Course description: “Founded in Wayne, Pennsylvania in the autumn of 1992, Anthropologie remains a destination for women wanting a curated mix of clothing, accessories, gifts and home décor that reflects their personal style and fuels their lives' passions, from fashion to art to entertaining.”
Extra credit: Anthropologie has a charitable division called Philanthropie.
For more than five years I’ve kept a tally of mister brand names—Mr. Tea, Mr. Bra, Mr. Noodle, Mr. Handyman, et al. Lately, I’ve discovered that “mister” is démodé: all the cool generic brands have gone to grad school and earned doctorates.
Dr. Fone calls itself “the world’s #1 iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch data recovery software to recover lost contacts, text messages, pictures, notes, and much more.” This doctor has a devious side. In “The Adultery Arms Race,” published in the November Atlantic, Michelle Cottle writes that Dr. Fone allows suspicious spouses to moonlight as private eyes:
Jay spent a few days researching surveillance tools before buying a program called Dr. Fone, which enabled him to remotely recover text messages from Ann’s phone. Late one night, he downloaded her texts onto his work laptop. He spent the next day reading through them at the office. Turns out, his wife had become involved with a co-worker.
Dr. Smog N Lube in Burbank, California, sounds like a shop that sells just two things, but in fact it “offers comprehensive auto services.”
Tip: “Doctor” names work best (if they work at all) with a single descriptor, not two. “N” as an abbreviation for “and” is ill advised at all times. And the “Dr.” abbreviation is used only in a title—not in a sentence like “Go to the doctor.”
(Hat tip: brother Michael.)
Dr. Sponge(“sustainable cleaning for your skin”) sells “a revolutionary skin cleansing tool that serves as an all-in-one solution for various skincare concerns.” The sponges come in several colors and formulas.
Dr. Sponge Lycopene Body Cleansing Konjac Sponge, $11.50. Konjac, “an exotic plant native to Eastern Asia,” is further defined as “glucommnnan,” which is a misspelling. Hardly spongeworthy!
Dr. Lipp is the “original nipple balm for lips.” Yes, you read that correctly.
Why they didn’t go with “Dr. Nipp” is a mystery.
The company is based in London; the product is sold at Sephora, Bloomingdale’s, and other retailers for $15 a tube.
Dr. Dewyis another lip doctor. This one’s in Southern California.
“Dr. Dewy” is the nom de balm of Dr. Edward Akkaway, who is “inspired by nature’s unlimited bounty of remedies that help heal the body and mind, as well as enrich the soul.”
I wrote about Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School for the Visual Thesaurus in 2011. (No longer paywalled.) The name is a double entendre, I wrote; it refers both to the activity of sketching or drawing and to something more sinister:
Google “sketchy neighborhood” and you get more than 67,000 results. “Sketchy area” yields more than 70,000. Both references are to what Urban Dictionary’s contributors agree is a synonym for “unsafe,” “creepy,” “not kosher,” or “someone or something that gives off a bad feeling.”
Want to be a doctor yourself? No problem! Just ask Dr. Science, the world’s foremost authoritarian. He’ll sell you a credential.
“We’re excited for you to take the One Shower Challenge!”
“Excited for you to take” is one of the newish “excited for __” constructions that I’ve been noticing in speech and writing. The Dove copy was my first encounter with the phrase in a commercial context, but it turns out to be more common than I’d thought. (See below.) Indeed, it represents a convergence of two hot lingua-trends: preposition creep—a term I’m borrowing from English professor and language writer Ben Yagoda—and, more generally, excitement overload.
The skincare brand Vichywas new to me when I spotted it at Walgreen’s last weekend.
Vichy display at Walgreen’s.The headline strikes me as not quite idiomatic: “transforms” generally doesn’t take “to.”
But Vichy is not a new brand: it was born in 1931, when a Parisian cosmetics manufacturer, George Guérin, was treated by Dr. Prosper Haller, at the spa in Vichy, France. The two men then created a line of skincare products that used water from the famous Vichy spring. In 1955, the company was bought by L’Oréal, which still owns the brand and which in 2014 is the world’s largest cosmetics company. (L’Oréal brands include Lancôme, Maybelline, Kiehl’s, Garnier, and Clarisonic.)
Here’s where we take a detour into 20th-century European history.
