it is true that computers can develop names, I strongly believe that the judgment of a seasoned branding expert (like me!) will be necessary to identify names that will resonate with consumers. As evidence of my confidence, I provide some examples of names developed by artificial intelligence in the past year:

  • Paint Colors – Janelle’s experiments yielded names like Stoomy Brown, Stanky Bean, and Bank Butt. I’m pretty sure nobody would buy a paint called Stoomy Brown (which actually looks like a shade of green) or Stanky Bean.
  • Craft Beers – The AI developed names like Toe Deal, Sacky Rover, and Cherry Trout Stout. Given the proliferation of crazy craft beer names, some of the names developed by the neural network appear to be reasonable (e.g., Devil’s Chard, Whata Stout, and Black Morning), but you have to sift through a lot of “Toe Deals” before you get to a decent name.
  • Guinea Pig Names – While the AI names for guinea pigs are better (e.g., Funbees, Sporky, Furzy, and Farter) that is only because you generally don’t have to say the name in public. Can you imagine using “Farter” as a dog’s name? “Stay Farter!”
  • Superheroes – I really don’t think a superhero called Nana will be feared by an evil villain…although I’m heard of some pretty badass grandmas. And would Supperman’s superpower be the ability to put the fear of bankruptcy in the hearts of owners of buffet dinner establishments?

You get the point. Right now it is all fun and games and it is easy to separate the stupid names from the barely acceptable names.

But eventually the AI will get better, and that is when demand for my services will actually increase! When AI starts generating excellent names companies will be faced with having to pick a name from a list of 100 great names, and they will need the assistance of a branding expert to make that decision. Put me in coach…I’m ready to play, today!