In the spring of 1955, the first Totsuko transistor radio, the size of a large pack of cigarettes, rolled off the production line in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. It never went on sale – its grille bent and peeled off in hot weather – but it was promising enough that the Bulova Watch Company, in New York, placed an order for 100,000 of them. Bulova wanted to rebrand the radios with its own corporate name, but Akio Morita, the owner of the company that made the radio, refused. Professional pride was one reason. But another, writes Simon Winchester in Pacific* (2015), was that “just a few days prior to receiving the order, he and his colleagues had decided to rename their company, to call it Sony.”
Stan Freberg, a man of myriad talents who was often called “the father of funny advertising,” died Tuesday in Santa Monica. He was 88.
Freberg was born in Pasadena and grew up in Los Angeles; he turned down scholarships to Stanford University and the University of Redlands in order to pursue a career in radio. He became a successful comedian and a voice actor in cartoons—his was the voice of the beaver in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp—but it’s as rule-breaking advertising copywriter that I choose to remember him.
According to the New York Times obituary, Freberg went into advertising “because he considered most commercials moronic.” In 1957, after the CBS Radio Network canceled “The Stan Freberg Show” after just 15 weeks, Freberg formed his own ad-production company, which he called Freberg Ltd. (but not very). His motto, according tothe Los Angeles Times obituary, was Ars gratia pecuniae: “Art for money’s sake.” He “set the standard for humor in advertising,” according to a tribute in Advertising Age: his work included campaigns for Chun King, Jeno’s Pizza, Sunsweet prunes (one of his prune ads starred Ray Bradbury, the science-fiction writer), Contadina tomato paste (“Who puts eight great tomatoes in that little bitty can? You know who. You know who. You know who”), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Freberg’s copy wasn’t just funny; it was subversive. He “used humor to declare war on postwar advertising,” writes the New York Times’s Douglas Martin: “Mr. Freberg even committed, eagerly, the ad industry’s greatest heresy: lampooning the deficiencies of a paying client’s own products.”
When he couldn’t get a paying client to underwrite his heresies, he went indie. His 1958 comedy single, “Green Chri$tma$” hardly seems dated today, nearly half a century later:
Deck the halls with advertising! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! ’Tis the time for merchandising! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la! Profit never needs a reason! Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la! Get the money, it’s the season! Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
I’m back at the Strong Language blog today with a post about “Schitt’s Creek,” a new sitcom that makes its U.S. debut tonight on cable TV’s Pop channel. The title was too taboo for NPR’s television critic to utter aloud, so he spelled it out, provided a rhyming mnemonic, and subsequently truncated the offensive name to “Creek.”
There’s a second naming story hidden in that one, although it’s not as racy: Pop (as in pop culture) was formerly known as the TV Guide Network; it rebranded last year as “a multi-platform destination dedicated to celebrating the fun of being a fan” where “fans don’t sit at the outskirts of pop culture making snarky comments, they live right smack in the middle of it.” Pop is targeting “modern grownups” age 35 to 40 (a rather narrow demo, don’t you think?) “who have a lot of disposable income and still go to the gym, want to look good and want to watch the show everyone is talking about,” according to the channel’s president of entertainment and media, Brad Schwartz.
Speaking of specialized lexicons, check out The D.C. Manual of Style and Usage, Washington City Paper’s entertainingly written and copiously illustrated guide. One of my favorite entries: “Blelvis: A portmanteau of ‘black’ and ‘Elvis.’ Refers exclusively to D.C.’s mostly elusive, semifamous busker; he likely never uses the words ‘portmanteau’ and ‘busker,’ but he can sing every song in the Elvis Presley catalog.” Also: “Hipster. A term that is somehow both loaded and meaningless. If you feel compelled to use it, talk to an editor.”
The new first-person-shooter game Destiny, released in September, features a huge arsenal of weapons, and I can only imagine the brainstorming sessions that produced names like Praedyth’s Revenge, Pocket Infinity, Strange Suspect, and the excellent Doctor Nope. The Australian game-review site Kotaku provides a ranking of all 74 names. (Via Our Bold Hero.) IGN lists the weapons by category(pulse rifles, fusion rifles, rocket launchers, etc.).
