No Labels, No Hook: Political Naming that Falls Flat

By Mark Skoultchi

December 14, 2010

Yesterday a new group called No Labels launched itself onto the political scene. Being the political enthusiast that I am, I noted the veritable who’s who in their launch event’s speaker lineup. And as a namer, I couldn’t help but analyze their name.

No Labels claims to be the non-partisan political group that we need in these partisan times:

No Labels is not a centrist, conservative, or liberal movement. In fact, No Labels is not about ideology; it is about an attitude and new approach. We do not ask any political leader to ever give up their label – merely put it aside — in order to work together and find practical solutions to our nation’s problems.

A group comprised of moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, and Independents is almost by definition a centrist group. Why deny that which could be your greatest strength? Avoiding this identifying characteristic also means shying away from powerful naming messages.

So what’s left without relying on the messages of “centrism” or “working together”? Unfortunately, in the case of No Labels, not much. No Labels is obscure. Sure, there’s a story to tell. But how much time are people going to wait for you to explain the story? My guess is, not long.

Unlike the Tea Party, No Labels isn’t a name or idea that people can rally around. The ideals it stands for might be worthy of respect, but it doesn’t communicate them with the same intuitive power that something like the Tea Party does. (Note: I’m not endorsing Tea Party politics, but their name served as a bold rallying cry for a sub-section of unhappy Americans.)

Then there’s the “No” part of the name. Their organization’s name leads with a negative, condemning, confrontational word. It criticizes the status quo without necessarily outlining the idealistic future they hope to create. The tagline helps in this regard: “Not Left. Not Right. Forward.” But it’s only because the name fails to communicate the “forward” message that it requires a tagline to fill in the gaps. Taglines should support and augment a name. No good name should rely on a tagline to do the heavy lifting.

Not to mention that I also think of clothing labels and the book No Logo by Naomi Klein.

But rather than just criticize the name, I thought I’d offer a few creative ideas that might have served to better communicate the group’s purpose. These names all point to the positive “moving forward together” message that’s far more resonant than No Labels:

Central Point
Come Together
Common Goal
Common Ground
Common Sense
Good Sense
Level Heads
Middle Ground
One Voice
Unison
Unity
Vital Center

Granted, I didn’t do any trademark clearance on the names above. I’m well aware that the political world is full of non profits who have used up a lot of good names. But that’s where naming firms come into play. And I’d wager that with a majority of the top naming firms being located in the politically active Bay Area, one of us would have happily taken on this project.

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