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What’s In A Name?

April 26th, 2010 by Bruce Wiseman

Bullwinkle used to be my neighbor.

That’s right.

Some years ago, when our offices were on the Sunset Strip, right across the Boulevard from a soaring billboard of the Marlboro Man – that advertising icon who has since been charged with crimes against humanity – our next door neighbor was Jay Ward Productions.

The Sunset Strip avoids the frenetic flash of the Ginza and the hordes of Time Square. It is the Haute Couture of hip; it is the front window on the world of entertainment. Awash with high-end hotels, ultra-chic restaurants, billboards of the lush and sensuous and rock’s most legendary clubs, it pulses with the very heartbeat of creative culture.

And in the middle of this sandbox of sensation sat Jay Ward Productions – creator of Rocky, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do Right and Crusader Rabbit. Ward’s studio was a small cement building at the East end of the Strip. Perched on a pedestal a few feet in front of the entrance as if he were addressing the United Nations on the subject of animal rights, was a six foot high statue of Bullwinkle.

Our offices were next door above an English pub that served a stilton cheese salad that made me want to play soccer.

So, yeah, Bullwinkle was my neighbor.

But Rocky, Bullwinkle and friends were not Ward’s most famous creations. Few people outside of the advertising world know that it was Jay Ward who took Quaker Oats from the stodgy second tier cereal company to front ranks the lucrative children’s breakfast market by helping them develop a world class brand: Captain Crunch.

In 1962, Quaker was looking to expand their cereal line. Not a walk in the park competing against a triumvirate of 900 pound breakfast gorillas – Wheaties, Cherrios, and Kellogg’s Corn flakes – the ad guys at Quaker turned to their customers and conducted extensive market research and surveys (can I get an Amen?).

A key finding was that kids wanted cereal that would stay crunchy in milk.

Who’d have guessed.

Armed with this key bit of market intelligence they turned to the creative brilliance of Jay Ward and the rest, as they say….

I tell the story not to reminisce about our digs on the Strip, but to make an important point about branding: Your brand should say what your product is … or does.

Yes, there are exceptions, but if your brand is explanatory, it will meet with your customer’s understanding and acceptance much faster than if you try to be cute. And you won’t have to spend the extra advertising dollars trying to drive your brand into the mind of your public.

Here are a few industry leading brands that are illustrative. Some, having matured, have been “minimized” to their initials by customer use or corporate strategy, but the original names tell the story.

The Wall Street Journal

Toys R Us

Kentucky Fried Chicken


Bank of America



Cable News Network

Pizza Hut


In each case, the brand tells the public what it is or what it does.

Companies that carry the founder’s name have been exceptions: Ferrari, Forbes, Marriott and Dell come to mind. And the information age has spawned some beauties: think Yahoo! Google and Blackberry.

But America On Line, Internet Explorer and Netflix are all descriptive and remain category leaders.

A trip through the latest issue of Business Week makes the point. I am pouring through the magazine in search of ads that grab my attention and get a message across. Some people would call this activity a mental disorder, but it is how I spend many a dinner on the patio of the Daily Grill in Studio City.

I stop at a full page, four color ad. There is a picture of a large pill in the middle of a field. My first thought is that it’s one of the ubiquitous pharma ads: a treatment for fear of open spaces, perhaps. Wait, it’s not a pill, it’s a close up of a pitcher’s mound.

What are they selling?

I look at the bottom of the page to see whose ad it is. What’s the brand?


Ah… sure, Unum. And they are selling….

Now I have to read the very fine print. I discover that the pill cum pitcher’s mound is neither; it’s a base pad, like second base. And Unum, well they sell employee disability insurance. And the base pad…that was something that a professional baseball player might trip over and hobble the “Entire organization for the rest of the season.”


Show of hands: how many of you CEOs out there would spend $104,300 for this ad in the international edition?

How about the California edition, just $24,000?

Thought so.

So for any of you agency VPs that are looking for an account that needs advertising help….But be gentle.

Not far from our friends at Unum is a two page story about the challenges of a Silicon Valley startup. It is a interesting story and my money would be on the company being a huge success. They have a unique product, which lets users of different IM services – AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, talk to each other – way cool. Add to that a dose of serious PR savvy: not only is the coverage in the Business Week article highly positive, someone had the public relations chops to get the article placed in the first place, a serious coup.

So I’m thinking, these guys will are going to make it; they’ll do well. But it won’t be their brand that drives their success, because the name of their company is – stay with me here – Meebo, which, even according to the founders, means… exactly nothing.

That’s right. The Gen Y founders were at a restaurant discussing what their name should be. They wanted a brand with two syllables. One of them favored names starting with the letter “M.” It was a short trip from there to doodles on a paper napkin and then to Meebo.

The Meebo story highlights a critical point: the foundation of a company’s success is rooted in a solid product that is needed and wanted by some market segment, the larger the better. A good product and great service puts you on the fast track to the options candy store. But what keeps you there, what fuels the sales and income, is marketing that drives that brand into the mind of your public. And a brand that tells your public what your product is or does, greases that track in an almost mystic way. The right brand flies into the mind of your prospects like a metaphysical frisbee.

Weekly magazines have done well at this: Sports Illustrated;

Newsweek; The National Enquirer; Reader’s Digest; Cigar Aficianado; Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ); Woman’s Wear Daily and Ebony, to name a few.

So have non-profits that work to better social conditions, environmental problems, and civil rights: The Sierra Club; The Earth Organization; The American Civil Liberties Union; Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

How much easier is it to remember than it is to remember -or even spell – Orbitz?

Which brand better communicates a product that handles spam, Cloud Mark or Spam Arrest?

If you were looking for a software program to help you design your new home, which brand would best communicate to you; Broderbund or Chief Architect?

How about software to help you with your income, which would most attract your interest to purchase; TurboTax or Tax Gaga?

Which is a better name for a GPS system; Nuvi or Street Pilot?

Some of these names sound like an off-planet law firm: Nuvi, Meebo Orbitz, & Gaga, LLC.

Marketing is about communicating with your prospects. Communication involves understanding. If you have to create that understanding from whole cloth (e.g., Nuvi means GPS), it is a harder sell and a more costly branding program. It can be done, but why make it difficult?

Modesty aside, I can’t tell you the number of people that have commented on how “spot on,” the name of our company is: On Target Research.

I can’t take all the credit. We simply did for ourselves what we do for our clients: we conducted a branding survey. We created a number of potential names that communicated what we did. Then we surveyed corporate Sales & Marketing Directors as well as account executives in advertising agencies – both key publics that need and use market research and surveys. On Target Research won hands down.

We encourage anyone starting a new company, rolling out a new product or considering rebranding an existing one, to select a name that reminds people what you do every time it is spoken, written, printed, or communicated in any way.

And if you really want to create a brand that makes the angels sing and the cash register ring, give us a call, or send us an email, to discuss a branding survey, because at On Target Research we conduct surveys that drives sales.



Bruce Wiseman
President & CEO
On Target Research

C 818-397-1401
F 800-680-1452