An “ally” is what British soldiers in Afghanistan call “a battlefield fashionista--desirables include having a beard, using a different rifle, carrying vast amounts of ammunition, being dusty and having obscene amounts of tattoos and hair.” A “crow” is a new soldier recently out of training. From a guide to Afghanistan battlefield slang published by BBC News. (Via Language Hat.)
If you’re curious about the origins of Toyota model names, this CarScoops explainer is a reasonable starting point. The Camry got its name from Japanese kanmuri, meaning “crown”; the Supra is a direct borrowing from Latin (“above”). But this story about the Yaris made me wonder: “Yaris is an amalgamation of words from Greek mythology and German. In Greek mythology, ‘Charis’ was a symbol of beauty and elegance. Toyota swapped the ‘Ch’ with ‘Ya’ – German for ‘yes’ – to symbolise the perceived reaction of European markets to the car’s styling.”
Tom Magliozzi, co-host of NPR’s long-running “Car Talk,” died November 3 at 77. In his honor, here’s a link to one of my favorite features of the show: the punny staff credits, from sculling coach Rose Dior to assistant disciplinarian Joaquin D’Planque. (Via Henry Fuhrmann.)
And speaking of novels: “Can’t get a deal for that novel manuscript? Try ad agencies. Young & Rubicam commissioned Booker award-nominated novelist William Boyd to tell any story he wanted as long as it featured a Land Rover vehicle.” By Ad Broad, who calls herself “the oldest working writer in advertising.”
From veteran name developer David Placek, founder of Lexicon Branding, some tips to help startups avoid making naming mistakes. First piece of advice: The name “doesn’t have to be clever. It just has to communicate.” And, adds Placek, stop it already with the -ly names. Yep.
Twenty-four-hour classical-music radio stations are a dwindling breed, hit hard by competition from online music-streaming services like Pandora and by the stark realities of a graying audience. All the more reason to cheer a healthy and good-humored survivor.
“Sanity Now!” KDFC outdoor ad, San Francisco. Love the script typeface.
Perhaps your first association, like mine, was the Seinfeldian rallying cry, “Serenity now!”
But KDFC has an independent claim on the slogan. The station, which was founded in 1946 and has stuck to classical programming ever since, has had five owners during the last 20 years. Before the station went nonprofitin 2011, it was owned by the Mormon-controlled Bonneville International Corporation, which promoted middle-of-the-road programming, refused to sell ads for a gay dating service, and pulled an ad for a book critical of the Christian Right. During the Bonneville era, KDFC produced a series of CDs called “Islands of Sanity,” with Classics Top 40 tracks like “Clair de Lune” and “Moonlight Sonata.”
Today, in addition to regular San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera broadcasts, the station broadcasts a daily “Island of Sanity” program hosted by Rik Malone. If you need a more immediate sanity fix, try the on-demand “instant island of sanity”: click the button, turn up your speakers, and bathe your ears in soothing strains.
Many thanks to Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette, co-hosts of public radio’s “A Way With Words,” for mentioning my blog in their September 21 program! The segment is called “How Products Got Their Names,” and if you missed the broadcast you can listen online.
The rest of the episode—“Good Juju”—is entertaining and informative, too. It includes segments on M&Ms, Hallmark Cards, restaurant lingo, aspirin (the name), and, of course, juju.
1. Dress Barn Group, the parent company of discount clothing chain Dress Barn, will seek shareholder approval for a name change to Ascena Retail Group, Inc., or Ascena Retail, Inc. The company was founded in 1962 in Stamford, Connecticut, and now has more than 800 stores through the United States; it also owns Maurices, which caters to style-conscious 20-somethings, and Justice, for girls 7 to 14. (Justice is a direct descendant of Limited Too.) The three retail brands would become subsidiaries of Ascena and would presumably retain their respective names. “The objective was to have a neutral kind of name, so you can have a family of brands underneath and not feel like they're reporting to Dress Barn,” Dress Barn’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, Armand Correia, told Bloomberg News. The retailer met with “outside experts” and chose Ascena “because it’s reminiscent of the word ‘ascend,’ Correia said.” The renamed company’s ticker symbol on Nasdaq would be ASNA, which unfortunately is the Spanish word for “female donkey.” It’s unclear how “Ascena” is meant to be pronounced: ah-SEE-na? ah-SAY-na? ass-SEEN-ah? Perhaps Dress Barn is attempting to cash in on the “ass” trend in women’s retail. (Hat tip: MJF.)
