Naming Lessons from “This Is Us”


Almost 50 years ago, Rival Manufacturing acquired a new product design: an electric crock, which they unimaginatively named the Crock-Pot. As descriptive names tend to do, “Crock-Pot” became the go-to word for all similar products, even though there are many more brands of slow cookers on the market.

Rival’s poor naming choice came back to haunt them last night when an episode of the popular TV series “This Is Us” featured a malfunctioning, generically branded slow cooker as the cause of the fire that killed Jack.

Suddenly Twitter is abuzz with people saying they’re going to toss out their Crock-Pots and remove them from their wedding registries. And they’re calling them “Crock-Pots” (or crockpots or crock pots), not “slow cookers.”

Such is the hazard of descriptive names. When a brand name describes the form or function of a product, it risks becoming generic. In addition to losing trademark protection (or not being able to trademark it in the first place), a generic-sounding brand lives or dies based on the fortunes of the entire category.

The Crock-Pot brand took a hit last night and the manufacturer is mobilizing PR for damage control, although I think this flap will quickly be forgotten.

But let the lesson be remembered: Avoid descriptive, functional names, especially if you’re first-to-market.

Be the “Apple” in the personal computer category, or the “Red Bull” in energy drinks, or the “Häagen-Dazs” of premium ice cream.

And not the “Kitty Litter” of cat litter.

Testing Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

After the firestorm last year following the release of beauty products with offensive brand names, you might think cosmetics makers would reel it in a tad.

Instead, Wycon Cosmetics doubled-down by releasing nail polish with a name so repugnant, it has to be masked out in headlines.

This is a name that decent creative people would be embarrassed to utter even in the safe environment of a brainstorming session. How did it make it all the way onto a package and into stores?

Digging into the background of this branding debacle, we learn that Italy-based Wycon had made a practice of deriving product names from song lyrics. Instead of going through the effort of honest ideation, they just dipped into the creative work of hip hop artists and stole their words, labeling their products with names such as:

  • “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” (Snoop Dogg)
  • “Candy Shop.” (50 Cent)
  • “Bootylicious.” (Beyonce)
  • And the name that created the uproar: “Thick as a Nigga” (from “Thick Nigga” by DBangz)

The company initially responded to complaints with this tepid statement: “They’re made-up names that are a bit crazy.”

But, see, that’s the problem. Wycon didn’t make up the name. These words aren’t theirs, and they don’t understand the culture they sprang from. Taken out of context and slapped onto a product, they lose their intended meaning. They become a slur said by outsiders, rather than an expression of camaraderie between people with a shared experience.

Now, I’m no fan of name testing. More often than not, audience testing eliminates good names because they’re not perfect. Testing asks people to seek out flaws that would be barely a blip if they were introduced to the brand in a natural setting. Testing is usually the kiss of death for names that have any negative connotations—even when those negative connotations actually help a brand be noticed and remembered.

Audience testing should be used only as a disaster check—to prevent the kind of debacle that can happen when creatives and decision-makers are too far removed from the target audience.

Wycon could have saved themselves a lot of grief if they’d run these names past a few black people. Or better yet, if they’d had a more diverse creative team that actually, you know, created names instead of pilfering phrases from a culture they didn’t understand.

10 Signs That You May Need to Rename Your Business

“Change direction” (CC BY 2.0) by Phillie Casablanca

Do you ever get the niggling feeling that you need to rename your business?

Think back to when you were starting up. You were probably focused on developing your products and services, researching the market, looking for office space, and the thousands of other details that precede launching a company.

If you’re like many entrepreneurs, you may not have given enough consideration to the name of your company and/or product, its competitive positioning or how the name supports a story that will intrigue and engage customers.

It’s a common mistake, but unfortunately one that has repercussions over the lifetime of your business.

Even after they’ve been operating a while, many business owners make the mistake of continuing to invest in a weak name because they believe it has earned “equity” and they fear the expense of renaming. But when a brand name is costing you customers, it’s better to cut your losses and reinvest in a more effective name.

