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.


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.



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.

A New Spin on Tires

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Brand Identity,Branding,Naming,Positioning,Taglines | Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Think back to the last time you bought tires. If you’re like me, you went to a discount tire store and sat in the waiting room while they were installed.

Hard chair. Bad lighting. Dirty floor. Burned coffee. Irritating channel on the TV. Interior decorating by Goodyear.

Other than offering a decent price on tires–and competent service, if you’re lucky–the current tire buying experience leaves much to be desired.

A Twin Cities entrepreneur had a better idea. Why not make buying tires more emotionally appealing? Let’s replace everything people hate with something they love. Comfortable, upholstered furniture. Pleasing lighting. Carpeted floors. Wi-Fi, HDTV, current magazines, tasteful decor. Let’s let them order online from a huge selection, schedule their appointment on our Web site, or even have their tires installed by mobile service at their home or office.

A concept this different called for a brand with style and emotional appeal. So we developed Grooves, a name alluding not only to the functional aspects of tires, but also the smooth experience you’ll have buying them. Tagline: “You’ll like how we roll.”




As an agency specializing in brand creation, we have branded a few startup businesses that, for various reasons, never came to full fruition. Unfortunately, Grooves is one of them.

It’s disappointing enough not to see the brand in use. But I was really looking forward to buying my next set of tires there. Guess I’ll just have to deal with spartan waiting rooms.



Startups and Brand Creation

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Intellectual Property Law,Naming,Small Business,Trademarks | Thursday, March 28th, 2013

A trademark can be a company’s most valuable asset. But too often, brand development and trademarking are not at the top of the entrepreneur’s to-do list when he or she is ramping up. It’s time-consuming, and often entrepreneurs don’t understand the value of intellectual property. How could a name, for example, cost more than the furniture for their office?

And then there’s the Bootstrapper’s Dilemma: The cost of creating and protecting a brand comes at a time when the fledgling company can least afford it.

But brand creation mistakes can be costly. Going to market with a brand you don’t completely own can come back to haunt you months later, as small business owners like the Oatmeal learned the hard way, and Apple seems to discover over and over and over and over.

Going to market with a completely protected weak name isn’t the answer either. Several years after starting SimulScribe, his voicemail transcription business, the founder realized his weak brand name was hindering growth, so he renamed the company to PhoneTag. Rebranding paid off immediately, with sales doubling in 18 months. But it came at a cost. Not only did the company have to pay significantly for rebranding, it also suffered considerable lost opportunity costs by operating for so long with a weak brand.

Today’s Forbes provides a valuable primer on naming a startup, including helpful information like this for aspiring global marketers:

As it turns out, a little-known rule about trademarking names is this: there is a six month window after applying for a domestic (U.S.) trademark during which you can safely apply for a trademark in another country and it will be backdated to the date of the U.S. registration.

See Trademarking 101 — 9 Red Flags Before Naming Your Startup


Kudos for the Queen Bee

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Brand Identity,Branding,Naming,Pollywog News,Rebranding,Small Business | Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

In 2007, Mary Pokluda was an aspiring entrepreneur with the self-named personal assistant business, “The PA4U.” Recognizing the weakness of her brand name, though, Mary asked Pollywog to help.

So we created a new brand for her—Bumblebee—a friendly, approachable  name connoting task-driven efficiency.

Mary instantly loved her brand (and even tattooed the logo on her ankle!) and proceeded to leverage the strength of the name and visual identity in her marketing and networking. With its many evocative connotations, the Bumblebee brand has enabled Mary to link it to her services in memorable ways. From her home office—the Hive—she manages her “worker bee” subcontractors as they buzz around town from task to task.

“The aspect of association is huge,” Mary says. “Having a strong brand has allowed me to be memorable and stay top of mind.”

Combined with the strength of her brand, Mary’s determination, skills and “sweet-as-honey” personality have created a small business force of nature, and Bumblebee has enjoyed remarkable growth during the toughest economic climate since the Great Depression.

