Why Ellen’s ED Will Work

[Cache #205]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

What’s “ED”?

It could be Ed, as in a man’s name, or ee-dee, as in initials which may or may not stand for erectile dysfunction.  It turns out it’s the first of these possibilities, Ed, and the name of the new clothing and home decor brand of Ellen DeGeneres.

Is ED a decent name? How does it perform relative to the jobs that all great names must do?  First on the list is the job of being remark-able, or worthy of word-of-mouth.  For someone as well-known and beloved as Ellen DeGeneres, this job is almost impossible to screw up.  She could have called her brand Dirt and the media would fawn and the fans would tell the story far and wide.  Yet credit must be given to what makes this a remark-able name, being its use of Ellen’s initials (although EDG would be more intuitive) and the clincher, that Ellen’s spouse, Portia de Rossi, calls Ellen Ed as a nickname.

So ED comes by its name honestly, from a place of authenticity, setting it up to succeed in the second crucial job done by great names, which is to communicate the essence of the brand.  The brand in question here starts with Ellen’s personal brand, as expressed through her TV show and through her very high media profile.  The most relevant observation is that she has a highly distinctive personal style which is, in a word, not girly-girl.  So it should not be a surprise that in the apparel section of the ED website, there is not a single skirt or dress in her collection, but rather, pants and shorts.  Fittingly then, ED is distinctly not a feminine name.

The next big job is to integrate with a positioning statement or tagline.  ED does not appear to have one, which is a lost opportunity to say more about the brand in a remark-able and memorable way.  The name is nonetheless highly memorable – due to its success at the other jobs above, although there is still that issue of pronunciation.  Many will stumble, at least for awhile if not longer, over how to say the name – because it is presented in all caps as opposed to Ed.  They are likely to wonder if the name is ee-dee until they hear Ellen or someone else say the word (correctly), which Ellen pronounces as “Ed” in a video on the home page.

But again, this is Ellen we are talking about, and she has a media footprint that may be big enough to overcome this issue.  It’s a situation somewhat similar to the mispronunciation of Target as Tar-zhay:  it’s the wrong way to say the word, but does it ultimately hurt the brand?  No.

This name’s basis in authenticity sets it up to deliver strongly on the job of inspiring and attracting stakeholders.  Had Ellen decided to call the brand Ellen, certainly this would have attracted and inspired as well.  But ED takes this power to the next level, because it is a term of endearment that lets fans feel like they are in Ellen’s inner circle.

ED’s web address, www.edbyellen.com, is a stellar example of how a brand name doesn’t need to be available as a .com.  Some clients get far too hung up on getting their exact .com for their website.  Because everyone’s first choice is to own and use their exact domain name, it would appear that ed.com is owned by someone else (I am guessing by one of the drug companies behind Viagra or its competitors).  So Ellen’s team came up with a web address that actually tells the brand story better than ed.com could alone. In fact the edbyellen construction is so effective, it must have been a difficult decision not to present this as the actual brand name (and it turns out it’s the Twitter handle).

Linguistics is always a hurdle, and in this case, the most obvious concern is the possible interpretation in English of ED as erectile dysfunction.  However, any snickering over this similarity will quickly go away, as did the narrow minds who saw a problem for iPad in relation to a feminine product.

Assuming Ellen’s lawyers did their jobs and ED is legally available, the final job done well by this name is that of legacy preparation.  This is a name that, from Day One, lays the groundwork for Ellen to, one day, exit the business.  ED reflects her, but it is not synonymous with her.

It helps partially overcome a problem perceived to dog Martha Stewart, who used her full first and last names to name her business, the cons of which have been the subject of much hand-wringing, even in the pages of Harvard Business Review.  But if ED lives into middle age and Ellen carefully manages a slow exit, at some point she will be sufficiently distant from the brand that it will not suffer should she step back – or more likely, in her one-of-a-kind way, dance.

