On Quora, the question-and-answer crowdsourcing site, I frequently get A2As—that’s short for Ask to Answer—from people hoping to score a free business name. I wrote for Medium about why I no longer answer those requests.
Sometimes it pays to stay in your seat after the final scene of a movie. If you stick around after a Pixar feature you’ll see, deep into the closing credits, a list of “production babies” born to employees in the year before the movie’s release. The credit roll for last year’s Frozen, from Disney, lasted 10 minutes and included a nod to the person in charge of “caffeination.”
But even tiny independent films may have gems in their closing credits.
I did a little research and learned that KissKissBankBank is a French crowdfunding site, similar to Kickstarter, that launched in 2010. The name isn’t just a clever pun: it’s also a perfect fit for a site that, unlike the more general Kickstarter, specializes in creative projects such as the film I saw.
Here’s some backstory on the name:
In 1962, after the release of Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, an Italian journalist dubbed Bond “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Pauline Kael, who took the phrase for the title of her book, explained it as “perhaps the briefest statement imaginable of the basic appeal of movies. This appeal is what attracts us, and ultimately what makes us despair when we begin to understand how seldom movies are more than this.” The original theme song for the 1965 Bond film Thunderball—sung by Shirley Bassey—was “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.”*
Changing just one letter, KissKissBankBank says “love and money”—the twin pillars of crowdfunding—while retaining the association with movies and stardom. As a nice bonus, the company extends the verbal brand in a section called “The Stakisstics.” (If only they’d hire a native speaker—and writer—to edit the rest of the English-language content!)
The smoochy approach may be particularly useful in France, where crowdfunding is still regarded as slightly suspect. Vincent Ricordeau, KissKissBankBank’s co-founder and CEO, told Rude Baguette, a blog about French startups, that U.S. culture is “much more adapted to the crowdfunding model.” In France, he said, “if you’re a professional, and you admit that you need funding, it’s seen as a weakness.”
With humor and wordplay, KissKissBankBank overcomes the prejudice and charms the skeptics. Applause all around for a winning name!
* Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is also the title of a 2005 pulp-fiction parody starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, and Michelle (“True Detective”) Monaghan. It has an impressive 84 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The smallest of the world’s dog breeds was chosen over four other finalists in a “Name The Team” contest that garnered over 5,000 submissions, triumphing over Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. …
El Paso general manager Brad Taylor said Chihuahuas was chosen as the team name because they “represent fun and are fiercely loyal.” The region’s fans were able to submit names through the team’s website. The list was narrowed based on creativity, marketability, fun, relevance to El Paso’s unique character and the ability to trademark the name.
“El Pasoans played a significant role in identifying our new team name – they attended focus groups, suggested several hundred different names, and voted in record numbers for all the names,” said Alan Ledford, president of MountainStar Sports Group.
¡Ay, chihuahua! Just because they crowdsourced the name doesn’t mean the whole crowd approves. “What a complete slap in the face to all of us El Pasoans!!!” lamented Scott Ziegler in a comment to the MiLB article. “#Padres must be thinking it will motivate players to get to the Majors quickly,” tweet-snorted Kenneth Dame. As of yesterday afternoon, more than 8,000 people had signed a Change.org petition asking MountainStar Sports Group to “not only strongly reconsider the name of our city's baseball team, but allow our taxpayers to vote on the final name, not just simply ‘recommend’ ideas for the name.”
Here’s my own dos pesos: A polarizing name—even a negative name—can make a strong brand. And “Chihuahuas” scores well compared to some other baseball-team names. Padres? Sexist and faithist! Indians? Racist! Two major-league teams are named for socks. Socks! (I do, however, tip my cap to the Amsterdam-Gloversville-Johnstown Hyphens.) By contrast, the association of Chihuahuas with “small and feisty”—feisty comes from feist, “a small, belligerent dog”—seems appropriate and engaging.
“A Meticulous Metric of Team Names.” Embiggen (and order the poster.)
Then there’s the international-friendship potential: Why couldn’t the city of Chihuahua, Mexico, name its baseball team the El Pasos?
The university caved to the pressure, and that, writes Simmons, is “disheartening”:
Design as a discipline is challenged by this notion of democracy, particularly in a viral age. We have become a culture mistrustful of expertise—in particular creative expertise. I share [UC creative director Vanessa] Correa’s fear that this cultural position stifles design, as designers increasingly lose ownership of the discourse. “If deep knowledge in these fields is weighed against the ‘likes’ and ‘tastes’ of the populace at large,” she warns, “we will create a climate that does not encourage visual or aesthetic exploration, play or inventiveness, since the new is often soundly refused.”
My own area of branding – the development of names and taglines – is similarly vulnerable to the dubious wisdom of crowds. I see it in the misplaced notion that names and taglines will somehow be strengthened by the opinions of focus groups, and in the trend toward crowdsourcing – soliciting names and taglines from well-meaning but underqualified amateurs.
