Feel the Burn

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Humor,Naming | Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

hot-saucePeruse the many brands of hot sauce available in the U.S. and you’ll find a collection of raucous names alluding to the potency of the sauce inside the bottle.

Many names gleefully defy the safe and staid conventions of packaged goods, referring not to taste or convenience, but rather the violent effect the sauce will supposedly have on the customer’s rectum.

Sphincter Shrinker. Toxic Waste Extract. Weapons of Ass Destruction. Weed Killer. Colon Cleaner. Sir Fartalot.

A name with impact helps a brand stand out in a crowded field. But because it’s relatively easy to create and bottle a hot sauce, many small companies all over the U.S. have jumped into the market, and the branding in this category has become an arms race as each producer attempts to create a punchier name than the last guy.

The butt jokes may not be your cup of tabasco, but being offensively funny is one way to be noticed and remembered.

Those of us in other industries can be grateful that our brands don’t have to compete in such a rumpus.

Here’s a story on the naming of two hot sauce brands, including the domestic violence-tinged “Slam Ya Mama.”


Out of the Dorm Room

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Naming,Small Business | Monday, April 13th, 2015

Tech Naming Grows Up

jake-marsigliaAre technology entrepreneurs wising up about naming? After the silliness of Web 2.0 naming (which brought us “Doostang,” “Thoop,” “Tagtooga,” “Xobni,” “Joomla,” “Meemo,” “Sporge” and countless other brands, most of which have faded into obscurity), Adweek’s Christopher Heine observes that the naming of digital startups seems to be maturing.

The article notes:

“Odd names are distracting and confusing,” says Kelly Hoey, an investor and consultant. “Startups are often given feedback to simplify their pitch [to make it] understandable to their parents or grandparents—aka a nontech audience. The trend to use normal words is in line with that guidance. A normal word creates a clear visual association of what the product is.”

Sure, it’s easier to get a domain name and trademark for an invented, meaningless name, but entrepreneurs will pay the price with a brand that lacks appeal to investors as well as customers.

Naming trends will come and go. Finding a name that’s available to trademark will continue to get harder.

But what won’t change is how the brain notices, stores and recalls information. Research on the brain has found that associations between ideas help us to remember them. That’s why natural words make better brand names–there’s already meaning connected to those ideas.

It’s a perspective we’ve held since we founded Pollywog in 2007, during the height of Web 2.0 naming. We’ve helped startups in industries from education to automotive to field hockey launch their business with a brand that has impact and memorability.

So, entrepreneurs, resist the temptation to create a brand name that’s meaningless, just to get the domain name and trademark. Your brand can and should be a valuable asset–invest in it accordingly.

Depending upon your situation, you may qualify for our Microbusiness project pricing—the lowest cost we’ve seen anywhere for a custom brand name using natural words that’s available to trademark. See our Pricing page for more info.

Advising the Advisors

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Naming,Pollywog News,Positioning,Rebranding,Small Business | Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

Financial services firms are typically named after their founders. When they first hang their shingle, most advisors are the sole proprietor of their business. And because it’s a relationship-driven industry, they want their clients to pass their name to others. So it’s not surprising that founder names are the accepted convention in this industry.

But as these firms grow and other advisors are added to the practice, things get complicated. Partner names are appended to the firm’s brand name, resulting in lengthy, hard to remember monikers. Alternatively, the partners have to agree whose name will not appear in the company name–often a challenging proposition.

And what happens when partners retire? Does the practice name have to change again? How would this affect clients? Does it make the practice seem unstable?

This is why many growing financial services practices are opting for a single brand name. Not only does it avoid many of the above problems, a strong brand name can and should communicate a distinctive brand story and personality, helping the practice differentiate itself from its competitors. Ultimately, a strong brand is an asset that endures beyond the comings and goings of individual advisors.

Pollywog has had the distinct honor of being asked to rename a number of Ameriprise advisor practices. While Ameriprise branding restrictions do not allow for separate visual identity, advisors can get a lot of mileage from just changing their name.