For students of World War II, or for anyone who’s watched Casablanca or Marcel Ophüls’s The Sorrow and the Pity, “Vichy” is not a neutral place name.* Beginning with the French surrender in June 1940, Vichy was the administrative center of German-occupied France and became shorthand for the pro-Nazi French regime. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, “While officially neutral in the war, Vichy actively collaborated with the Nazis, including, to some degree, with their racial policies.”
Bygones, you say? Not so fast.
The founder of L’Oréal, Eugène Schueller (1881-1957), provided financial support for a violent French fascist group, La Cagoule (“the hood”). After the war, one member of the group, Jacques Correze, became chairman of L’Oréal’s U.S. marketing arm. Another member of the group, André Bettencourt, married Schueller’s daughter, Liliane. (Their daughter married a Jew, and a son from that marriage, Jean-Victor Meyers, now sits on L’Oréal’s board.) Nor did L’Oréal make public amends after the war: In Bitter Scent: The Case of L’Oréal, Nazis, and the Arab Boycott (1996), the Israeli historian Michael Bar-Zohar tells the story of how company director Jean Frydman**, a Jew and a hero of the French Resistance, was forced off L’Oréal’s board in 1989 to satisfy demands by the Arab League.
And, of course, L’Oréal keeps the Vichy name alive on its high-priced (for a drugstore brand) skincare products.
One has to assume that L’Oréal thinks the upside of the name (brand equity, pleasant sonic qualities) outweighs the downside (unsavory history, the effort and expense of a name change).*** As for me, I’m with Captain Renault.
Vichy? Absolument non!
* Also see L'Œil de Vichy (“The Eye of Vichy”), Claude Chabrol’s 1993 documentary made up of pro-Nazi propaganda produced by the Vichy regime between 1940 and 1944. You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.
** Not related to your author, as far as I know.
*** May a more appropriate tagline than “Your Ideal Skin” would help. How about “Your Beauty Collaborator”? Or “Surrender to Beautiful Skin”? Or even—cue the Marseillaise and the fog-shrouded black-and-white airport scene!—“This Could Be the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship.”
In the more than seven years since I worked with Tria’s creators (a company then called SpectraGenics, later renamed Tria Beauty) on the naming project, the brand has flourished. The company originally produced a single device, the first clinically proven laser hair-removal device for home use. It was sold through doctors’ offices. Now the Tria name is also found on two brand extensions: the Age-Defying Laserand the Blue Light, an acne treatment. And in addition to Bloomingdale’s stores across the U.S., the devices are sold onlineat TriaBeauty.com and in specialty beauty stores.
When you enter an crowded, established, not-very-exciting market with the goal of upending expectations, the best way to signal your intention is with a distinctive product name that avoids the naming trends in your category.
That’s exactly what Tristan Walker, a former Wall Street trader and Silicon Valley executive, has done with Bevel, his new shaving system for men with coarse, curly hair (mostly but not exclusively African-American men, like Walker himself).
The weighted razor and skin-preparation products are meant to reduce and prevent ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
To understand how revolutionary the Bevel name is—and to appreciate the elegant, understated product design—take a look at some competitors.
The companies behind these products have fixated on a common strategy, naming the problem. Bevel stands out because it names the solution: a razor whose single blade is angled (beveled) to shave close to the skin. (Yes, a single blade. Walker is “deeply skeptical about multi-blade razors,” according to a TechCrunch story about his company: “He holds that because you can’t patent single-blade razors, there’s no incentive for incumbent companies like Proctor [sic] & Gamble to invest in the best solution.”)
And because the Bevel system is sold as a fairly spendy subscription service, it doesn’t require retina-burning graphics to command your attention in CVS or Walgreen’s. The products can speak with the quiet authority of good design.
The Bevel name succeeds on sound and appearance, too. Its velvety, liquid consonants suggest smoothness, while the V in the middle of the word—echoed in the logo—suggests the shape of an angled blade.
Bevel.com was, of course, taken. (It redirects to an optometry website with a different name.) The choice to go with a modified domain, GetBevel.com, was smart and appropriate.
(I was a little disappointed, however, that the company’s Twitter bio includes a pronunciation guide. Really?)
Bevel is the first product and “flagship brand” of Tristan Walker’s startup enterprise, Walker and Company. It’s pure coincidence, as far as I can tell, that this Walker evokes a much older hair-care brand—also developed by an African-American for African-Americans—with the Walker name.