Posted in best brand names, brand authenticity, brand character, brand equity, brand names, remark-able | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toronto Pan Am Names

[Cache #204]

By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding

On the question of whether to use initials in a name, the rule is clear: (almost) never. For example, when you have a Franken-name like this…

CIBC Pan Am / Parapan Am Athletics Stadium

…there is no hope of anyone ever remembering it, and maybe ever even saying it. (If you do happen to hear someone saying it, rest assured they either work for CIBC or CBC, the latter being the Games’ broadcaster, and perhaps contractually obligated to stumble repeatedly over the full name, one that rolls off the tongue like a couch down the prairie.) So you might as well abbreviate it, as officials have done thusly:

YOR

Which is an acronym that makes absolutely no sense. Until you realize – aha! – that the venue is at York University. Then, the thing that doesn’t make sense is the exclusion of “York” from the name of the venue. And here is just one indication that the naming conventions in use by the Pan Am people are unclear. In some cases, the location of the venue is included in the name and hence acronym, and in others it is not. For example, the abbreviation for Atos Markham Pan Am / Parapan Am Centre is MAR.

And then we have the acronym for the Oshawa Sports Centre, which, according to the two conventions in use above, should be something like OSH (although many locals would get a good laugh out of ‘SHWA). But instead it is OBX – because it uses a different convention that refers to one of the sports being held there, being boxing. A convention which, if followed for YOR and MAR, would transform those acronyms to YAT (athletics being held at York) and MTT (table tennis being held in Markham).

I would like to propose a new abbreviation scheme that is less obsessed about cramming a long name into just three letters, and more concerned with actually grabbing attention and conveying meaning. For example:

Current name: Chevrolet Beach Volleyball Centre
Current acronym: PBV
Proposed acronym: BUM

Current name: Oshawa Sports Centre (boxing)
Current acronym: OBX
Proposed acronym: ABI

Current name: Pan Am Bowling Centre
Current acronym: PLB
Proposed acronym: X

The possibilities are endless. Any ideas?


A list of venue acronyms is here.

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Rush: World’s Biggest Cult Brand

[Cache #202]

On May 16th, while visiting my friends Jay and Lori in Austin, Texas, I went to the 19th Rush concert of my more than 30 years of fandom.  On June 17th and 19th, at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, will be my 20th and 21st shows.

And perhaps final, because after 41 years of touring, more than 5,000 shows and now in their early 60s, the Canadian band is signalling this to be their last major tour.

A lot of people hate Rush.  They say they hate Geddy Lee’s voice, or that the music is unnecessarily complicated, or without any swing, or that the guys in the band aren’t good looking enough, or cool enough.  I could tell you that in my prayers each night, I thank Nickelback for being hated far, far more, thereby drawing away from my heroes some of that negative attention.  But I would be lying, because the truth is that I do not care how many people hate Rush, or even how many people love Rush.  What I care about is that I love Rush, and that although I have not met them, that they have played, and continue to play, an important role in my life.

Almost everyone I know, on the other hand, knowing I am a huge fan, has a story about how they saw Geddy Lee at a movie theatre, or at a restaurant, or walking his dog in the Rosedale Ravine, or that they had drinks with Alex Lifeson in a bar on Yonge Street – all locations in essentially the same Toronto neighbourhood as mine.

If I ever did bump into one of my heroes – Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart – what would I say?  Maybe the greatest way to demonstrate my thanks and respect is to not approach them at all, to not say anything at all, for as the guys in I Love You, Man found out, there is nothing worse than to come face to face with your rock gods, have a complete meltdown, and leave them thinking you’re a moron.  So I will continue to think about it.


Note: some foul language.

While Rush’s first and second albums, in the mid 1970s, had done very well, their third record, Caress of Steel, had not.  Displaying the sense of humour that continues to be a defining feature, the band nicknamed that tour the Down the Tubes tour – one in which they found themselves no longer opening for Kiss in 15,000-seat hockey arenas, but for Ted Nugent in bars.  Their record label was intensely pressuring them to give up on the up-to-20-minute-long, multi-part songs featured on Caress of Steel – and pump out some four-minute, mainstream, radio-friendly hits.