At the time of this posting, Pollywog has completed ten projects for Ameriprise advisors. As we helped them develop their positioning, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that each firm has a different story to tell.

So here’s a list of firms with new brand names created by Pollywog. (I will add to this list as we are able to announce the names of other practices.)


workhorseWorkhorse Wealth — Located in Texas ranch country, this hard-working practice chose a name and positioning evocative of its ties to the community. “We understand the financial dynamics faced by local families because we’re one of you.”


regimenRegimen Wealth — This firm keeps their clients accountable to their plan. “When you work with us, you’ll discover a high level of intensity and attention to detail. Will success require discipline? Sure. But because you’re making choices based on what you really want—the things in life that matter most—we think you’ll be motivated to stay on plan.”


skippingstoneSkipping Stone Wealth — From the advisor: “The act of skipping a stone happens within many families when a patriarch teaches their children how to skip a stone. This parallels the connection we create with you in honoring your family’s goals and values as part of the financial planning experience you receive from us.”


kindredKindred Wealth — The advisors of this Ameriprise practice in Oklahoma are as careful with their clients’ money as they are with their own. They have an strong affinity with many of their clients and share their values—family, charity and leaving a legacy that makes a statement.


stoutheartStoutheart Financial Group — The founder of this practice says he will be his clients’ fiercest advocate. When we presented this name, he revealed that he has long been involved in music and theater and had actually sung Oscar Hammerstein’s “Stouthearted Men” on stage. Hard to imagine a more fitting name.


endgameEndgame Financial Group — This Ameriprise practice focuses strongly on retirement planning and takes a detailed, highly strategic approach to helping clients retire with confidence.



fathomFathom Advisors — With tax planning and services fully integrated into their financial planning process, these Ameriprise advisors take a deeper, more thoughtful approach to helping clients reach their financial goals.


truecolorsTrue Colors Financial — Before developing their financial plan, this advisor helps his clients identify what they really want out of life, and rarely is it just more money. When it comes to creating a life story, money is just a means to an end.

Premium Blend

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Naming,Pollywog News,Rebranding,Small Business,Taglines | Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

jambalayaSmall business owners have to wear a lot of hats. Not only are they their company’s chief executive officer, in many cases they are also the finance director, human resources specialist, marketing coordinator and IT administrator.

So when small business proprietors need advice on how to efficiently operate and grow their business, shouldn’t they choose a consultancy with expertise in all these areas?

That’s the concept behind Jambalaya. Formerly known as Bernard De La Rosa and Associates, the consultancy operates as a team of experts in various disciplines, so their clients get broad, deep expertise in the areas most affecting their business.

Bernie’s consultancy specializes in helping Ameriprise advisors grow their practices, and Pollywog has worked through him to rename a number of firms. So we were honored when Bernie asked us to rebrand his own business—and delighted when when he and his team chose our recommended name and tagline, “Jambalaya, the Right Mix of Expertise for your Business.”



Strange Fruit

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,branding debacles,Naming | Wednesday, December 10th, 2014


Racist brands have littered our marketplace for decades. Some, like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, have made modest attempts to appear less offensive, while others (I’m looking at you, Washington Redskins) staunchly defend their brands against mounting criticism.

But it takes a special kind of tone-deafness to introduce a racist brand name today and serve it up for its inevitable beating in social media. A hapless PR agency in Austin, Texas, thought nobody would notice or care when it named itself “Strange Fruit.” The Twitterverse showed them just how wrong they were.

“Strange Fruit” was a famous Billie Holiday song recorded in 1939 about lynchings in the Jim Crow South.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

The meaning behind “Strange Fruit” is horrendous, and the PR firm wildly underestimated the public’s memory and tolerance for racial allusions. “We thought the term ‘strange fruit’ really could stand for someone who stood out in a crowd,” they Tweeted in semi-apology, “a talent that was different and remarkable.”