Take this example: In its rush to get its new voicemail-to-email transcription service launched, a mobile software company christened its brand Simulscribe — a name that severely hampered word-of-mouth sales. But after it changed the name to PhoneTag, sales from customer referrals tripled and daily signups rose 40 percent in six months, according to Inc. magazine.

It’s particularly helpful to have a strong name during a market downturn, when you need every advantage you can get. A clear, compelling name and brand story can add to customers’ perception of value and quality and help lift your company above the competition. Conversely, a weak name and story makes it even tougher to succeed in a down economy by costing you potential customers at a time when every sale counts.

10 Signs That You May Need to Rename Your Business

1. You’re unable to trademark your name. Going to market with an unprotected name is like buying a house without a clear title. Own what’s yours. If your name is too generic to trademark, or worse, if it’s already trademarked by some other company, you need to rename.

2. You’re losing business to lower-priced competitors. Do customers perceive your offering as a commodity? Rebranding would enable you to develop a differentiated, focused positioning supported by a powerful name and brand identity.

3. Your offerings and/or audiences have changed. After you got into business, you discovered other opportunities, perhaps with audiences unlike those than you had originally targeted. Rename your business so it resonates with your most important market.

4. You learn that potential customers have confused your business with another. Oooh, this is bad. Not only are you not getting the business you could be, your marketing dollars may be sending customers to your competitors. Try testing your brand name’s potential for confusion by using it as a search term in Google. Do the top search results show competitors’ sites as well as your own? If so, your brand name is too similar to theirs. Let your competitors pay for their own marketing by making sure your brand name is completely unique in your industry.

5. People have to be exposed to your brand name many times before they remember it. A good brand name sticks after just a couple of repetitions. A powerful brand name earns a place in the memory bank with only one exposure.

6. Your brand name is long, and it’s frequently reduced to initials. Unless your brand has the awareness of an International Business Machines (IBM) or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), its name loses meaning when it gets shortened to a string of letters. When the brevity required by social media and text messaging tempts people (including your own employees) to abbreviate your brand name, consider whether that name is working for you as well as it should. A strong brand name reinforces its brand story with every repetition, but it can’t do that when it gets reduced to initials, especially if the brand is not already big and well-known.

7. You hardly ever hear anyone say, “I like your name.” Remember, no matter what industry you’re in, no matter who your target market is, you’re dealing with human beings, and our first reaction to a brand is emotional, not rational. When your name connects emotionally, you’ll start a conversation with customers that can include your rational reasons why they should buy.

8. When strangers at an industry conference read the name of your company on your badge, they rarely ask you for more information about what you do. A brand name’s primary role is to pique interest and allude to a brand promise or differentiator. It should be short, memorable and attention-getting. Your generic descriptor —i.e., the product you make, the service you offer, etc.—can do the heavy lifting of explaining what you’re selling. And remember that literal, descriptive names can be difficult to trademark, and they’re often similar to competitors’ names.

9. You’d like to launch a new offering in a different category. Don’t fall into the line extension trap. Unless your new product is very closely linked to your current offering, you’re better off developing a new name and brand story than creating a line extension. Protect your current brand perceptions while staking out new territory with a new brand.

10. Your brand name is limiting your business opportunities. New companies are often named after what they do, where they’re located or who they were founded by. This type of name is easy to outgrow. If your brand name no longer reflects your aspirations or desired competitive positioning, you need a new name.


What about timing? When should you rename your business? I’ll cover that my next post.

Renaming for Financial Advisors: The Value of a Brand Name

The brandscape of financial advisories is crowded with self-named practices — advisors who started business under their own name. But as financial advisors become more savvy about branding and marketing — and major franchisers like Ameriprise relax their co-branding rules — many are renaming their practice, walking away from founder names in favor of a broader appeal.

To date, Pollywog has been involved with 20 Ameriprise advisor renaming projects, ranging from one-advisor businesses to practices with multiple partners. We’ve observed that renaming a financial advisor practice is a well-considered business decision, usually driven by the need for:

Easier transitions. A brand name eliminates complications when advisors come and go. There’s no need to tack another name on the door, or to have uncomfortable discussions over the prioritization of names.

