– Mark Prus, Principal, NameFlash

A portmanteau is a linguistic blend of words in which parts of multiple words are combined into a new word. Common language examples include smog, which is a combination of the words smoke and fog, and motel which combines motor and hotel.

Some big companies used the portmanteau technique to develop their names. Microsoft is a portmanteau of microcomputer and software. Groupon combines group and coupon.

However, sometimes companies refuse to admit that their portmanteau name doesn’t work.

Consider this manufacturer of pool maintenance products.

Yes, I get that they slammed “pool” and “life” together to get their name, but no matter how many times you look at this name it is hard to not see “Poo Life” isn’t it? And who wants to live a “poo life” anyway?

Here is another one. Yes, I see what they did here by combining “smart” and “tours.” But step away from the page for a second and look at it…what the heck is a “smar Tour” (or did you mean “smarT ours)?

Portmanteau names can be very good when the combination makes sense, but you have to have some common sense (as in most things in life). Combining words together to make a brand name can work or can look very stupid. Don’t be stupid!

-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

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.

-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!

–James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Recent travel on Aer Lingus and a perusal of The Boston Sunday Globe brought two very good ads to my attention.

The first, which ran in the Aer Lingus on-board magazine, is a terrific marriage of great concept and excellent execution plus situational relevance: you’re on a plane on your way to Ireland.

As a writer, I love the spot-on call to action in the headline. As a visual communicator, I love the clever blending of the windows (how do people come up with these ideas?!). As a creative director, I love the combination of a smart team working in tandem and hitting the target dead-center.

Bottom line on this one: Even if it’s not the first thing you do, a visit to EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum gets on your radar and likely becomes a new-found option.

Moving on. So, nobody reads long-copy anymore, eh?

This ad for Needham Bank caught my eye for its sheer flaunting of convention. It’s got lots going for it: A headline that doesn’t look like a headline (the Goliath graphic), opening copy that quickly establishes the premise, sequential subheads that tell the story, and well thought-out, well-written copy that fleshes out the story the subheads outline.

This combination led me to read the darn thing, despite not living close enough to Needham to be a prospect even if I were in the market for a new bank.

The only quibble I have is there’s no contact information. A website address and a phone number would have put the cherry on top. As it is, interested people have to be motivated enough to seek that information out themselves.

One final point, and it’s an important one, is to pass along atta-boys not just to the creative team, but also to whomever in the bank had the courage to approve the concept and the ad. Often we hear that clients want to do something different, to stand out from the crowd. And nearly as often, they get cold feet when we give them an option like that.

But this ad proves that when you have the goods, and you have the guts, you get the glory. Needham Bank reports that the ad response is exceeding their expectations.