Problem namers

By 100m
June 25, 2019
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Filed under Naming

A case for brand names that wallow with us.

As consumers, we’re inundated with positive messages for products meant to make our lives better. This tastes good. This makes you more appealing to others. This makes your kids happy. This makes you happy because it’s cheaper than the other thing. 

Alongside this positivity comes a subliminal advertising tactic: fear. For instance, “This Strawberry Smoothie shampoo makes your kids happy — and as a bonus, it doesn’t contain all these harmful chemicals.” Subtext: “We bet other things in your house do. You’re horrible parents!!”

Or, “This 24-hour High Endurance deodorant makes you more appealing to others.” Subtext: “Nothing on earth is worse than body odor. In fact, we bet everyone you know is talking about your body odor. Make them stop before you get a nickname!!”

We know how the game works, and yet it’s hard to avoid the negativity that’s implicit in the endless loop of smiling faces. At A Hundred Monkeys, we appreciate when brands take the opposite approach and meet us on our level. For once, just wallow with us in the negativity, or at least absurdity, of whatever problem we’re facing.

Depending on the audience and the problem at hand, sometimes the best approach is to communicate “Yes, we know this sucks. Let’s figure it out together.” We especially love when we get to do this with a name. We call it naming the problem.

As a naming and branding agency, we don’t craft advertisements but we do help brands develop the language they use to explain themselves to others. Often, our clients are offering a solution to their audience’s challenge — whether it’s unreliable WiFi or murky financial planning or an unwieldy supply chain. It gives us an opportunity to see things from the audience’s perspective.

It’s a bold choice. Not all brands want to risk having a name with potentially negative meaning — making those names all the more memorable. 

For instance, take Tantrum. We’ve all had them, but none of us particularly want to be around them. The owner of this children’s toy store in San Francisco knew that the name Tantrum would be the perfect counterpoint to the pure joy inside. In other words, come here and we’ll help you avoid (or at least delay) the inevitable outburst. 

If you’ve ever been to a drugstore, you’ve probably seen the Bed Head line of hair products. Even though they’ve named a problem that most people would like to avoid (that just-rolled-out-of-bed look), they’ve also tapped into a laissez-faire counterculture vibe (that just-rolled-out-of-bed look). Whether bed head is your problem or your answer, they’ve hooked you.

We love when clients want to name the problem, because it sets them up to explain how they can help solve it — and sometimes it positions them as the obvious answer. 

We recently named a cybersecurity consultancy Broad Daylight. The name immediately calls out the issue, which is: your data is being exposed in ways you may not realize. Everyone’s exposed, and cybersecurity doesn’t just happen in the dark, but Broad Daylight can help you conceal what’s important to you. Many moons ago, we named a wireless networking company Ruckus — because internet can be a mess and everyone knows it. We also named a records management company Jigsaw — as in, they’re going to help make sense of the gobbledegook in front of you.

Sometimes we daydream about all the naming possibilities — like a diaper called Fiasco, or an antacid called Satan Take the Wheel. Sometimes heartburn makes us feel like we could self-combust, and the last thing we want is a tum tum remedy. We just want a little empathy. 

Of course, audience and tone matter. We wouldn’t recommend the name Blind Spot for an insurance company, or Vapor for a banking app — but we could imagine an acne medicine called Third Eye. 

Thanks to these grey areas, naming the problem isn’t an easy route to take. When it works, it makes people smile — because the best part about having a problem is knowing you’re not the only one.