The Madam C.J. Walker company of Indiana was founded in 1910 by Sarah Breedlove Walker, who used her husband’s initials as her business name. As a young woman Sarah Breedlove Walker had suffered hair loss; the products she developed to treat the condition proved so popular that she became America’s first female self-made millionaire.
Madam C.J. Walker 1998 U.S. postage stamp
The company thrived for more than six decades after Madam Walker’s death in 1919; in 1985, the company was sold to Raymond Randolph, who had worked in the black-haircare industry since the 1960s. The products are once again for sale under a slightly modified name, Madame C.J. Walker Hair Products.
There have been many published biographies of Madam Walker. The one I want to read is On Her Own Ground, published in 2002 by Madam Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles.
The Days of the Dead come to their inevitable end (boo!) with a quick survey of deathly branding.
The floor display for Sinful Colors’ “To Die For” Halloween collection, at Walgreen’s, features a disembodied hand that appears to be on the verge of reanimation. The polish-color names themselves don’t quite measure up, deathworthiness-wise, unless there’s something I’m missing in Unicorn, My Turn, and Over It. Of course, if you think about it long enough, you start to see morbid overtones in all of those names.
Is that ominous-sounding, be-umlautted word an IKEA product or a death metal band name? Take the IKEA or Death quiz and test your powers of discrimination (or obsession).
The quiz was created by Pittsburgh ad agency Gatesman+Dave. Not only did I do pretty well (15 out of 20), but I also learned that there is a sub-genre of death metal called Pure Depressive Black Funeral Doom Metal. Unless that guy made it up.
Ever wonder why video-game characters die the way the do? It all started in 1983, Drew Mackie writes in “Three-Dimensional Death in a Two-Dimensional World,” when Nintendo’s Mario Bros. made its debut. In the game, Drew writes, Mario “leapt to his death, more or less. It’s weird when you think about what you’re actually seeing: In a game where Mario spent the whole time either facing left or right and scurrying along a two-dimensional plane, he died by facing the screen and jumping off the platform, toward the screen.”
[I]t ended up everywhere in video games from that era — mostly Mario-style platformers, of which there were many, but some other genres too. Your character died, and he or she looked at directly at the screen — at you, effectively — before they spasmed and leapt into oblivion. It’s like they were saying, “Hey. Fuck you. You killed me.” And then the leap. It seems strange, given that it adds a z-axis into a world that often only had an x and a y previously. But that’s how it happened.
I was stumped, so I played for time by tweeting back that it may reflect the linguistic influence of Smile Train, the charitable organization, founded in 1999, that provides free cleft-lip and cleft-palate surgery for poor children in developing countries. It isn’t dentistry, but it’s definitely medicine, and “smile” in the name and tagline (“Changing the World One Smile at a Time”*) accentuates the solution rather than the unattractive handicap. I speculated that Smile Train’s visibility and success—it’s the largest “cleft charity” in the world—may have led to copycatting by other mouth-centric occupations.
“Smile” as a substitute for “teeth and gums” certainly is widespread, as a quick survey of current Living Social deals indicates.
This is different from “Imagine that you’re smiling,” and it’s very different from “Imagine yourself after the Novocaine finally wears off.” It’s an example of metonymy: a figure of speech in which a thing is called by something closely associated with the thing—“Hollywood” to mean “the film industry,” or “the White House” to mean “the executive branch of the U.S. government.”
Once I began thinking about dentists and “your smile” I remembered another example of oral metonymy I’d been noticing lately. This one comes from the world of cosmetics and beauty advice, where it seems you’re never fully dressed without a sulky, puffy-lipped pout.
By the way, what first got me pondering “pout”—help! now I’m alliterating too!—was this marketing copy on a sample package of bareMinerals’ Marvelous Moxie lipstick**:
Yes, the same Marvelous Moxie responsible for “Kiss My Sass.”
The English-language copy talks about “a voluptuous, healthy-looking pout,” which is not just metonymic but also oxymoronic. But check out the French version. There’s a perfectly wonderful French word for pout, moue (pronounced “moo”), that’s also sometimes used in English. But the Marvelous Moxie copywriter didn’t use it. What do we see instead? “Un sourire voluptueux et resplendissant.” That’s right—a splendid, voluptuous smile.