Rush had other plans.  They went into the studio and decided that if their music careers were going to flame out, they would rather pour on the gasoline and go out in a blaze of glory.  So they made a bombastic, rock-opera-esque record with a song so long, it took up, at more than 20 minutes, the entire length of side one.  That seven-part song, eponymous with the album, was 2112 (“Twenty-One-Twelve”), a story about a man who discovers a guitar and hence music in a futuristic, totalitarian society whose high priests had suppressed it into oblivion.

It was also, of course, a story about sticking it to your boss.  About following your dreams, no matter what other people think.  And it was a massive hit with the fans, and it bought Rush their freedom – for since that album, they have had carte blanche to make whatever music they like, stick it on a record, and then send it to the record company, who then go out and market it, no questions asked.

There have been 20 studio albums in total, all of them selling gold or better, a mark that surpasses every band in history but for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.  Geddy Lee has described Rush as “the world’s biggest cult band,” for although they have sold more than 40 million records and sold out countless arenas, their appeal is still selective.  My own guess is that those 40 million records have been bought by in the area of 10 million fans, because unlike “pop” acts who quickly generate a massively wide following (and then lose it), Rush appeals to a relatively narrow, but extremely deep, fan base (which they then keep).

There is the music that fans love, which I can practically feel pressing certain centres in my brain.  But fans also love the story of three normal guys – three best friends who’ve stuck together through some excruciatingly difficult personal times.  Three guys whose worship of their own friendship appears in album artwork and symbolism that pays tribute to the number three (see the cover of their Moving Pictures album below).

Many years before the concept of branding even entered my head, Rush had a mission statement, which the drummer Peart has put like this:  ”We make music we like, and hope other people like it, too.”  They hope.  They do not predicate their songs on people having to like them.  To paraphrase Simon Sinek, they’re not trying to sell to everyone who can buy what they have – they’re only trying to sell to people who believe what they believe.

For doing what they love to do and cultivating perhaps the world’s most loyal customers, Rush may not be just the world’s biggest cult band, but its biggest cult brand – whether you, or anyone else, like it or not.


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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

[Cache #201]

“The story – from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace – is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding.  There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

We love to, and even have to, tell stories.  And according to Crucial Conversations, the book that’s sold two million copies and counting, the most important stories are not the ones we tell to others, but the ones we tell ourselves.

A crucial conversation – defined by the authors as one in which the stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong – can happen anytime and anywhere.  Like when you’re having a performance review with your employee or boss.  Or when you’re talking about intimacy issues with your spouse, or behavioural issues with your child.  Or when you’re confronting your roommate – the one genetically disposed to leave the toilet seat up, wear your clothes and steal your food from the fridge.

Whatever the situation, the fact is this:  most of us are not very good at having crucial conversations.  And if we were to master the skill, the quality of our personal and professional lives could be dramatically improved.

Here’s one way in which the authors describe the structure of a crucial conversation.  First, we see and hear what the other person has to say, and how they say it.  Then, in a span so short we may not even be aware of it, we tell ourselves a story about that information.  In turn, that story shapes the way we feel.  And finally, we respond, or otherwise act, on the basis of those feelings.

The key question is, what story are we telling ourselves in that micro-second?  In that heated moment, the range of potential narratives is as wide as humans are complex.  But for example, we might tell ourselves that we are being attacked, or that this person is a moron, or that we’re not good at dealing with this type of situation.

In that moment, we tell ourselves a micro-story.

The bigger question from a branding point of view is: what’s our macro-story?  What, in other words, is the foundational narrative of our lives?  Whatever that narrative is, it will deeply colour the story we self-tell in that crucial moment.

One way of crisply articulating our overall narrative – ultimately shaping the way we see ourselves – is to cement it in a personal brand foundation.  Early next week, I will be working with a group of 40 professionals to establish, for each of them, a three-element brand foundation:

Core purpose – why I do what I do
Position – how I am different
Character – my voice; how I act and look

From experience, I know I’ll be blown away by the emotional, inspirational ways in which these professionals express their self-image.  And that they – like you – see themselves as playing crucial roles in their jobs, personal lives and wider world.

