It used to be so simple. Just bung an assortment of names over the
door and there you had it.
Boase, Massimi and Pollitt did it. So did Abbott, Mead and Vickers. Then
came another wave of successful start-ups in the late 80s, none of whose
founders - including Howell, Henry, Chaldecott and Lury and Simons,
Palmer, Denton, Clemmow and Johnson, - worried about their unwieldy
names sticking in people’s throats, just as long as they were well and
truly visible above the door.
Of course, there was always the row over the touchy subject of whose
name went first. But the principle was never in question - until
recently, that is. St Luke’s blazed a trail in 1995, but it wasn’t until
Mother launched in 1997 that the trend for off-beat agency names was
properly established. Now it seems that more and more start-ups are
coming up with wacky names.
There’s Soul, Rocket, Unity, Circus, Karmarama. And now, as announced in
Campaign last week, there’s Naked.
Why have all these new outfits shunned the traditional agency naming
device? Dave Buonaguidi, a partner of Karmarama, says bluntly: ’The
whole thing is so male and egotistical. It’s a power trip for people who
set up a business just to fatten it up and flog it. I’m not on that
Buonaguidi remembers the time - a few years ago - when he was in
discussions about starting up an agency. His would-be partner told him:
’The best thing about having your name above the door is that you can
walk into reception and there, right in front of you, is a beautiful
girl picking up the phone and saying your name.’
Jeremy Miles, a partner at the newly formed Miles Calcraft Briginshaw
Duffy, wants to distance his ’old-fashioned’ agency name from this sort
of dubious reasoning. ’We are building a quality brand, and some names
can sound temporary. Having our names over the door is a point of
differentiation and it suits our positioning as a grown-up start-up. I
know from my experience at Abbott Mead Vickers that clients like to deal
with the names over the door.’
At Naked, however, founding partner John Harlow is intent on avoiding
the hierarchical structure that he says is an inevitable result of
naming the agency after its founders.
’We work in the business of building brands and we want to create a
brand that is bigger than the individual. If there are names above the
door, clients want to deal with one of those names. Anyway, I’d be
embarrassed to have my name over the door,’ he says.
The story behind Mother has similar reasoning. Robert Saville, one of
its founders, says: ’We develop brands and we wouldn’t dream of
recommending that a client calls a new pet food ’cereals, oils and
animal derivatives’, so we shouldn’t rely on legal practice nomenclature
Miles admits that he and his partners spent days ’wrestling’ with
alternative names. And Graham Deakin, a partner at Malcolm Moore Deakin
Blazey, admits that naming the agency was the hardest thing of all when
it launched this May. ’We oscillated between funky and straight names,’
’But in the end, we thought: ’What are we offering our clients?’ We are
four senior partners who’ve ’done the do’ and know how to get
Clients want to touch knees with people whose names are over the
If we had a funky name, clients wouldn’t know whether or not the
founders were in the room.’
In the dotcom era, good, memorable names are now increasingly valuable
and difficult to own. A collection of names is more likely to be
available to copyright at a time when entrepreneurs are busy buying up
every potential brand name under the sun.
Duncan Bird, a partner in Soul, found that many of his ideas for names
had already been taken. ’So many people are making money out of names at
the moment. The Halifax has just spent pounds 1 million buying the name
’If’ for its new financial services brand.’
With a name such as Soul, Bird says, the agency is ’creating a brand
that everyone can join in. We want to be successful, attract good people
and grow, and it makes it easier for new people to be senior players if
the founders don’t have their names over the door.’
There is, however, one principle that all the agencies agree on - it’s
not what you’re called, it’s your reel that counts.
Saville says: ’It’s nice to have a name you like, but a name only gets
meaning as a result of what you do. I can’t criticise people for having
their names on the door. When you’ve broken free, part of your ego wants
everyone to know it. And some names are a big bonus - David Abbott
(Abbott Mead Vickers), Tim Delaney (Leagas Delaney) and Dave Trott
(various) were all huge draws. It works if your name has meaning.’
And even if your name doesn’t have meaning, it can take on relevance if
your new agency is a success. Neither Rainey, Kelly, Campbell and Roalfe
nor Simons, Palmer and the rest were at the top of their games when they
started their own agencies.
Eventually, though, these names became brands in their own right because
of the successful agencies behind them. The name Rainey Kelly doesn’t
conjure up MT and Jim personally - it has become a brand name referring
to everyone who works at the agency.
Suzanna Trollope, the head of naming at Interbrand Newell & Sorrell,
sums it up: ’Naming is a crucial part of the branding mix, and it’s
important to get it right first time. Then you can set about building
meaning into the name.’
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
AGENCY WHAT THE FOUNDERS SAY ...
Malcolm Moore Deakin Blazey It’s more about creating a brand
than just a name. Our logo captures
our honest, brave, cheeky approach
Karmarama Karma is an important part of our
way of doing things. The name is
liberating and fun
Naked The word suggests the essence of what
we aim to deliver - pure, simple,
unadulterated brand communication.
In a world awash with brand
messages, crystal clarity is the only
guarantor of cut-through. Brands
have to get naked
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw We wanted to create a durable brand
Duffy name, not something that could sound
transitory or even old-fashioned
Soul We want to get to the soul of brands,
and we all love the music
Mother Mother will always tell you what she
thinks and she doesn’t need a
go-between when she wants to talk to
you - it’s you and her versus the world
AGENCY CAMPAIGN’S THINKING ...
Malcolm Moore Deakin Blazey We vaguely recognise the names, but
they’re not saying a lot to us so far
Karmarama A new age name for a new age agency with
no ambitions beyond being a niche player
Naked Attention-grabbing and earnest, all at
the same time. And a good starting point
for lots of puns
Miles Calcraft Briginshaw This agency is serious about creating
Duffy itself in David Abbott’s image.
The original grown-up start-up
Soul Sounds a bit wishy-washy. But we get the
Mother Adland was dubious to start with, but now
they all wish they’d thought of it first