I sometimes put it this way: Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but only a few are entitled to a veto.
One more quote from Simmons:
In the case of the UC rebrand, almost everyone engaged in the “critique” of the new identity—designers included—did so based on very little information. What was the brief? What challenges is the UC system facing? What is their long-term plan? What are other institutions doing? What is the assessment of the current identity? What audiences are they trying to reach? These are critical considerations that no doubt precipitated and drove the design process. But throughout this controversy, no one wrote about the strategy behind the new identity. In fact, no one wrote about the identity. Instead we fixated on one deliverable of a thoughtfully considered design process: the logo.
Because I have no training or experience as a graphic designer, I prefer not to write about visual identities, aka logos, unless there’s a language angle I can cover. That’s why I’ve avoided any comment on the new University of California logo, even though (a) I’m an alumna myself (Berkeley campus) and (b) it is, as you can readily see, a pretty dramatic development.
But in the weeks since I first learned about the logo redesign, the story has become too huge to ignore. (Even James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, has weighed in.) And when I realized there was a tiny language angle after all, I decided to add my two cents.
The University of California seal isn’t going anywhere. It will continue to grace diplomas and other official UC documents, just as it has for most of the university's long and storied history.
Jason Simon, marketing communications director at UC’s Office of the President, issued that reassurance as debate continued over a small monogram that appears on many of the university's systemwide Web pages, as well as its marketing and communication materials.
“The seal signifies the prestige and tradition of the university itself, and is a treasured part of the UC identity,” Simon said. “There has never been any plan to replace it with the monogram.”
New York City gangs take their names very, very seriously, according to “Gang ‘Slang’ers,” in the New York Post. “It took us about a month to come up with our name,” said Piff Montana, a member of the Get Touched Boyz of Jamaica, Queens. … We wanted a name that would make an impact.” The full list of 300 or so gang names reveals a preoccupation with numbers and precinctspercentages: there are gangs called 5 Precinct Percent, 10 Precinct Percent, 40 Precinct Percent, and so on up to 122 Precinct Percent. (Hat tip: NameFlash. And thanks to Dave for correcting me on "precinct.")
Before she founded the online dictionary Wordnik, Erin McKean worked on the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus,a reference that isn’t just for writers but is also by writers—i.e., various writers were invited to contribute notes on words that interested them. One of the writers assigned to McKean was the late David Foster Wallace, who, she writes, approached the copyediting phase as if “someone invited him to an all-day grammar seminar (with celebrity photo signings and vendor's expo hall), combined with a debating society picnic, where the topic was ‘RESOLVED: This Comma Should Be Removed.’ (You're not surprised, are you?)” Read the whole delightful account at “It was wonderful, marvelous, magnificent, superb, glorious, sublime, lovely, delightful ...”
In brand naming, many clients panic if a name is more than five letters long. According to Baby Name Wizard, there’s a contrary trend in baby-boy naming, at least in the US: fear of short names. Finn becomes Finnegan, Quinn becomes Quinlan, and—most boggling of all—Levi becomes Leviathan (“the twisted serpent to be killed at the end of time”) or Leviticus (the third book of the Old Testament, notable mostly for its litany of laws about skin diseases, sacrifices, and genital discharges).
Fellow name developer Chris Johnson (aka The Name Inspector) has created my new favorite Pinterest board: the Wall of Namifying, “logos of companies whose names end with -ify (or, in one case, -efy).” As you probably know, I share his obsession. (And speaking of Pinterest, I’m trying my hand at a similar project: cataloguing the many, many -ly names and logos.)
Speaking of jaundiced, there’s nothing like a Condescending Corporate Brand Page to say “We're a big corporate brand using Facebook. So look out for us asking you to like and share our stuff in a faintly embarrassing and awkward way.” Read more about the CCBP in Fast Company. (Note: the CCBP is British in origin—its URL contains “corporate bollocks”—but the themes are, alas, universal.)
I attended the Brand New Conference last year, when it was held in San Francisco, but couldn’t make it to New York for this year’s conference. Thankfully, organizer Armin Vit has compiled the best quotes and tweets from the event. Here’s a provocative opinion from UK designer Miles Newlin: “Stories have an end, and unless you want to think of your brand as having an end, then forget the storytelling idea, and forget people who talk about brand storytelling.”
Crowdsourcing a name for a new apple-flavored Mountain Dew beverage seemed like such a good idea. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, plenty. “Suddenly, its gallery of suggestions featured such winners as ‘Gushing Granny,’ ‘Diabeetus,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Fapple’.” Mountain Dew now says the campaign was created by a local customer, not the company; the “offensive content”—created by unknown pranksters—has been scrubbed from the “Dub the Dew” website.
My two posts about the origins of the expression “the whole nine yards” (here and here) continue to be among the most-searched entries on this blog. But the story isn’t finished: New research has unearthed a couple of citations that go back to the 1950s, a full decade earlier than previously assumed. Read Ben Zimmer’s Word Routes column about the new findings, “Stretching Out ‘The Whole Nine Yards’.”
