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Aug 18, 2020    Burn Book

If You Haven’t Heard of The Happy Idiot, You Might Be One


One thing Rock Candy Media in Austin has always done as a brand naming agency is keep it real with our clients (and employees), even if that means hurting feelings, calling out BS, and checking egos. And we expect the same from our clients. Our CEO expanded on that here in ABJ, here on Medium, and it’s evident in every kickoff meeting. That, however, goes against a long-used method of business/product naming that other agencies have used for decades (although, to his credit, the creator/coiner Walter Landor of the method ditched it years later).

The method is called The Happy Idiot, and the “idiot” is you, the client. Why would business naming services be so loyal to something seemingly so offensive? Well, the key is “happy.” It’s hard to work with angry or upset clients. Most product naming firms would much rather do a half-a$$ed job that keeps you happy rather than an actual stellar job that they have to convince you is good.

That, however, IS the job. This is why we so proudly speak our mind and expect the same from our clients. If you’re unhappy, we love to hear it. If you have a dumb idea, we’re glad to tell it to you straight. Because in our decade of doing business in Austin as a top integrated marketing/ brand naming agency, we know it’s in your best interest, and therefore in our’s.

Dialing Down, Back, & Out of the Market

Anyways, here are the details: The Happy Idiot is when a naming agency (or preferably a full service branding agency) comes up with a name for your business that is so ordinary and not-head-turning but sounds pretty or cool or decent that they know you’ll be happy with it, give them the thumbs up, and they can move on. Or, in some cases, it’s when they do come up with something unique that will really sell, but the client pushes back or asks questions, and instead of showing you why it’s best, the agency dials it down until it’s ordinary enough to not cause any issues.

The end result is a fine, unremarkable brand name. They’re happy to be done with it (we call this “completing not accomplishing”), and you are a happy, oblivious idiot to the fact that you just paid big bucks for something uninteresting.

Three Types, All Bad

Think you won’t fall for something like this? Unfortunately for most clients, especially for those we rebrand for after they’ve fallen prey, it’s easier to fall for than you think. So here are the 3 versions of The Happy Idiot you’re most likely to see.

The Happy Idiot

The basic one we just described. The name’s often a made-up word and says little to nothing about what your business does nor plays off of any differentiators. Some examples of this could be Privvy, YumYum, QuickFul, SiloMe, Secureit. They’re so easy that I just came up with those off the top of my head and I’m not even one of the account managers here.

The Happy Idiot with a Passport

This one is just like The Happy Idiot, but with some ~ foreign flare ~. Here are some made up examples: Amalfit. Kaisu. Vamo. Salut. Now, watch me sell these trashy names to you, with you knowing I just pulled them out of thin air.

Hello our sneaker client. I present “Amalfit.” This brand name, while light and airy, gets across to your target consumers that the high quality sneakers you produce are easy to put on, comfy to leave on all day, and fun to wear. The -fit ensures they know they’ll be the perfect fit for them while subconsciously causes fear that your competitors won’t be as on their toes about perfect fit and exchange policies as you. And Amalf- brings forth emotions related to the Amalfi coast, a wondrous love for travel, and the fact that Amalfi is a paradise Italian city where everyone walks everywhere — the roads are barely wide enough for cars. Why make your consumers think of anything other than your quality, your exchange assurance, and how worldly and free they can be if they purchase?

Sounds not too shabby, right? Easy. We could do the same with Kaisu, which is a play off of the Chinese word for fast “kuàisù” for a company wanting to edge out Uber or DoorDash. Salut (from salutem, Latin for health) could be pitched to a business wanting to creep into the market as a less sugary version of Gatorade for athletes. They might even have a tagline or ads playing with “We salute you” or “Take a knee, take a sip.” It’s not hard to come up with bad branding; and it’s not hard to convince vulnerable clients that it’s actually great branding.

The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower

Lastly, we have The Happy Idiot with a Wallflower. This is any combination of the above two types, but presented with several different, very similar, options using super common branding words. And Action:

Hmm, we totally understand your hesitance with Amalfit. It could connote better how the high price point is fair because the quality is so high. I present the following ideas our team has ideated on this last week after hearing your feedback. Amalfit Pros connotes that this is a brand for professional athletes, people who are going to spend a lot of time in your shoes, and therefore will last even longer for the average consumer. Amalfit Integrity. Transcend Amalfit. Amalfit Tandem. Amalfit Launch. True Amalfit. Amalfit Major. Launch Fit. Integrifit. TruFit. Navigate Fit. FitNav. Etc. Want to see what kind of names a low-end brand naming agency might send your way? Use this free tool. Just type in a keyword you think describes your brand, and voila, you could have become a happy idiot without signing a contract.

The whole point is it’s easy to be ordinary.

And, believe it or not, it’s easy to pass off ordinary as extraordinary with the right pitch, keywords, and charisma. 

But hopefully you’ve seen our stance on ethics. It can be summed up by Spiderman’s “with great power comes great responsibility,” and we know we have the power to play people if we wanted to, because we’re a top naming agency. But we don’t want to. That’s not real. It’s not how we became the best, it’s not challenging enough for us, and it’s sure as heck not how we’re going out. (We’d cuss but Facebook keeps banning us for that……..).

Don’t fall prey to something that just sounds good. Don’t trust a product naming agency that never disagrees with you, or one that doesn’t have a dope portfolio of case studies. In short, don’t be an idiot, even if you’re happy. If your agency doesn’t like when you’re unfiltered and real with them, it means they’re not going to reciprocate that type of communication with you. Hit the road and stick your thumb out, we’ll pick you up.

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