As we all know, verbing weirds language. And, like it or not, it’s everywhere. (See showrooming, subtexting, “Let’s Tonic,” et al.) But nouning – turning a modifier into a noun – is also increasingly popular in commerce, and it’s also changing our perceptions about what language “should” be.
Take “funness,” which Apple has been using for several months in its iPod Touch marketing. As Ben Zimmer has noted in columns for the Boston Globe and Word Routes, now that “fun” has successfully shifted from noun to adjective, you have to add “-ness” to turn it back into a noun.
But other brands aren’t even bothering with nounifying suffixes. Instead, they’re simply putting adjectives to work as nouns.
Here are nine recent examples of nouning in brand slogans. In each case, the advertiser could have made a conventionally nounish choice (“Welcome to possibility,” “The future of awesomeness”) but instead grabbed our attention, for better or worse, with a functional shift, also known as anthimeria.
Officials in Incheon, the city in South Korea, announced plans this week to transform a small fishing island off the country’s west coast into a gambling and tourism center. According to a report in the Washington Post, the project will be called EIGHTCITY – Bloomberg News reported a different spelling, “8-City” – and will be built in the shape of the number 8, which has connotations of good fortune in several Asian cultures.
California’s new health-insurance exchange, formed in compliance with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), won’t be called Avocado after all. Instead, the five-member exchange picked a safe choice, Covered California, the Los Angeles Timesreported this week. (The tentative tagline is equally bland: “Your destination for affordable healthcare.”) The stated rationale for the name is on shaky grammatical ground: “Covered is an action verb, and if we do our job, that’s what we want to happen,” exchange-board member Robert Ross told the Times. Actually, in this construction “covered” is an adjective.
Other rejected names included Eureka (the state motto) and Ursa (a Latin word for bear, in honor of the state animal).
The cable company Comcast, which already owns faster, has applied for trademark protection for UPWARE. According to the industry publication Fierce Cable, the name would be used to market software as a service (SaaS). I suspect many Comcast customers are already using UPYOURS.
(Hat tip: MJF.)
Two things I learned from a Daily Candy email this week: that there is a salon in San Francisco called Lonni’s Punani, and that the salon employs “body hair stylists,” a job title that was new to me. Lonni is the first name of the salon’s owner; she’s originally from New Jersey. And “Punani”? “Not Lonni’s last name,” Daily Candy said coyly. Further research revealed that punani is a Hawaiian word meaning “heavenly flower” and a Pacific Islander slang term for “vagina” or “vulva.”
You gotta admit that “Lonni’s Punani” sounds classier – and rhymier – than “Virginia’s Va-jay-jay.”
Balm Chicky Balm Balm lip balm is available (nope, not gonna say “comes”) in five flavors: Juicy Melons, Sweet Baby Ginger, Huge Cucumber, Wild Mountain Honey, and Hot Chocolate Love. Direct quote from the home page:
The sound track to the 70s can now be spread across your lips making them moist, supple and ready for action! With all natural ingredients and scents to fuel your inner fire, BCBB is ready to please. Want more? The real scene stealer is our unique patented package. The Friend End™ tube is designed to keep balm users from sharing more than just lip relief. Never taint your balm again!
At your local liquor store, you can find bottles of Black Death Vodka, Death’s Door gin, Death & Taxes beer, and red wines from Australia named Dead Letter Office and Dead Arm. There’s an upscale New York City boîte called Death + Company, and a popular San Francisco Bay Area restaurant called The Dead Fish.
A cosmetics website sells Dead Sexy No. 6 perfume. A business called Dead Sexy Nails, in Southern California, will give you a manicure (to die for, presumably). You can buy sportswear from companies called Board 2 Death, Death Grip, and Death Nail. (The last name is an eggcorn of “death knell.”)
If you’re in Key West, Florida, you can stop by Baby's Coffee for a bag of Death by Coffee, a proprietary blend of beans. If you’re in Boston and have a baby grand to transport, you can call Death Wish Piano Movers (motto: “We're So Good, It’s Scary!”). Pretty soon, if the trademark record is to be trusted, we’ll be seeing a line of toy cars from Mattel called Dead Fast.
Click the Death category at the bottom of this post to read my previous posts about “dead” brands. And stay tuned: It’s Life-or-Death Week on Fritinancy, and I’ll have more reports from both sides of branding’s Great Divide.
I’ll say this about Crack, a leave-in hair cream: Its branding is thorough.
Crack is “a habit-forming hair fix” that’s “curiously addictive” and provides “instant gratification.” There’s even a nod to “This is your brain on drugs,” the 1987 campaign from Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
In a video, a spokesperson tells us Crack is “made of sophisticated microproteins and power peptides found in our hydrolyzed wheat protein.” Translation: It’s got electrolytes.
(Thanks to my friend Vicky for the free sample. Now I’m hooked, dammit.)
