—Anthony Shore, Operative Words

Let’s be honest: There’s a lot of bullshit in branding.

It’s a pity — and it’s a threat. Because today, brand or marketing communications exuding any whiff of bull will be distrusted, discredited and derided by today’s cynical audiences.

And no audience is more cynical than the 18-34 years-olds — the Millennials — who were born into an online marketplace awash in spam, paid “user” reviews, phishing and other greedy deceptions.

These cynics can sniff out bullshit from a mile away. Actually, they’re waiting for it. And when they zero-in on the source of a communication’s stench — an exaggeration, an ambiguity, an inconsistency, nonsense, a promise too good to be true — they’ll pounce. And rather than just take their business elsewhere, they’ll take up a cause to expose and punish the bullshitting offender by urging others to boycott.

Bullshit-free branding has always been important. Today it’s important and urgent.

Because nowadays, you can’t fool any of the people any of the time.


Continue Reading Does Your Branding Pass The SNIFF Test?

On a recent pilgrimage to my home town to visit the University of Iowa and to see the Hawkeyes play football again in hallowed Kinnick Stadium, I discovered that a rather rudimentary and perhaps impolite (or potty mouth), yet passionate (sorry Nancy) branding technique, is alive and kicking in Iowa City. I also learned what now appears to go hand-in-hand (or, perhaps leg-in-hands as opposed to a single hand) with Hawkeye football games, at least those played on their home turf:

Somehow the static sign doesn’t do justice to the in-person-experience, so try the YouTube video.

Once again, I’m reminded of Anthony Shore’s succinct naming insight:

There was a time when a simple, honest name was good enough.

Anthony, it appears those times are alive and well (or at least kicking) in the middle of the heartland.

Having said that, I’m also reminded of Liz Goodgold’s caution over "Potty Mouth Marketing: Six Reasons Why Vulgar Language is the Curse of Your Brand".

Trademark Office insights below the jump.


Continue Reading Primitive & Impolite, But Non-Vulgar Trademark & Naming Technique?

I’m not talking about brands that say one thing and do another. I’m not talking about brands that don’t live up to their promise. I’m literally talking about brands with two faces. One face may be confident, complicated, technical, professional, and/or formal. Let’s call him, Stephen. The other face might be friendly, simple, approachable, engaging, and/or informal

by Anthony Shore, Operative Words

There was a time when a simple, honest name was good enough.



Venerable brands like General Electric, Kentucky Fried Chicken, National Biscuit Company and International Business Machines didn’t hide their business name behind metaphors or fuzzy ideas. Each name was a hammer. It delivered one message with brute, blunt force. And it was good…for a while.‚Ä®‚Ä®

Eventually those companies established a path followed by countless others. They cut short their names to cut free of their restrictions, trading names too burdened with meaning for ones that were utterly meaningless: GE, KFC, Nabisco, IBM.



The trend in naming since has been away from the harsh, direct light of descriptive names and towards the shaded canopy of evocative and arbitrary ones. The change is partly motivated by necessity, as descriptive names are difficult or impossible to protect as trademarks.



But it’s not just the law: It’s a good idea. Descriptive names are similar to other descriptive names so they aren’t differentiated and thus don’t get noticed (not without a ton of money).‚Ä®‚Ä®

Today, the vast majority of brand names are not descriptive at all.

And I think people are getting tired of it.

The pendulum is swinging back, towards names — and marketing in general — that’s honest and bullshit-free. Maybe even humble.

Living in San Francisco, I’ve sought examples of words in commerce that speak the unvarnished truth. I’ve documented some of these sightings with my cell phone camera. Several relate to food because I am a gastropod.‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®‚Ä®

This tidy kiosk is a perfect setting for a brand called Batter. It’s a name that’s immediate, short, and to the point with nothing artificial added. It suggests their baked goods are as pure and simple.


Continue Reading Truth is Stronger Than Fiction

"What am I?"

Every invention begs this essential question of identity.

The answer is found in the product’s descriptor. A descriptor defines a thing, categorizing it, framing it, positioning it and signaling its intended future.

A product that doesn’t claim to break new ground adopts its category’s standard convention. For example, a new, run-of-the-mill digital camera would be marketed as a "digital camera".

A revolutionary product, on the other hand, deserves an innovative product descriptor. And, sometimes, a me-too product benefits from one, too.

The trouble is, innovation is easier done than said.

I wrote in this article about the "brander’s paradox": Human instincts make us wary of unfamiliar and different things, yet differentiation is essential to a product’s success.

By definition, an innovation is unfamiliar. How can its product descriptor differentiate without triggering people’s fear of the unknown?

The New York Times gives us an idea in this recent article about product descriptors,

"When people encounter something they don’t recognize, they make sense of it by associating it with something familiar."

The most effective new descriptors combine familiar terms in unfamiliar ways. They make product function or form clearly understood, even upon first exposure. Novel descriptors insufficiently informative should at the very least pique interest.

Descriptors that differ

The products shown below the jump illustrate different approaches:


Continue Reading Describe Different