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Posts Tagged ‘metaphor’

Beating the Drum for Metaphor

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming, Trademarks on January 30, 2013 at 3:00 am

An engaging recent New Yorker article* describes the constructed language Ithkuil, which aims to be “maximally precise” by “eliminating the ambiguity, vagueness, illogic, redundancy, polysemy (multiple meanings) and overall arbitrariness that [are] seemingly ubiquitous in natural human language.”

ninjaOur first response was that the creator of this constructed language had likely not seen our recent blog post about connotation vs. denotation in brand names. The post notes that connotation is often more important than denotation in brand names. An example is gazelle. For the many who have never actually seen one of these animals, the literal meaning may be a bit blurry, yet to them the gazelle is still likely to connote swiftness and grace.

Our second reaction to Ithkuil was to ask why, as its creator noted, overall arbitrariness is so widespread in human language. The answer’s pretty easy if we picture what occurs in ordinary conversation: as communicators, we incline more toward verbal artistry than toward explicit programming. We launch plans as if they were rockets, face problems as if they were adversaries, and target opportunities as if–well, no need to flog a metaphorical horse.

Consider what language would be like without metaphor. Rather than launching plans, we’d simply make them, or start them. Metaphor is so intrinsic to the way we use words, it’s even difficult to find literal verbs to substitute for face in “face problems” or target in “target opportunities.” It’s much easier to find other metaphors: attack problems, meet problems head on, embrace change, aim for opportunities

That gives good reason to suppose that even if a precise language–be it Ithkuil or C++–should ever be spoken, it wouldn’t take a day for a ninja band of metaphors to start creeping in.

No wonder, then, that metaphor should be a staple of brand names. Metaphor helps us to see something new in everyday objects. It enables brands like Tide, BlackBerry, and Volt to stand out from the competition by endowing them with a unique, attractive message.

Metaphors do lose their force over time. Our verb reveal goes back to a Latin verb meaning ‘pull back the veil,’ yet that image no longer pops up when we encounter the word. Metaphor weakening explains how we get unwitting blends of metaphor like:

Over all, many experts conclude, advanced climate research in the United States is fragmented among an alphabet soup of agencies, strained by inadequate computing power and starved for the basic measurements of real-world conditions that are needed to improve simulations.

New York Times, June 11, 2001

The images in brand names subside over time as well. While the newcomer Volt immediately brings to mind an electric charge, the BlackBerry, introduced in 1999, now offers models–the Porsche and the Pearl–in colors other than black. Tide, introduced in 1946, hardly conjures the image of waves in the sea anymore.

But in branding, that’s OK, because a brand name’s heaviest lifting happens up front, when the name is new. A colorful name attracts attention, ties a unique message to a product, and is more likely to spread virally (if you’ll pardon the metaphor) when it’s first introduced.

Therefore, for those – like the inventor of Ithkuil – that wish to make language more efficient, we recommend metaphor, which in a single word can turn a caterpillar into a butterfly.

— Will Leben, Chair of Linguistics

* Joshua Foer, “Utopian for Beginners: An Amateur Linguist Loses Control of the Language He Invented.” The New Yorker, December 24 & 31, 2012.

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Forever Socks

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Naming, Trademark Research on July 2, 2012 at 9:48 am

How brand names are not at all but almost exactly like a pair of socks

The joke about things being analogous to socks is that “you change them every day.” Brand names should not be seen that way at all, of course. When you settle on a trademark — after having gone through all the convolutions to create it, research it, register it, and then promote it — the last thing you want to do is change it.

In fact, whether your mark is newly minted or a legacy in need of refreshing, your focus should be on nurturing, protecting, and evangelizing it.

Even so, I realized I have a pair of socks that are, in a lot of ways, very much like a brand name.

When I was 12 years old, my father, who owned his own floor-covering shop, came home from work one day with a half-dozen pairs of socks. They were a green that was almost Army olive drab in color, lightly ribbed and had no packaging at all. He told me that a man had come into his business that day, peddling socks from out of the trunk of his car.

“These socks will never need mending.” That’s what the man told my father. “They’ll never unravel and they’ll never wear out.” Never wear out? What a crock. All socks wear out eventually. It’s what socks do. But the man was so convincing, and the price was so reasonable, my father figured it would be worth it just to have a story to tell. My dad’s story was so intriguing that I wanted some of those magical green socks, too. So he gave me a pair.

The promise of a brand name is much the same. It should never need mending, never unravel, and never wear out.

Even the best brand struggles to live up to that promise. The longer it’s around, chances are it’s going to snag on something. Or start to come apart. Or begin to look a little threadbare.

In the 1950s, Ford Motor Company was staggered when their new Edsel automobile bombed in the marketplace. Coca-Cola suffered when they introduced New Coke in 1985. And Intel shuddered when the first Pentium chips in 1993 proved to be less accurate and not as fast as promised.

In each of those cases, the parent brands soldiered on, backed by companies savvy enough to respond to the negative reactions in the marketplace. All three brands are still strong today. But for every case where a brand keeps it together, there are many that fail, unable to keep the equity strong enough to stay in business, let alone popular.

It’s not enough to simply create and launch a new brand name. Care must be taken to sustain and grow those names, as if they were hothouse flowers exposed to the elements. Constant supervision and maintenance helps to save your company from costly reboots that may turn out to be futile. And it doesn’t hurt to do a little research now and then with people who aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid to make sure your brand name is being seen in a way that makes sense.

In short, take care of your trademark and it will take care of you.

Oh, and those magical green socks? Turns out that they’re a lot easier to care for than a brand name. I still have them after 40 years. I’m wearing them as I write this. They have, as promised, never been mended, never unraveled and they have yet to wear out. I’d love to order some more. Irony of ironies: I couldn’t get another pair of these if my life depended on it. Nowhere on my “forever socks” is there a brand name.

– David Placek