When Your Brand Name Is Unfortunately Funny

Steve RivkinOctober 10, 20095183 min

A boarding school for smart kids named the Dummer Academy? Your jet is landing at Robin Hood Airport? A glucosamine supplement named Joint Juice?

When your name is, well, funny – what’s a marketer to do? Here are three approaches.

1. Show A Sense Of Humor

  •  Smucker’s – the jam and jelly folks – face their fruit-filled situation with a heaping spoonful of playfulness. “With a name like Smucker’s, it’s got to be good.” That kind of candor turns an improbable name into a brand promise.
  •  Price-Pfister turns its tongue-twister into a memory device. “The pfabulous pfaucet with the pfunny name.” That line is even on the hang tags at the retailers.
  • The hip crowd at Yahoo transformed the once-boorish notion of their word into a plus. (In Gulliver’s Travels, the Yahoo was a tribe of crude brutes in human form.)
  • Rent-A-Wreck is the oldest and largest used car rental company in the world. Do they really rent wrecks? (You might as well ask, is the perfume named Poison really poison?) “Don’t let the name fool you,” is Rent-A-Wreck’s slogan.

You can do that with language, if you have a sense of humor, a sense of irony, and some patience. Of course, not everyone is so equipped.

We asked at the West Coast headquarters of Fluke Corporation, which makes sophisticated hand-held testing instruments. “Keep your world up and running,” says their proud motto. We assume their engineering leaves nothing to chance or accident, which is how the dictionary would define a “fluke.” And that they never flounder around (because the fluke is in the flounder family). But we’ll never know. “We are not interested in discussing our corporate name,” they replied. (And that’s no fish story.)

2. Just Soldier On

  • Joint Juice goes front and center with their playful name for a glucosmine supplement. (It claims to hydrate and lubricate your joints.) Shy about their name? Not exactly: It occupies one-third of the can. And it’s selling briskly at Costco.
  • The management team in northern England gave the UK’s newest international airport a loaded name: Robin Hood Doncaster Sheffield Airport. Or for the sake of briefness, Robin Hood Airport. Travelers and residents hooted at the choice. A columnist in the Financial Times called the choice “misleading, funky and surreal.” But it turns out that the rascally Robin Hood (who allegedly lived in Sherwood Forest, some distance away) was the most familiar to international audiences. “The Robin Hood brand will enable us to inform people about what the area has to offer, as well as providing a personality for the airport,” a spokesman told the BBC. “We want to inject an element of fun and enjoyment into the traveler’s experience.”

Just to hedge their bets, the Civil Aviation Authority did confirm that plain “Doncaster Airport” would appear on maps used by air traffic controllers and pilots.

3. Bite The Bullet, And Change It

“Dummer Since 1763.” That’s one heckuva motto for the Governor Dummer Academy, the oldest independent boarding school in America.

Yes, there was a governor of Massachusetts in 1763 named William Dummer, poor chap, who donated his land to start the school. Today, the academy is the butt of endless jokes because of its name: There’s “Dumb and Dummer.” Or, “Students go in and come out Dummer.”

Market research showed the name was a turnoff for prospective new students. So in the interest of smarter marketing and recruitment, the trustees voted to change the name to The Governor’s Academy. “Rightly or wrongly, first impressions make a difference,” observed the headmaster.

For more on brand naming order Brand Aid, second edition, A Quick Reference Guide to Solving Your Branding Problems and Strengthening Your Market Position

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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Steve Rivkin


  • Kim Skildum-Reid

    October 11, 2009 at 12:26 am

    I recall driving through a little town in Wisconsin and seeing the Dull Funeral Home. I guess it’s better than the Hilarious Funeral Home! Even so, I’d change it.

  • Arun

    October 12, 2009 at 6:23 am

    I remember seeing a series of stores named “Original Fake Shop”. Really funny one.

  • Vanessa Tran

    October 12, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Haha, a very interesting and uplifting article to end my night here in Melbourne.

    Your article caught my attention which I immediately related to a true story that I would like to share.

    During a group presentation at university, presenting a new cooling and soothing after-shave product for Diesel’s “Only the Brave” campaign called “Silver Bullet”, one of the ladies burst into a fits of laughter throughout our presentation. We did not know why, but we kept trucking along.

    Upon completion of the presentation, I asked for feedback. Little did I know there was an online adult product called the “silver bullet”.

    Seriously, how were we supposed to know? We were not able to conduct any market research.

    C’mon, we’re innocent uni students here! 🙂

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