— Aaron Keller, co-author, The Physics of Brand, co-founder Capsule.us and Columnist at Twin Cities Business magazine.

There are so many hidden dangers in the process of naming any new offering — many of which can sneak up on you. We all like to believe we’ll see the danger before it meets us squarely in the forehead like a baseball bat, but the number of horror stories would indicate otherwise.

We’ve illustrated the Jimmy’s Johnnys in past blog posts, which certainly doesn’t create a good brand image for Jimmy John’s. But, really that’s a trademark issue, not a meaning issue. The meaning issues happen because there’s existing cultural meaning around a word that really isn’t good for your brand.

Rusty Taco dealt with it by moving to R Taco — not something this writer agreed with, but it happened. If you’re wondering what meaning existed with that name, try using your imagination before you search it on a work computer.

Fairview University, in their previous partnership had a minor issue when they turned the name into an acronym and stenciled it on hospital equipment. Do it yourself by writing those two letters in your whiteboard.

Or, the classic, Federal Express before they became FedEx, because in most countries “Federal” means government and slow, very, very slow. FedEx needs to be on time and certainly not slow — seeing the hidden meaning was essential.

Now, my own personal favorite today, the brand Sheetz, which is best consumed via this link, which tells me they know the brand name is amusing. Though, it does have a gastronomic implication that likely doesn’t create a smile in your mind after eating their foot long sub sandwich.

So, how do you avoid this?

Test the meaning with your audiences and there are simple rather inexpensive ways to get a clear picture of what your brand name means in culture. Even if you’ve got an existing brand name and culture has changed around it — like Tsunami Herbicide — a test might identify a need to change or refine your brand name.

Test your meaning before you test your job security. If you run into an amusing brand name story you think needs to be told, please pass it along to AaronKeller@capsule.us.

Aaron Keller, Managing Principal, Capsule

image001We appreciate brands with personality. From our studies of brands, there are way too many living in a pool of vanilla ice cream and wondering why their customers don’t engage. Brands need interesting, engaging personalities and they are most effective when coming to life within the experience.

The Jimmy John’s experience is seeping with personality. Instead of a pool of vanilla ice cream, they’re scooping out Italian Nightclub, which oddly enough is a sandwich name and could easily be an ice cream. And, if you haven’t spent some time in a Jimmy John’s, you’re missing a treat for sandwich lovers and an appropriate amount of cheeky personality. The experience leaves you feeling like someone took the time to consider all the details surround a “freaky fast” sandwich.

Consider our admiration for this brand when this little private shed of awkwardness showed up on the job site outside our office. The name is slightly different and someone could perhaps argue you’re not going to have an issue with confusing Jimmy John’s with this blue plastic experience. But, if my job is managing the Jimmy John’s brand, this would make me pull the legal equivalent of a “hey, hey, hey, we know funny and that’s not funny.” Just doesn’t make sense to allow someone to pull your brand down into bowels of a portable potty.

Then we discovered that DuetsBlog had already spent some time sitting on this stool of a subject matter in a previous post. So, we’ve got an answer for the Jimmy John’s creative director John Kraynak who may be “grinning and bearing it” as the previous post put so eloquently. It would appear that Jimmy’s Johnny is the senior user of this brand name. Though, this might be an opportunity for this wickedly smart John Kraynak to take a positive, brand driven approach. Here it is: if you’re growing a strong, creative brand you might want to approach the blue shed people and offer them a rebranding. It wouldn’t cost much compared to the damage this comparison has and will have on this coveted franchise brand.

Though, this may just be me. For those who know me, I appreciate a witty poo/brand joke. I’ve already considered buying a copy of History of Shit and leaving it inside the Jimmy’s Johnny. So, this “Likelihood of Confusion” comparison might just be my scatological sense of humor showing up again. Perhaps you have a point of view. Or just a poo joke to share.

Either way, all’s good in the porto.