Continuity. Instead of projecting the image of a practice comprised of individuals, a brand name creates the perception of a cohesive business and distributes the cachet of the brand across all advisors.

A better reflection of practice size. A brand name can more accurately express the strength and capabilities of larger practices, while providing smaller practices a brand they can grow into.

Distinctiveness. Renaming to a compelling brand name helps a practice stand out from the competition. Strong brand names almost always have more impact and memorability than personal names.

Message goals. A well-crafted brand name alludes to a practice’s brand promise and/or differentiator, and opens the door to conversations about what the practice is all about.

Brand equity. Over time, a brand name acquires valuable goodwill and prestige for the practice which can be transferred to a new owner. The portability of a brand name makes it a valuable asset in a founder’s exit strategy.

Recently, Pollywog reached out to several of the practices that we worked with to ask how their new names were performing for them. Here’s what they told us.

Renaming Heartfire Wealth

Why did you decide to rename to Heartfire Wealth?

For the ease of bringing in new partners. A brand name is less hassle and makes for greater continuity.

What was the reaction of your clients when you became Heartfire Wealth?

Everyone thinks it’s interesting. “Heartfire” evokes emotion and how we always try to connect personally with our clients and view them as family. It fits our practice well and brings up opportunities for conversations, especially when we’re working with couples.

What has your new name done for you that your previous name didn’t?

It’s given us a sense of identity and how we market ourselves. We hosted a client event when we launched the name. It’s so distinctive and really elicits questions: “What do you mean, Heartfire? What do you do differently?”

What advice would you give to other advisors?

You need to stand out, and a name is one of the most obvious ways. There are so many advisors — what’s different about you? The level of service you provide is not apparent to non-clients, but your name can be.

Any regrets over renaming?

No regrets. You guys hit it on the head. We’re extremely happy — our new name has infused us with new energy.

(More on Heartfire Wealth’s renaming project and brand story here)

Renaming Regimen Wealth

Why did you decide to rename to Regimen Wealth?

My practice was growing, and I was going to add other advisors. I wanted the identity to be about the team, not just me, and all the people we would add in the future.

What was the reaction of your clients when you became Regimen Wealth?

Extremely positive.The clients that have been with me for a while loved it. The funny thing is, when all the other advisors who know me heard the name, they said, “I really love that name.” Because they understand my personality. The name really goes to our belief and the things you have to do and steps you have to take to be successful financially. For a lot of new clients, the name is intuitive. When we walk through how we’re going to work with them and all the things we’re requiring them to do, they make the connection with the name.

What advice would you give to other advisors?

Your brand can’t be about your own name. Clients don’t want to be working with Johnson and Associates and all of a sudden the name changes. They want continuity. The name helps you tell what the company is all about. I changed the culture and image of what my entire business is. I don’t know how to assign a value to that, except to say that for the things I want to accomplish long term, this was an integral step in that strategy.

Any regrets?

No regrets. I love it. I wouldn’t change it. I’m very thankful that I went through that process. I love walking into my office and seeing Regimen Wealth on the wall. I see my employees walking around with Camelback bottles stamped with Regimen Wealth, and it makes me feel great.

(More on Regimen Wealth’s renaming project and brand story here)

Renaming Workhorse Wealth

Why did you decide to rename to Workhorse Wealth?

I wanted to differentiate from Edward Jones and other advisors and to have a name that would get brand recognition over time. Also, to do marketing that was unique and ours.

What was the reaction of your clients when you became Workhorse Wealth?

Positive. Initially, some thought that we left Ameriprise. But after explaining how the franchise works, the new name has been positive. They like the name and understand the reasons for it.

What has your new name done for you that your previous name didn’t?

Before, the practice was marketed under my own name. But the new name has changed the perception of the practice, making it more robust and team-oriented. Now when people see our new name, they get the feeling that there’s a lot more to it than just me. It makes our practice feel bigger.

What advice would you give to other advisors?

Go through the same process because there’s a lot of permanence to it. When you trademark your name, you don’t have to worry about someone else using the same name. A lot of people will come up with their own name, but at the end of the day if they didn’t do the research to find a name they can trademark, they could have done all that for nothing. It’s a great decision to make, but do it the right away. Otherwise, you may put a lot of effort and expense into something that’s not permanent.