3. Starting September 16, the weekly public-radio program “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett” will be called “Krista Tippett on Being.” In the show’s blog, Tippett confesses that she wasn’t wild about “Being” at the outset. “But I have come to love the title. . . . ‘Being’ is an elemental, essential word. It was a catchword of the existentialism of the 20th century, and existentialism is making room for spiritual life in the 21st. It is more hospitable than the word ‘faith’ for our non-Christian and non-religious listeners. It is, at the same time, an evocation of the primary biblical name of God. ‘I am who I am’ can be better translated, I recall my teacher of Hebrew pointing out, as ‘I will be who I will be.’” More than 300 readers posted comments about the name change, and the next day the show’s managing producer, Kate Moos, added her own comments: “One, we’ve incorporated Krista’s name into the title prominently because we wanted it very clear that Krista remains central to the show as host and editorial leader. But I want to assure you that, in most applications, the new name will be heard as Being.” (Via Grant Barrett.)
Shoupista: An admirer of the work of UCLA urban-planning professor Donald Shoup. Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking, argues that parking regulations are mismanaged by planners, architects, and politicians, and that “free” parking is anything but.
Shoup points out the hidden costs of parking. Land is tied up that could be better used for homes and shops, and the lost value is passed on in higher prices. When parking is free, people choose driving instead of walking or taking the bus. When spaces are full, people cruise the streets, creating congestion and pollution.
So we all suffer inconvenience and pay a price for “free” parking. But businesses and residents don't like parking meters either. What’s the solution? Here’s one: create a parking benefit district so that revenue from the meters goes directly back to improve the local community. It’s a smart, transformative idea. It worked in Pasadena, revitalizing a neglected downtown.
I want that in my neighborhood. Instead of protesting, I’ve become a Shoupista. If the price of parking is set correctly, convenient spaces will be available for the local businesses. The revenue from a parking benefit district can help pay to improve and maintain our local streets and sidewalks.
I first became acquainted with the Shoupista philosophy six or seven years ago, when Donald Shoup was a guest speaker at my monthly neighborhood-association meeting. Shoup presented a case study of Old Town Pasadena, which was transformed from dilapidated to thriving after it installed parking meters and dedicated the entire revenue stream to Old Town improvements. In his quiet way, Shoup is very convincing; I understand why one might become a Shoupista. Alas, no one in our neighborhood took up the parking-benefit-district banner. Our commercial strip did get new, nuisance-y parking meters (the kind that require you to find a central pay station, pay, get a receipt, return to your car, and place the receipt on your dashboard), but all of the money goes to the city of Oakland—which nevertheless recently laid off 10 percent of its police force because of budget woes—rather than to our shopping district.
Shoup’s book is 752 pages long and costs $53.42 on Amazon, but if that seems excessive you can read a 21-page PDF summary—yes, free.
Fracking: Shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a method of obtaining natural gas by injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground, creating small cracks in hard rock that allow gas to escape. The practice is controversial because some private landowners claim it has ruined their water wells—and worse.
Steve Harris . . . lives on 14 acres south of Dallas. Shortly after a driller fracked a nearby well, he and his neighbors noticed a change in water pressure.
“When you’d flush the toilet — in the back where the bowl is — water would shoot out the top of the bowl,” says Harris.
When he took a shower, there was a foul odor, and the water left rashes on his grandson’s skin. His horses stopped drinking from their trough, and there was an oily film on top of the water.
Filmmaker Josh Fox traveled around the country to see how fracking has affected communities and homeowners. His documentary Gasland, which won a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, premieres on HBO tonight.
[S]ome homeowners he spoke to noticed that their water had been discolored or was starting to bubble. And in some communities, people were able to light the water coming out of their faucets on fire — because chemicals from the natural gas drilling process had seeped into the water.
“I did it myself,” he says. “That’s one of the most dramatic and spectacular things in the film. It just turns your whole world upside down when you can turn the faucet on and stick a cigarette lighter under it and you get this explosion of flame.”