Today we learned that Bumblebee has been named one of the 100 best in American business and has received the 2013 Blue Ribbon Small Business Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

We’re very proud of Mary and her commitment to her brand. Congratulations, Mary!







A Movement for Animals

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Naming,Nonprofit,Pollywog News | Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

An estimated 3-4 million animals die in America’s shelters every year—the tragic result of pet overpopulation. Our client, Animal Humane Society, launched a bold initiative this year to help change the world for homeless pets by asking people to live by a code of honor called the “Law of the Paw.”

Everyone has what it takes to live by the Law of the Paw. When you commit to live by the Law of the Paw you’re not only helping your pet—you’re helping thousands of other animals by reducing homelessness and saving lives.

Do these three simple things for your animal, and you’ll help create a better world for all animals. And you and your pet will sleep better knowing the good deed you have done.

  • Adopt from a shelter or rescue.
  • Spay or neuter your pet.
  • ID your pet with a collar tag.

Pollywog provided brand positioning services and the program’s inspirational name. Our friends at Sussner Design created the brand identity.

I have always adopted my pets and had them spayed or neutered. But working with AHS on the Law of the Paw also made me realize how important it is to ID my housecats. (Stray, unidentified animals can account for 50%-75% of the animals in shelters.) So now, Rupert and Bixby are not only microchipped, they’re also wearing a collar with an ID tag in the event that they ever manage to sneak through an open door and out into the world.

If you own a pet or plan to get one, please promise that you’ll do these three things:  Adopt. Spay. ID.  And please add your name to the growing list of responsible pet owners committed to reducing euthanasia by living by the Law of the Paw. Sign here:  Law of the Paw

A Mac by Any Other Name

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Branding,Naming | Thursday, May 31st, 2012

I’m always fascinated by the background story behind iconic brand names. Like  Apple Computer’s re-imagined personal computer, introduced in 1998, which would ultimately be called the “iMac.”

What would Apple look like today if its agency hadn’t talked Steve Jobs out of his pet name for it–the “MacMan?” Would we have had the “iPod” or the “PodMan?” The “iPhone” or the “PhoneMan?” The “iPad” or the “PadMan?”

Let’s all give TBWA/Chiat/Day props for steering Jobs away from that naming disaster. And let’s be thankful that Jobs was man enough to recognize an idea better than his own. Ken Segall tells the story here.


It’s Not Just a Machine. It’s Magic.

Devon Thomas Treadwell | Brand Identity,Branding,Naming | Friday, May 11th, 2012

The first time I saw a 3D printer in action, I was amazed. It takes a CAD drawing and turns it into a physical object made of plastic. Even intricate designs with moving parts–a bicycle chain or adjustable wrench, for example–can be transformed from a digital file to an actual working model.

It’s like magic.

Last year, Stratasys, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers, contracted Pollywog to help them brand their important new product–the first professional-grade desktop 3D printer priced under $10,000. At this size and price point, 3D printing is now within reach of small product design companies and high schools who need rapid prototyping for commercial and educational uses. This quick, relatively inexpensive physical confirmation of a design’s actual shape and functionality enables product engineers and designers to be more creative.

Pollywog provided positioning, naming and brand identity services, along with consultation on product color and logo placement. In addition to a strong power name for the printer, we provided an appropriately descriptive name for the consumable–a pack of ABS plastic that makes material replacement fast and easy.

Introducing the Mojo™ 3D printer with QuickPack replacements.

News of this disruptive new product spread like wildfire across the blogosphere. And as has happened with other Pollywog power names, reporters picked up on the idea behind the brand promise and echoed it in headlines:


As more designers and engineers experience the magic of Mojo, we expect the name will be informally integrated into their workflow vocabulary:  “I’m going to Mojo this and see how it looks.” “Did you Mojo that yet?” “It’s in the Mojo.”

We’re excited about this brand/product and what we expect it will do for the company’s profitability and stock prices. It’s a winning combination. As The Street remarked, “There’s Mojo in the making at Stratasys,” and we’re pleased to have played a part in it.

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