This is all you need to know why branding companies often get a bad name. On NPR’s Marketplace this morning, the reporter asked a brand strategist what would be a good name for the college football championship being played tonight.
Her answer: The Punch Bowl.
Where do I start? There are many ways to criticize this expert advice, starting with a name so clever that it would never be taken seriously. It’s one of the problems most brand agencies create in naming (and other tactics). They look for the clever, love puns and will come up with anything that makes people laugh in the boardroom, convinced it will be memorable.
Instead, clever means it will be forgotten. It means audiences will see that you don’t take it seriously, so neither will they.
To be fair, another brand strategist – a former player – responded that names such as The Super Bowl and March Madness came organically. That they started with descriptive names, like the AFL-NFL Championship Game, before some other verbiage entered the public lexicon and was adopted.
I except that’s how this playoff championship will go as well and there’s no need for the NCAA to cram some clever name upon us.
And I understand I may be making too much of this because, as far as I know, the first brand strategist could have been joking, although it didn’t sound like it. (Her agency theme line said they create names that are Awesome!)
It points to the reason why so many brands are lost, and not just in naming. So much branding (whether it’s in naming, messaging, brand positioning, etc.) has the stink of clever on it and execs end up going back to the drawing board, hiring another agency that is either looking to please the client or win awards. So that agency either builds the brand on product benefits the company is in love with but don’t matter to the target audience. (Also, in most cases, the competition has the same product benefits.)
Or the agency comes up with something that is clever, punchy if you will. These messages win awards because they seem creative, like Citibank’s “Citi never sleeps.” (Get it? Get it?) But they do nothing to move the needle.
Branding is hard work, digging deep into what audiences respond to emotionally that is straightforward and clear. Anything else just feels like marketing. And, as savvy as audiences have become to marketing, they will just laugh and move on.