brands

A Good Nonprofit Name Makes a Mission Memorable

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but may not provide a clue to a nonprofit’s mission. A good name can make a mission clear and memorable.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but may not provide a clue to a nonprofit’s mission. A good name can make a mission clear and memorable.

‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ but is the same true for a brand? Maybe not. A good name is an important clue, sweet or otherwise.

Companies, as well as nonprofits, go to considerable lengths to pick names for their organizations, products and services that attract consumers and donors. They want a name that conveys their brand personality, if not describing what the brand is all about. Think “Jet Ski” or “Salvation Army.”

Shakespeare’s famous line from Romeo and Juliet suggests the separation between a name and its essence is illusory. A rose is a rose, after all, no matter what you call it. The contemporary dilemma is to select a name that is unmistakably linked to what it is.

Lots of brands and products have names with no apparent intrinsic meaning. All of those drug names you see in commercials come to mind. To the extent that you attach a thought to the drug name, it may be on the list of its possible side effects.

The lesson to draw from ubiquitous drug commercials is that their meaning is conveyed by visual imagery – someone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis being able to play with her grandchildren or someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease being able to go on a hike.

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Brands have logos to go with their name. In the case of high-profile brands with million-dollar advertising budgets and loads of product placements, logos can become everyday familiar – Nike’s Swoosh is a perfect example. Some companies (Intel, American Family Insurance) associate their name and logo with an earworm jingle. Others (Jack in the Box) have characters. Some nonprofits (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) command national attention because of their size and the connections of their founders.

For many brands and most nonprofits, more cost-conscious tactics are necessary. One of the most cost-effective tactics is a good name combined with a logo, tagline and iconography that provide a visual explanation and leave a memorable impression.

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While the Pittsburgh Zoo is a self-explanatory name, its black-and-white iconography underscores a sense of playful discovery. The logo for the Bronx Zoo features animals, too, and uses the elongated legs of giraffes to give it a sense of place near Manhattan. The Tour de France uses a unique script that forms a logo and emphasizes its Frenchness.

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Finding a name that conveys meaning and has the potential to become familiar is the core challenge of building an identity. Names such as World Wide Fund for Nature, Doctors Without Borders, Feeding America, Stand up to Cancer, Save the Whales and Teach for America are evocative and instructive. You have a pretty good idea what these nonprofits do. While they all have excellent logos, their names are the pack mules of meaning.

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One of the secrets of these names is they incorporate each nonprofit’s mission. They use short, concrete and powerful words. They roll off the tongue. Some of the best nonprofit names (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers – MADD) form easy-to-remember acronyms.

There is no fixed formula to devise a brand or nonprofit name. But a good place to start is exploring simplified ways to express a mission and turn them into inspirational names, taglines and images. Then test the names and imagery with staff, stakeholders and donors. It is an iterative process, but not rocket science.

The effort is worth it. A solid name can create a second “first” impression, pump up morale, increase financial support, perk interest on social media and redouble commitment to the mission. That would be a sweet-smelling rose.

Making Corporate Candor Funny

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars is running a TV ad in which intern Chet Wallaby takes the blame for the inexplicable disappearance of the wildly popular Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza from the chain’s menu.

The tongue-in-cheek bit, which features a corporate big-wig thanking the scapegoat intern for his honesty, works because it mirrors reality. A lot of C-suite executives designate someone else to convey the bad news or to take the spears for a corporate misstep.

The ad fits Little Caesars quirky brand personality, founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a Detroit Tigers farm club shortstop. Ilitich’s wife, Marian, affectionately called him her “little caesar,” which became the chain’s name. What started as a single store has become an international food services company, known for filling the largest pizza order in history – 13,386 pizzas – and renowned for setting up Love Kitchens on wheels to feed victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The bacon-wrapped pizza – a deep-dish pizza with 3.5-foot-long belt of bacon – was introduced in 2015. It drew the expected critical hazing for excess, but apparently it was popular with Little Caesars patrons. When the pizza slid from view on the menu, customers complained. Then, the TV ad announced its bacon-wrapped return.

Wallaby, the awkward, disingenuous scapegoat in the TV ad, is a perfect representation of other designated fall guys. Scapegoating is far too common, which makes the spoof funny and memorable. In real life, scapegoating is less funny and hard to forget. It can even be a brand killer.

Domino’s rebranded itself around a new pizza “from the crust up,” with ads that admitted its previous pizzas tasted like cardboard. The “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign was plaudits for “corporate candor."

Most brands may not need to go as far as Domino’s, which dropped “Pizza” from its name and ran a series of ads showing its signs being pulled down. But some – take note, Chipotle – might consider it.

Whether a brand is remade or not, owning reality is a quality that usually resonates with customers. And as Little Caesars shows, owning reality can be funny as well as serious. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock and Brands

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life.  Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Leonard Nimoy at first resisted being type-cast as Mr. Spock, but he came to realize that he and his iconic role were beloved – and his brand for life. Photo by Beth Madison, via Wikimedia Commons.

The late Leonard Nimoy wrote two memoirs with interlocking titles – "I Am Not Spock" and "I Am Spock." His literary works could be a case study in a marketing communications branding class.

Being type-cast in Hollywood is not always a good thing. Recognizing you are type-cast can be liberating. Nimoy became famous as Mr. Spock, the split-fingered Vulcan sage who could see logic in chaos. The role that catapulted him to fame became his cage, which he first rejected, but ultimately accepted.

The lesson behind Nimoy's transformation is that customers decide your brand, not you.

Rebelling against your "brand" is why many brand extensions often fail – e.g. Colgate TV dinners and Evian's water-filled bra. You are who your customers think you are, not who you think you are. The better known the brand, the more you are, well, type-cast.

When Nimoy came to grips with his situation and accepted his branding, he directed two of the six Star Trek movie take-offs. He lent his voice to a cartoon version of the popular TV series. And he branched out to photography, poetry and music.

Brands can expand if you stay grounded in what the brand is expected to be. Starbucks came up with a home coffee-making machine. Orville Reddenbacher sells ready-to-eat popcorn. Duracell offers a power mat for mobile devices. Nestlé Crunch teamed with the Girl Scouts to produce a cookie candy bar.

Much energy and expense is devoted to "branding." A good place to begin is asking your customers or clients to describe your brand. You may be surprised at what they tell you. If customers are unsure of what you do, you have one kind of branding problem. If they tell you what they like about what you do, you have a golden opportunity to keep doing it.