Literalia: Now Affecting 1 in 3 Marketers.

By Mark Skoultchi

August 19, 2010

Like any self-respecting naming expert I want my kids to become naming experts when they grow up (currently, 5 and 7).  But for a while now I’ve been worried.  Worried they don’t have what it takes to make it in the naming arts.  Worried that somewhere along the genetic line a piece of my DNA got tired and lazy and didn’t make it to the after-party.  Worried that they’re not the namers I hoped they would be, and that someday they’ll destroy the family business! (hey, we’re a family here at Catchword).

Why have I been worried?  Simple.  My kids are atrocious at naming.  I submit to you the following list of items and assigned names:

Item: Jack’s stuffed giraffe.  Name: Giraffe.

Item: Anna’s sprinkled stuffed elephant.  Name: Sprinkles.

Item: Any of Jack’s blue GoGo figures:  Name: Bluey

Item: Any of Anna’s 75 My Pretty Ponies.  Name: Whatever color they are.  We have 20 Pinkies.

You get the point.  They suffer from Literalia, a severe and creatively debilitating condition affecting an astounding 92% of children in our country.  These children simply can’t access the part of their brain responsible for metaphor.  They live in a literal world, where the only names available are color or other feature based.  I could have them take Literalis, the only known pharmaceutical for the treatment of Literalia, but they’re already taking Shhhh (for volume control) and Heylookhowniceitisoutside (for their Agoraphobia, which is probably just an unhealthy obsession with the computer).  So that’s a lot of prescription drugs to be feeding my kids.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing else you can do for kids with Literalia.  The upside though is that they outgrow it.  Over time, some scientific mumbo jumbo happens and the kids learn how to access that area of their mushy mess that controls metaphoric development.  Well, in most cases.  Not all kids outgrow their Literalia.  That’s the sad truth.  Many, it turns out, never overcome the condition.  And oddly enough, many grow up to be marketers!  Weird, but it’s true.  I’ve worked with several brand managers whom I suspect had the condition.  “Storage Bank” for an online data storage platform?  “Fruit in a cup” for a shelf-stable fruit in a cup product?  People, you’re sick, don’t you see that??

Fortunately, no one at Catchword has the condition, or at least we’ve all outgrown it.  As much as we appreciate a good, descriptive, literal name when it’s appropriate (we’re damn proud to have named Allstate’s customized auto insurance program “Your Choice Auto”–it’s the right name for the product!), we prefer to work with metaphor, because metaphor typically provides for a much richer and deeper brand story.  A name built on metaphor is almost always more distinctive in the market, more layered in meaning, and more accommodating to shifts in business or product focus.  Furthermore, it’s almost certainly more protectable as a trademark (sorry guys, can’t protect “Storage” in the online storage space).

What did I name my own special friend when I was 7?  Well, back then you couldn’t “Build-A-Bear”, or dog or cat or owl or bunny or penguin–talk about an overly literal and restrictive name!  Back then a young boy had two options.  He could join the rest of the bear hugging masses and adopt “Teddy”, a name given to just about every stuffed brown bear and named for former president, Teddy Roosevelt.  Or, he could beg his parents to get him a plush Snoopy, preferably Snoopy Flying Ace with faux leather jacket, hat, red scarf and goggles.  For me, there really was no choice.   And my parents knew it.  I would’ve smothered and then systematically removed every feather from anything but a Flying Ace.  I had to have Flying Ace.  Not only was he the coolest looking stuffed animal on the planet, but he was a joy to squeeze.  Just the right amount stuffing.  Fur as realistic as the dog my parents would never get me (I’ll never forget).  And good mouthfeel for all those gummers out there.  The name I gave him?  You guessed it.  Ace.

So, okay, maybe  there’s hope for my kids after all.

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