At Pollywog, we’re not a big believer in audience testing of potential brand names. It’s our opinion that audience testing is useful only as a disaster check. Are there widely held meanings in these names that we are not seeing?

The Austin’s PR company’s audience is other business professionals. Normally, we would not expect a significant cultural disparity between the PR principals and their potential clients when it comes to how names are perceived.

But once race is introduced in a name, all bets are off. Suddenly, it’s not just about how potential customers perceive the name–now it matters to the public as a whole.

So, here’s a tip. If you’re considering a brand name that could have racial connotations, test it and see. (And by “test it,” I mean hire a researcher and use proper methodology–don’t just run it past people in the hallway.)

Or better yet, find another name.

Because even if you don’t see the racism in a name, others can and will, as the makers of Slanties Eyewear discovered.

The Austin PR agency has since announced a name change to Perennial Public Relations. What a shame that they went from shockingly offensive to completely bland. On the other hand, maybe being unnoticed and easily forgotten is their best PR strategy right now.


USPTO Cancels Redskins Trademark

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Naming,Trademarks | Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

In Landmark Decision, US Patent Office Cancels Trademark for Redskins Football Team

“We decide, based on the evidence properly before us, that these registrations must be cancelled because they were disparaging to Native Americans at the respective times they were registered,” the board wrote in its opinion.

Of course, this does not mean the NFL has to stop using the name. But this decision does remove protections. Any street hawker could sell team merchandise without paying licensing fees, which make up a significant revenue stream for the NFL. And now that there’s the threat of lost revenue, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may finally start paying attention.

Goodell has thus far expressed a startling level of indifference toward the controversy, but if the Redskins lose the trademark — and the NFL’s ability to make money off their licensed and trademarked merchandise — that indifference will assuredly fade. Goodell might “understand the affinity for that name” among fans, but he won’t understand — or tolerate — big financial losses. Ideally, Snyder and Goodell would change the name because it’s plainly derogatory. Getting rid of it because using racist terminology is expensive, though, may have to suffice.

The team will almost certainly appeal and it will take years for the case to be resolved in court. Until the team’s last appeal is exhausted, trademark protections are still in place. But it seems to be only a matter of time before trademark law may succeed where courtesy and common sense have failed.


Six Ways to Make People Fall in Love with Your Brand

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding | Monday, February 17th, 2014


A helpful infographic with some statistical gems.

Find the full-sized image here.



A Darker Shade of Black

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Naming,Taglines | Thursday, December 26th, 2013

BLACKFISH-posterSeaWorld is in a world of hurt.

The marine attraction is weathering a storm brought on by “Blackfish,” a documentary exposing its practice of capturing killer whales in the wild, separating them from their families and holding them in captivity–which, for animals accustomed to oceanwide habitats, amounts to a life sentence in a concrete bathtub.

The backlash from the film has seen SeaWorld’s stocks dropping precipitously, scientists raining condemnation upon them, scheduled musicians cancelling their concerts, and hometown teenagers throwing away their Shamu toys in disgust.

The outrage has been so pervasive that Psychology Today compares the “Blackfish Effect” to “a moral uprising akin to the one that eventually overthrew apartheid.”

“Blackfish” exposes practices that a broad swath of society finds morally repugnant and taps into a deep and largely repressed anxiety over the planet’s troubled future. No surprise it has hit a nerve.

But I have to wonder whether “Blackfish” would have been as successful had it been released under any other name.

Most people know these animals as “killer whales” or “orcas.” For most Americans, these words have been in our vocabulary since childhood–they are familiar and comfortable. Even “killer” in “killer whale” no longer compels–not when we equate killer whales with “Free Willy.” If the film had been named “Orca” or “Killer Whale,” I would have assumed it’s another nature documentary à la National Geographic. No offense to NatGeo, but … yawn.

“Blackfish” stopped me. It’s an alternative but little used name for the whale that’s dark, mysterious, strange and powerful. With the tagline, “Never capture what you can’t control,” it’s a one-two punch.

