I wonder if most creatives grasp the potential impact of a ‘naming brief’ when it arrives on the desk?
We receive a lot of them – to name a new building, or a new financial product, or a rebranded company – and no doubt many see them as annoying ‘rats and mice’ jobs when there’s a TV or digital brief waiting.
But the act of naming something is no trivial thing. As Exhibit A, let me tell you about a land estate I named more than fifteen years ago.
This LandCorp project (which spanned my time at The Shorter Group and Marketforce) was to be the first of what were called ‘GreenSmart Villages’: land developments ticking a variety of ‘sustainability’ criteria. (Man, I got good at typing ‘sustainability’ for a while there. Everybody was trying to own it. Now it seems you rarely read it.)
The key values for the brand revolved around that environmental progressiveness, plus – no prizes for guessing – community spirit. I’m pleased to say that LandCorp was, in fact, innovating in both of these areas with this project. This wasn’t just the agency rolling out the hot-buttons from a focus group – this was a product with a genuinely new story to tell.
The naming process was extensive, tapping into a number of naming ‘pathways’ determined by the brand values and the site itself: historically, the land had been home to market gardens, and the new landscape design incorporated two lakes.
A great many names were generated, and in an attempt to innovate a little myself, I started homing in on something out of the ordinary. The forward-looking, green aspect of the estate – minimising waste and emissions during construction, optimising water and energy efficiency – reminded me of a famous phrase.
“If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
This plea to take action for positive change has become part of our cultural memory, without immortalising its originator. It’s been attached to a number of people, but was actually coined in the 1960s by the president of City College NY, Buell Gallagher. In his time, he was talking about civil rights, but the phrase has equal relevance in our time when it comes to environmental issues.
When we develop names, we often seek to stimulate a conversation about the brand, so that the name alone can start to establish the brand’s values. Names with built-in stories can be very valuable in a discussion with a customer.
And that’s how we came to recommend ‘Gallagher’ as a name for the new estate. It was an attractive location name, plus it carried with it all this interesting meaning to drive home the project’s progressive credentials. I was looking forward to writing the brochure copy.
But words evoke different things for different people. Well into the creative process, with logos already on the drawing board, I recall it was the head of the sales agency, Nigel Satterley, who brought up the subject of one Norm Gallagher – not so much the quiet, thoughtful academic as the belligerent, Marxist-Leninist trade union leader. Not quite the associations we were going for.
And that’s how we came to un-recommend ‘Gallagher’, and go back through our many other options. One of those had been ‘Harvest’, referencing the market gardening history of the area, and I was taken by the possibility of playing on that history. I thought sustainability copy would flow pretty easily around the idea of ‘reaping what we sow’ (and so it ultimately did).
The final flourish was added by Nigel himself. As a salesman, he knew water was an advantage, so the new estate was finally dubbed Harvest Lakes.
I’ve been thinking about this story recently, having taken a drive through the estate now that it's well established. It really is a lovely community, which has transcended its marketing origins to become a place where real people live and work and bring up their kids. It’s big, unusually beautiful in places, and full of life.
The name we eventually settled on now seems like the only appropriate name for the place. And what about all those other potential estate names I produced around ‘community values’ and ‘progressive thinking’? You can see them as you drive around, because they were used to name all the streets.
Yes, just like I tell stories of growing up on Poincare Street in Balcatta, there will soon be adults describing their carefree childhoods spent on Harmony Avenue in Harvest Lakes. It’s stunning when you think about it. And it puts a whole new perspective on that naming brief when it arrives on the desk.