Love logos? Love data? Check out Emblemetric, a new blog by James I. Bowie about trends in logo design. No seat-of-the-pants stuff, this: Bowie bases his reports on more than 1.2 million logos in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. Sample finding: “The use of two stars as a design element in US logos increased by 170 percent in 2011 over the preceding five-year period. Looking back over time, we can see that, following a pronounced dip in the 1970s, logos with two stars have been claiming an increasing share of new trademark filings for the last three decades.” Be still, my geekish heart.
Lexicographer Kory Stamper on color definitions in Webster’s Third International Dictionary: “You could spend an hour alone getting lost in ‘cerise’ (‘a moderate red that is slightly darker than claret (sense 3a), slightly lighter than Harvard crimson (sense 1), very slightly bluer and duller than average strawberry (sense 2a), and bluer and very slightly lighter than Turkey red’). No doubt people did. That may explain why we don’t define colors this way anymore.”
I want a wall-size poster of this Is the New diagram, which documents “every instance of the phrase ‘is the new’ encountered from various sources in 2005.” Samples: “October is the new December,” “staying in is the new going out,” and “flat is the new round.” (Via Diane Fischler.)
“Ms. and Mrs.,” a small personal-care-products company, was constantly being misidentified, usually as “Mr. and Mrs.” So the founders hired professionals to come up with a new name. Smart move. (Via @alanbrew.)
A wonderful list of paradoxes from virtually every discipline. I’m still pondering the Service Recovery Paradox: “Successfully fixing a problem with a defective product may lead to higher consumer satisfaction than in the case where no problem occurred at all.” (Via @operativewords.)
From the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog, Mary Norris on “Semicolons; So Tricky”: “I thought semicolons were just inflated commas, and I realized that I had no idea how to use them, and was afraid it was too late to learn, so I decided to do without them. I stuck with what I knew: the common comma, the ignorant question mark, the occasional colon, the proletarian period.”
From the New York Times’s Opinionator blog, Ben Yagoda on “The Point of Exclamation”: “A friend’s 12-year-old daughter once said that in her view, a single exclamation point is fine, as is three, but never two. My friend asked her where this rule came from and the girl said, ‘Nowhere. It’s just something you learn.’”
Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and transformative editor of Cosmopolitan, died Monday. From the New York Times front-page obit: “She was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.” Ouch. It’s easy to mock Brown, and Cosmo, but let’s not forget that in the early years of Brown’s editorship the magazine published work by Patricia Highsmith, John Fowles, and Tom Wolfe, as these covers from the 1960s attest. And brava to Brown for saying this in 1964:
I personally don’t feel that the world is going to the dogs or that young people are inferior to their counterparts of a previous generation. Our moral codes have changed slightly, but what we have now is a lot better than the days of stricter moral codes when there was child labor, no equality for women, no federal aid for destitute people, plenty of robber barons and lynching.
Pfizer’s exclusive patent rights to Viagra begin to expire next year, and the pharmaceutical company is taking what you might call prophylactic measures. This month the company will introduce generic Viagra in New Zealand under the name “Avigra”—an anagram of “Viagra.” “Avigra will be a fascinating experiment in branding and pricing strategy,” writes Bnet’s Jim Edwards, “and rival companies will observe it for clues as to how to compete when generic Viagra comes to the U.S. and other large regional markets.” Pfizer has also introduced a chewable form of the drug, Viagra Jet, in Mexico. (Hat tip: @AHundredMonkeys.)
Preparing for its initial public offering, the real-estate website Zillow, founded in 2005, last week applied for a Nasdaq listing under the ticker symbol “Z.” If it’s approved, it will be the first one-letter Nasdaq symbol, but not the first use of “Z” as a stock symbol. That distinction used to belong to Woolworth, the five-and-dime chain that went out of business in the US in 1997. The New York Stock Exchange has almost an alphabet’s worth of one-letter stock symbols; here’s a list. (Pandora Media has applied for P, which was last used by Phillips Petroleum.) Related: “Ticker Shock,” my 2006 post about about the value of a memorable ticker symbol.
Ford Motor Co. asked its 1.4 million Facebook fans for help in naming a new Mustang V6 performance package, and more than 3,000 of them went to work. The winning submission, “Mayhem Mustang,” came from Jeremy Marler of Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike some companies that turn to crowdsourcing, Ford had the grace to compensate the winner: Mr. Marler will receive a three-year lease on a 2012 Mustang equipped with the Mayhem Mustang Package. (Hat tip: @WordLab.)
Why is a telephone jack called a jack? “With all the making and breaking of connections, switch-pins wore out quickly. An early improvement was a hinged two-inch plate resembling a jackknife: the ‘jack-knife switch,’ or as it was soon called, the ‘jack.’” —The Information, by James Gleick.