There are names that push the envelope and names that push buttons. Here are three names that do both—one of them deliberately, one of them wrongheadedly, and one of them seemingly without a clue.
On one level, Bootie Babe, a nail polish and fragrance brand, is a playful pun on “beauty.” On another, it’s one more example of the assification of American branding. (See my previous posts on this subject: “Booty Pageant,” “Bottoms Up,” and “Cheeky!”) You could say the callipygian packaging is cute … or lewd.
The company, which is based in San Francisco, was founded in 2011 by Mark O’Hara, whose previous experience had included forming a 15-piece funk band called SuperBooty. According to the website, O’Hara launched Bootie Babes singlehandedly, designing the logo and website, applying for trademarks and patents, and overseeing product development. He clearly had fun with color names, which aim to appeal to tweens and teens. The purple on the left, above, is called Purp Slurp, and the blue is Hella Baloo. (Whether the overt sexuality is appropriate for this demographic is a subject I’ll leave to other critics.)
Unfortunately, O’Hara also seems to have taken the DIY approach to the rest of the brand language, which is an amateurish, trust-deflating mess. Here’s a line from the “Info” page:
SuperBooty President and CEO Mark O’Hara wanted to create a humorous, bold and truely [sic] unique beauty product that would literally “stand out” from the competition.
And the product name is misleading. This is a bootie—i.e., a short boot:
Well. The name is an obvious pun on “slushy/slushee/slushie,” a generic term for a syrupy-sweet crushed-ice beverage. Unfortunately, Sloshee also evokes “sloshed,” a synonym for “intoxicated.” Alcoholic beverages can promise romance, adventure, and sex, but getting wasted? That’s a no-no.
But that may be the least of Sloshee’s troubles. For one thing, the company (based here in Oakland, I regret to say) can’t decide whether its name is “Sloshee” or “Sloshees.” (I couldn’t find a trademark application, so maybe the founders are still making up their minds. Or they may be lost in a product-testing haze.) The website admits to “a year of business and legal hurdles” before the 2009 launch. The copywriting hurdles still haven’t been surmounted. From the About page:
Sloshees started in July of 2004 after observing how fun and refreshing popsicles can be after a hot summer day. We thought to ourselves, wouldn't it be awesome if popsicles had alcohol in them? The idea was formed over a few beers but it took almost 5 years to solidify into a business.
“A few beers”? Next time, try coffee.
And speaking of stumbling over hurdles, reader Stacey Kimmel-Smith, an equestrian who blogs at Behind the Bit, sent me an email about a clothing brand she’d seen at a tack shop in New Jersey.
“The company is European,” Stacey wrote, “and I wonder if maybe they selected the name without knowing that it sounds like a ‘bad word’ in English.”
When I finally stopped laughing, I checked out the Horze website. It’s replete with unintentional humor:
Who is Horze? Click here to see a movie. [Safe for work!]
Team Horze. [Cheaper by the dozen?]
This is the nature of Horze. [They’re born that way.]
Try it out yourself: Imagine strolling into a tack shop and saying, “Show me your Horze.”
There may be a cultural excuse here: Horze is a Finnish brand, launched in 2003 as an offshoot of Finn-Tack. Surely, though, there must have been at least one English-speaking person around to warn the founders that changing the S in “horse” to a Z results in “whores,” not Equine Zorro.
The POREfessional is “a PRO balm that minimizes the appearance of pores.” A blend of “pore” and “professional”; from Benefit. I can’t explain why PRO is in all caps.
On April 24, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese asked Facebook fans to “like” a post. (“You never know what may happen,” was the teaser.) More than 4,600 people followed orders, and in return Kraft “liked” them back by mentioning each and every one of them in a six-minute “Likeapella” music video. A blend of “like” and “a capella.”
Honda, on the other hand, wants you to stop using all that social media. Specifically, the auto company last month offered a $500 reward to the people most active on Pinterest if they’d take a 24-hour intermission—a Pintermission—to go out and, you know, do stuff.
The ads (by agency RPA) are medium-clever, but “Pintermission” suggests 20 minutes in the lobby after the first act of The Caretaker.
Berkeley-based Annie’s Homegrown, Inc., makers of organic macaroni and cheese, went public this week; shares rose 89 percent on the first day of trading. My favorite part of the story, other than the local angle? The ticker symbol. It’s BNNY.
“Rabbit of Approval”
Are makeup names too lewd? That was the conclusion of Sara Buntrock, who co-founded the cosmetics company What’s Your Virtue? as an alternative. No Vamp, Orgasm, or Fuggen Ugly here: WYV’s Lip Bliss line has inspirational color names like Devotion, Curiosity, and Generosity. (Via The Beheld).
Drumroll, please: Your 2011 Name of the Year is Taco B.M. Monster, the actual name of a Dutch pharmacoepidemiologist. My own pick in the annual contest, Courvoisier Winetavius Richardson, finished second.