Any regrets?

No regrets.

Renaming Fireside Wealth

Why did you decide to rename to Fireside Wealth?

To make the practice more about the team, not just about one person.

What was the reaction of your clients when you became Fireside Wealth?

Very positive. Most understood it right away, given our personalities. Overall, it’s been very well received.

What has your new name done for you that your previous name didn’t?

The new name really brought the team out. It’s allowed the team to take over more responsibility and gave them a sense of belonging and purpose.

What advice would you give to other advisors?

Don’t hesitate. Go through the process with Pollywog. By doing so, advisors can learn a lot about why they’re in the business and what they’re all about, which you don’t normally take the time to think through. The process is what I would encourage the most. The end result is fantastic, but the process of self-discovery is an important piece.

Any regrets?

No regrets.

(More on Fireside Wealth’s renaming project and brand story here)

Renaming Stoutheart Financial Group

Why did you decide to rename to Stoutheart Financial Group?

It was related to the sale of the practice.

What was the reaction of your clients when you became Stoutheart Financial Group?

It’s an unusual name, which was the point. We did a reasonable job in terms of explaining the “why.” In this area, it was not uncommon to lose a family farm because of poor financial decisions during the Dust Bowl. That’s why I got into this profession — to make sure others didn’t make similar mistakes. The stout heart refers to withstanding the trials and tribulations of difficult times.

What has your new name done for you that your previous name didn’t?

It’s allowed a seamless transition between succession. Now the firm is viewed as Stoutheart rather than Richard Campbell. When I retire three years from now, I’ll be just another advisor — just part of the team. You do have to somewhat check your ego at the door, doing this. But I don’t need to prove anything anymore.

What advice would you give to other advisors?

You have to overcome the perceptions of existing clients who tend to focus on a particular advisor. When that one leaves, the temptation is high for the clients to leave as well. A brand name puts more focus on the team. It’s a smarter move than selling your services under an individual name.

Any regrets?

No regrets. Smartest decision we ever made.

Pollywog, a naming company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been developing story-rich brands for local, national and international clients since 2007. Its client roster includes organizations of all sizes — from Fortune 400 companies to startups — in a wide range of industries including financial, technology, food and beverage, sporting goods, retail, health and wellness, personal services and education, as well as nonprofits.

Trademark’s a Drag for Pot Producers

Oh, the pains of legitimacy!

Marijuana producers’ decades-long flaunting of the law has come back to haunt them now that their product is legal in some states. The industry’s under-the-table branding has historically borrowed liberally from pop culture, including copying trademarked names such as Gorilla Glue, Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Patch Kids and Skywalker OG.

Now the same structured market that will make them bazillionaires is insisting they obey the rules.

Marijuana Brand’s Success Leads to Sticky Trademark Lawsuit

Absurdly Turdly: Computers Creating Metaphors

Absurdly Turdly: Computers Creating Metaphors

Metaphors are powerful.

As James Geary explained in his Ted Talk, “Metaphorically Speaking,” we get a more vivid understanding of something because of all the analogies triggered by its metaphor.

In branding, metaphors create expectations by linking the brand to something we already understand and evoking those qualities.

For example:

Apple — Simple. Approachable. A Garden of Eden original.
Irish Spring — Fresh. Clean. Pure.
Amazon — Huge. Abundant. Flowing.

Of course, metaphorical names only work for brands when they evoke the appropriate ideas.

To see how evocative names can go horribly wrong, check out this experiment in artificial intelligence, in which a neural network was programmed to create names for paint colors. Although able to pair adjectives with nouns and connect certain words with specific colors, the AI lacks the human brain’s ability to discern between attractive and repulsive names based on the ideas conjured by metaphors.

And thus the AI suggests names such as Navel Tan, Bank Butt, Stoner Blue and Turdly.

Which just goes to show that even the most sophisticated algorithms can’t compare to the power of human comprehension. But they’re still good for a laugh.


Pollywog is a naming company. We create story-rich names that draw people to brands. 612.326.4207