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Top 10 Branding Tips We Learned from Letterman

[Cache #200]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

10.  Focus.  Dave didn’t get the Tonight Show, and Leno beat him in the ratings every week, but Letterman didn’t fiddle with his formula in an effort to get more market share.

9.  Think fresh, not new.  Over the years, hundreds of regular features came and went – but the cranky, weird, self-deprecating tone never changed.

8.  When you screw up – and you will – apologize and mean it.  Dave is remembered as a humble man, not as a jerk, because he (eventually) learned how to say “sorry.”

7.  Celebrate your team.  Dave honoured his crew by including them in innumerable gags and always admitting he was nothing without them.

6.  Care about what people think, but not too much.  Letterman cared deeply about his brand, but he cared more about sticking to his vision at any cost.

5.  Long term consistency pays off.  Even if someone doesn’t like Letterman, they have to respect his 33 years and 6,000 shows in the can.

4.  Be authentic.  Dave was unvarnished every night – whether jolly, angry, tired or downright unfunny – so everyone felt they knew him.

3.  Don’t be afraid to show some humility.  Dave could be a tough interviewer and his jokes could be vicious, but people loved him because he made the most fun of himself.

2.  Content is king.  If Dave couldn’t continue to attract the top celebrities and public figures, he would have been toast years ago.

1.  You’ve got to be good.  Letterman endeared himself by being both funny and human – but without the funny, no one would have cared.

LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN

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Introducing Foster, the Oaken squirrel

[Cache #199]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

It turns out there is indeed a first time for everything, for I am now a father.

Sort of.

Because I have parented – or more accurately, named – a squirrel.  He is Foster, the animated brand spokessquirrel of Oaken Financial, Canada’s newest direct-to-consumer banking brand.  Oaken sells predominantly GICs to a target market of savvy savers.  The brand’s core values, which Foster will be integral in expressing, include great security, great savings and great customer service.

Why a squirrel in the first place?  The squirrel concept was developed by the Oaken team before they came to me.  The idea of a squirrel to help tell the brand story is very clever and highly promising.  In a nutshell, squirrels are nature’s savers.  They also happen to live in oak trees and they store things for the future, because they want to be comfortable in that future.

The characteristics of Oaken’s particular squirrel were defined before his name was finalized.  My clients gave him the job of embodying Oaken’s down-to-earth, transparent company culture and encouraging Canadians to take control of their financial future.  He is intelligent, witty and sometimes cheeky – but never cheesy.  And above all, he is well versed in the financial world and he imparts knowledge of smart saving practices.

How was Foster chosen from a shortlist of names?  Names, of course, have jobs to do.  Five criteria, all related to telling the brand story in a memorable and remark-able fashion, were especially key in this case, being references to / double entendres with:

-the Oaken brand story (great savings, great security, etc)
-the name Oaken and its positioning statement, Plant for your future
-squirrels, trees and other forest imagery
-this particular squirrel’s characteristics

Oaken-Logo-CMYK-Colour-Tagline-Lg

And, perhaps most important was the remark-ability factor:  how well suited was the name to hook in people’s minds and have them talking about it with others?

The definition of foster, aside from its meanings relating to foster children, is To encourage or promote the development of something.  It is also synonymous with words including nurture, cultivate, enrich and strengthen.  All of these words and meanings relate to the squirrel’s ability to securely foster savings, as well as foster in consumers the knowledge of how to plant for their future.

And, it turns out that Foster as a baby name has meanings that include keeper of the forest.

Being a word rich with on-brand meaning, and also one that happens to be a real and rather cute name for a boy, Foster has the remark-ability factor in spades.

And so I wish Foster well.  He’s back in the hands of his true parents – the team at Oaken – who now have the all-important job of giving him a productive life.


Toronto Star story here, including coverage of Oaken’s beautiful new store in Toronto’s financial district.

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Foster!

Click on the image to see the first news clip about the Oaken mascot I was proud to name.

More to come…

oaken financial foster mascot character

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WestJet: Cockpits and Cocktails Don’t Mix

[Cache #198]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

What is a flight deck?

