You probably remember the story about the guy who’s sent to prison and, on his first night behind bars, is baffled when his cellmate shouts out “TWELVE!” and is greeted with raucous laughter. Another inmate shouts “TWENTY-TWO!” and gets the same reaction. Up and down the cellblock: “THREE!” “FOURTEEN!” “THIRTY-ONE!” followed by peals of laughter. Finally the new guy asks his cellmate what the numbers mean. “We’ve been in here so long that we’ve heard everyone’s jokes,” the cellmate explains. “So we just call them out by number.”
Naturally, the new guy wants to fit in. So several nights later, when there’s a pause in the numerical call-and-response, he shouts “NINE!” And … silence, punctuated by groans. “Why isn’t anyone laughing?” he asks his cellmate. “Well,” says the old-timer, “some people can tell a joke, and some people can’t.”
That’s sort of how I feel about numerical brand names. Some of them can carry off the bold move into all-digit branding, and some can’t.
Take, for example, 605.
The company – 605.tv on your internet dial – declares its intentions with home-page text that’s both shouty and rebus-y.
I discovered 605 through a review on the design blog Brand New, and before I scrolled down to see whether the number-name had any significance I’d already hazarded a couple of guesses. My first guess was that it was a reference to the Interstate 605 freeway in Southern California. (Compare Highway 1 Brewing Company on State Route 1 in Pescadero, California.*) My second guess was that 605 stood for an area code.** (Compare The 606, a park/trail system in Chicago.)
It took some digging to learn that 605.tv is based in Manhattan and Syosset, New York. Neither of my theories was correct.
Instead, it turns out that 605 is the reincarnation of the boringly named Analytics Media Group, which had worked on Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, finding the right television programs for targeted ads. In 2016, a VC firm called Dolan Family Ventures acquired Analytics Media Group and wisely decided to change its name. CEO Kristin Dolan revealed the name’s origin in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter:
The secret name for all of our data efforts internally was DataCo Ventures, DCV. When we were naming the company, we didn’t want to use another acronym, so we looked at the letters as roman numerals and translated them into regular numbers, which is 605.
This is clever, and a decent story to tell when you’re (inevitably) asked. If you’re Dolan Family Ventures, you might take some private pleasure in knowing that the D and the V from your own name are represented, however obliquely, in the new brand name.
As for the execution, here’s what Brand New’s Armin Vit had to say:
As I was starting to write my review I realized I had no idea what the 605 name meant and the reason is so obscure I kind of love it, because someone probably said “But, no one is going to get why we are called 605”, to which someone maybe replied “So?”. The Roman numeral reason is a great backstory that speaks to a way of seeing what’s in front of you in a different way, which is a nice metaphor for analyzing data.
Not to mention that when your business is numbers, a numerical name is perfectly logical. It’s an in-joke: When people get it, they laugh with you, not at you.
Read more about naming with numbers:
* Highway 1’s tagline: “Turning water into something drinkable.”
** Indeed, there’s a different 605 digital agency that’s based in Aberdeen, South Dakota, whose area code is 605. It uses the dot-marketing domain, the first one I’ve seen in the wild. There’s also a 605 Magazine, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, also in the 605 area code.