Ironically, SeaWorld has had a hand in diluting the power of the animal’s more common names. “Orca” and “killer whale” now conjure images of large marine mammals performing tricks for crowds.

To their credit, “Blackfish’s” producer and marketing team avoided these instant, cuddly, SeaWorld-shaded perceptions by naming the film with an uncommon, jarring word.

It remains to be seen if SeaWorld can survive this storm–or if it will have to find another use for all those concrete bathtubs.


Brighter Together

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Brand Identity,Branding,Naming,Pollywog News,Taglines | Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

The concept of medical malpractice was first articulated in 1768 by Sir William Blackstone, who used the term “mala praxis” to describe the improper, unskilled or negligent treatment of a patient that leads to injury or death.

By the middle of the 1800’s malpractice suits were in full swing. Between 1840 and 1860, state appellate courts saw medical malpractice suits rise 950%, while the population grew by only 85%. One of the prominent litigators for both defense and plaintiff sides was Abraham Lincoln.

Protection for physicians came in the form of medical malpractice insurance, first offered at the end of the 19th century.

Fast forward to the 1970s. A flood of claims prompted insurers–most of which were large, multi-line carriers–to dramatically raise their fees. Faced with exorbitant premiums, doctors became insurers themselves, pooling their resources to create physician-owned medical liability companies.

Today, these companies are are facing serious challenges in the market. Brought on by softening demand, increasing expenses, a lack of product diversification, consolidation and acquisitions by commercial carriers, physician-owned insurance companies are experiencing reduced profitability and an uncertain long-term prognosis.

One of these companies decided not to passively accept the inevitable. MMIC, the Midwest’s largest physician-owned insurer, restructured its corporation to become a mutual holding company and invited like-minded insurers to band together for common benefit.

The concept is that member companies aren’t simply swallowed up by MMIC–they are affiliated but remain independent. They retain their governing board and individual brands while leveraging each other’s strengths and resources. As part of the network, they’re able to share resources and expertise, giving them the scale, efficiencies, capital and support to better compete against large stock companies.

MMIC tapped Pollywog to create the brand for this new holding company of insurers who are better and stronger together. Based on this unique positioning, we created the brand name, descriptor, creative tagline, brand identity, Web site design and copy and other materials for the company’s launch.


The Constellation project led to many more opportunities to partner with MMIC on subsequent branding and communications projects–including helping to produce a quarterly magazine, Brink–and we are very happy to be working with this innovative company on a continuing basis.

What’s Your Ritual?

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Naming,Pollywog News,Positioning,Small Business | Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Athletes can be a superstitious lot. They have “lucky socks.” They avoid getting a haircut before a big game. They want special people to attend their games — or to stay away. They do certain things in a certain way, at a certain time. Why? Because a deep belief in a competitive edge helps them to win.

Last year, Pollywog was approached by an entrepreneur in Australia to help him create a brand for his line of field hockey equipment. His vision: A company fanatically focused on design, offering products made with remarkable materials and expert craftsmanship.

We quickly recognized that his new company shared the same intense desire for excellence as the athletes he was marketing to.

Pollywog provided the name for this provocative new line of products:  Ritual.


Following up with brand identity design was the Tenfold Collective in Loveland, Colorado.


There are so many things we love about this project.

  1. That we were able to serve an overseas client through the use of Skype and email.
  2. That the client was so darned intuitive. He had a clear understanding of his business and how he would differentiate his products from the competitions’.
  3. That another design agency grasped the brand promise and personality so completely and were able to create a brand identity and visual language deserving of the name, followed up by a website that fully fleshes out the brand.
  4. That we were able to deliver this project through our Micro Business Naming price structure. With a single decision-maker and a clearly defined, differentiated positioning, this offering was an ideal fit for this type of project.


Congratulations to Nat and the rest of his team for a well-executed launch of a great product. We are proud to be a part of this brand.

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress | ©2008-2011 Pollywog, Inc.