Why, it’s a place you drink booze, of course.  At a Blue Jays game, in the enormous stand-up bar overlooking centre field, into which crowd hundreds of fans for a bird’s eye look at the action.  I’ve been to the venue several times, right under the formerly-named Jumbotron, and it’s definitely a unique vantage point and a lot of fun.  And it’s the best deal in professional sports:  anyone with a ticket can access it, so you can just buy a nosebleed seat (sometimes less than $10 on StubHub) and you’re in.

At the Blue Jays-Yankees game this week, one could see a new, massive sign indicating the bar has been given a new name:  The WestJet Flight Deck.

The double entendre WestJet was no doubt aiming for is with one of the two definitions of the term flight deck found on Dictionary.com:

1. The cockpit of an aircraft – the place from where the pilots fly a plane.
2. The area on an aircraft carrier on which planes take off and land.

It seems sensible that the first definition was the one being aimed for, and so we have WestJet drawing a connection between the cockpits of their planes and alcohol consumption.  And not just alcohol consumption, but – taking the metaphor a further, obvious step – flying on alcohol.   By this I am not referring to the idea of actually flying the plane while drinking, but to the idea of flying, i.e. being very much under the influence of something.

It’s not a no-no for an airline to associate itself with booze: they sell the product in their lounges and on their planes, after all.  But making a direct association between booze and the area from which the plane is flown?  That’s off-brand for any airline whose primary concern is to be associated with safety.  Which is, presumably, every airline.

Air Canada has lounges in major airports, called the Maple Leaf Lounge.  So they managed to create a name that avoids flying references while at the same time, refers to the all-important Canadian aspect of their brand.

Even if you think it’s pedantic to fuss over the second meanings of Flight Deck, ultimately the name adds no value to the WestJet brand story.  We know WestJet flies planes.  Every airline flies planes.  Every plane has a flight deck.  So Flight Deck is not differentiating.  There is no upside to this name, only potential downside.

How can WestJet make a more judicious choice, and simultaneously reinforce the absolutely most crucial part of their brand – that they care because they’re owned by their staff?  With a name like The Owner’s Box.

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Be Different. In A Good Way.

[Cache #197]

By Andris Pone

President, Coin Branding

Each of us has a profoundly deep desire to be different.  If we did not believe that we were unique, that we had some one-of-a-kind value to offer the people and world around us, life would hardly be worth living.

If you are trying to build a brand for you personally or for your company, the trick is figuring out how to say you are different in a way that is in fact different, because cliché is everywhere.

The distance one must travel to get to original can appear to be very short, but this can be a mirage, for it can also be surprisingly arduous. Consider the originality, elegance and clarity of Roomba, the name for the vacuum cleaner that moves around your home, automatically giving the sidestep to obstacles in its path.  Or take this tagline from TekSavvy, an upstart Internet service provider:

We’re different.  In a good way.

Looking at this statement on paper, so to speak, it does not exactly scream of genius.  This brand has claimed that it is different, which is not earthshatteringly different.  But there are two things that do in fact make it not just different, but full-on brilliant.  First is the addition of the qualifying term:  In a good way.  This doesn’t in itself seem like such a big deal, but second, and vastly more important, is the way they’ve used this slight twist as the creation mechanism for a cast of remark-ably original characters that brings TekSavvy’s messaging to life.

Here they are on the website:

And here are some of their “bios” and catchphrases:

And here they are in TekSavvy’s ad campaign:

Just as We’re different.  In a good way. does not scream of genius when viewed as dead ink on a page, when you peruse some of the most famous taglines and positioning statements in history, many of them give zero impression that they can be differentiating in any way.

Who would have thought that something as mundane as Time to make the donuts would become a legendary line for Dunkin’ Donuts? (check out the classic ad here)  Or that Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon? would be a mega-home run for the eponymous mustard-maker?

Here’s who:  The creatives and clients who understood that a great key message can only be as brilliant, or as differentiating, as its execution.

Posted in brand advertising, brand copywriting, brand differentiation, brand messaging, key messaging, positioning, rebranding, remark-able, taglines | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment