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The Greengrocers’ Apostrophe makes for rotten punctuation.

Greengrocer

These vine-ripened boo-boos can be found everywhere, not just the produce aisle.

Ever seen a sign advertising “Pumpkin’s For Sale”?

How about an arrow pointing the way to “Restroom’s”?

If so, you’ve encountered The Greengrocers’ Apostrophe. It occurs when someone mistakenly adds an apostrophe before an “s” to create a plural (e.g., Pumpkin’s for Pumpkins, Restroom’s for Restrooms.)

According to Wikipedia, the term was likely coined “in the middle of the 20th century …in Liverpool (England) at a time when such mistakes were common in the handwritten signs and advertisements of greengrocers.” (“Greengrocer” is the term our friends the Brits use for produce merchants.)

Unfortunately, the error is not limited to fruit and vegetable peddlers. This vine-ripened boo-boo can grow anywhere, often springing up far from any farmer’s market or citrus stand.

There’s something about seeing such an obvious error in public that makes many people cringe. A Facebook group – the Anti Greengrocers’ Apostrophe Strike Team – has even been established in hopes of eradicating the error.

You can do your part too:

1. Proofread anything you have to hastily scrawl. Taking a moment to check is the easiest way to catch errors you may have unconsciously made in your rush.

2. Remember that only in the rarest of cases is an apostrophe used to create a plural. For example:

• Mind your p’s and q’s.
• A lot of VIP’s attended.
• DVD’s for sale.

Even those last two are optional. The trend these days is to only use the apostrophe if it’s absolutely necessary to avoid confusion.

Which means the next generation of kids could well be learning their ABCs and not their ABC’s.

Here are five ways we’ll let you use us.

 (And there are plenty more where these came from.)

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Don’t worry – we get weekends off.

1. You realize your great product is sitting in a less-than-great package. Use us to design the great packaging your great product deserves.

2. Despite your best brainstorming efforts, your new product remains nameless. Use us to develop a name that gives your product a distinct identity in the marketplace.

3. Customers aren’t sure which of your products to select at the store. Use us to create attractive, effective point-of-sale materials that eliminate the guesswork for the customer.

4. Your old company logo is looking pretty, well, old. Use us to update it, visually linking your solid heritage to your forward-looking attitude.

5. Your website isn’t as user-friendly as it needs to be. Use us to make it both easier to navigate and easier on the eyes.

That’s for starters. There are literally dozens of ways you can use a good marketing and design partner with years of experience (i.e., us).

So go ahead; tap us for whatever you need. We don’t mind being used.

We’ll show you five more ways you can use us in an upcoming post.

Palette, Palate and Pallet

Hi. Dave here.Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 1.22.07 PM

As the agency’s proofreader, I’ve caught and corrected all kinds of mistakes.

Lately, I’ve seen one particular boo-boo zinging even super smart people (both here and elsewhere). So let’s kick it to the curb once and
for all.

Palette = an artist’s tool or an array of colors

Palate = the back of the roof of your mouth

Pallet = a wooden thing you put heavy stuff on

Okay, so how can we keep them straight?

“Palette” is kinda French-looking, so there’s an “artsy” sense to it.

“Palate” is only one letter different from “plate,” which ties into food and eating.

“Pallet” is pretty close to “mallet,” which you could find lying near a pallet in a warehouse.

Pretty easy, huh? Hope this helps.

(For a thorough list of avoidable word crimes like this one, check out this very entertaining video by “Weird Al” Yankovic.)

What Apple’s website can teach us about copywriting

Add copywriting to the long list of things Apple does well.apple pen

Click on Apple’s website and you’ll find page after page of great marketing copy. Pick any topic there, even a dry one like “Supplier Responsibility,” and you’ll find good writing.

What so good about it?

  1. It’s easy to read. (Effortless, in fact.) Sentences are kept as short as possible, and crafted to flow rhythmically.
  2. It has genuine, authentic personality. When you read anything from Apple, it sounds like someone is speaking to you in person.
  3. It’s humble. Even when promoting a new breakthrough, the copy is never about how great Apple is; it’s about how much you’re going to enjoy using all those new breakthroughs in your daily life.

Nor does their copy ever try to impress the reader with how smart it is. Apple’s writers don’t write for themselves; they write for their audience. And they avoid self-indulgent attempts at cleverness.

The result is that you actually…read it. And you come away with a good feeling about their brand and their products because they’ve explained everything to you in a simple, understandable way, much as a friend would.

That’s what great professional copywriting can do for a brand.

50 time-tested brand names, A to Z

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You’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to learn why we think this one is good.

Below are some of those well-known “household” names and a brief description of why they’ve stood the test of time, plus a couple of new ones that are exceptionally well done. (You may also want to check out our previous post on what goes into creating a successful brand name.) 

  1. Ajax: Even if you don’t know the mythology – Ajax was a Greek hero known for his size and strength – the name’s construction and sound still convey a sense of power and authority (hence the tagline that Ajax is “stronger than dirt”).
  2. Armor All: These two words flow like one when spoken, succinctly conveying the benefit this product offers: the ability to protect many items from dirt and deterioration.
  3. Axe: The epitome of brevity. A manly name with a youthful edge (pardon the pun).
  4. Brillo Pad: “Brillo” is a coined name that sounds like a combination of “bristle,” “brush” and “quill” (with an added “o” for energy and lift). Upon hearing the name, who could doubt its ability to scour away even the toughest guck?
  5. Cascade: A perfect name for dishwasher detergent, conjuring images of a crystal clear waterfall leaving everything it touches sparkling clean.
  6. Cheer: A product named Cheer brings a smile to the chore of laundry. It’s a “bright” word you automatically associate with brighter clothes.
  7. Clorox: Combining a root term (in this case a stylized spelling of “chlorine”) with an “x” suffix is a common tool for creating a word with a “scientifically formulated” flavor to it. (Windex and Tilex do it too.) It doesn’t hurt that “ox” sounds hardworking too.
  8. d-CON: It doesn’t matter if no one knows what this name actually stands for. It sounds scientific and just a little dangerous/intimidating. The no-nonsense nomenclature signals that this is serious stuff.
  9. Dove: The name hits just the right note for women. What could be softer, whiter, more beautiful or more soothing than a soap called Dove? (Of course, a male version would need to be called something like “Hawk.”)
  10. Downy: Like a baby bird’s feathers, this name is soft and fluffy too, which is how the maker hopes you’ll envision the product leaving your laundry.
  11. Drano: Like “Brillo,” this name gets forward momentum from the “o” (which could be symbolic of an unclogged pipe too). The name also serves as shorthand for “drain opener.”
  12. Duracell: Eveready and Energizer are solid names, but Duracell is unrivaled in creating an image of a power cell that lasts. Combined with the phrase “the coppertop battery” and the tagline “no other battery looks like it or lasts like it,” the moniker makes for a powerful sales message.
  13. Easy-Off: Easy to say too. The name credibly promises to make the hateful chore of oven-cleaning almost effortless.
  14. Fantastik: Changing the “c” on the word “fantastic” to a “k” transforms an over-the-top boast into a more playful coined term with a sense of “magick” and quickness.
  15. Formula 409: This scientific-sounding name implies that substantial research went into creating the cleaner. (Perhaps it took 408 failures before they finally perfected the solution.) Aided by the “For- and Four” repetitive device, it rolls smoothly off the tongue – much better than, say, a Formula 827 would – despite its six-syllable length.
  16. Fresh Step: A nicely conceived name that’s easy to say and remember, and instantly creates an image of the product benefit.
  17. Glade: This simple name subtly triggers the imagination. Fresh greenery, pleasing aromas, a natural setting…these are the images the company wants the name to create in the consumer’s subconscious mind.
  18. Goo Gone: Not the most artful name ever devised, but its straightforward communication of the product benefit can’t be questioned.
  19. Gorilla Glue: The repetitive G’s are fun to say and the imagery of a gorilla implies that this is strong stuff.
  20. Gumout: Like “Goo Gone,” this name tells you exactly what the product is going to do for you, plus it’s easy to say.
  21. Huggies: Parents want to feel their babies are cuddled in coziness at all times. This name conveys this pleasant notion – plus the more literal benefit of a gapless fit that keeps teeny little messes contained.
  22. Irish Spring: The adjacent “sh” and “sp” sounds are a little tough to say, but what other name could convey the notion of springlike freshness in such a merry manner?
  23. Ivory Snow: What could be cleaner, whiter, or more pure? This romantic, metaphorical name even sounds soft when spoken.
  24. Just For Men: This straightforward name successfully mitigates the self-consciousness older men may have about buying hair dye.
  25. Liquid Plumr: This name lends the product the personality it needs to stand out from the crowd. (One also wonders if Liquid Plumr is friends with Janitor In A Drum.)
  26. Method: The latest addition to this list of names. The “method” name is a stroke of inspired understatement that conveys “practical,” “modern” and “economical” with a simple sophistication and “green” implications. It is unlike other names on this list in that it is more abstract (doesn’t say what it is or does; doesn’t convey a benefit). Yet the thought of working with a “method” implies completing a task quickly and efficiently. And it doesn’t hurt that the packaging clearly reinforces this notion.
  27. Miracle Gro: This name instantly has gardeners envisioning “Jack & the Beanstalk” type results.
  28. Mop & Glo: The floor isn’t just clean or shiny; it actually glows. That’s quite a promise.
  29. Neutrogena: A nicely coined word with numerous word associations: “Neutro” is akin to “nutri,” conveying health and wholesomeness. The second half of the word, “-gena,” is feminine sounding, alludes to “genesis” (life) and imbues the name with clinical credibility (through similarity to words like collagen, estrogen, antigen, etc.). Is it any wonder the word “rejuvenating” springs immediately to mind when you hear the name?
  30. Off!: A perfect name for insect repellent. The exclamation point is a stroke of genius that makes the name active and energetic rather than merely descriptive.
  31. Oil of Olay: Oils are natural and moisturizing. Olay is exotic sounding. The two words sounds soothing together. According to Wikipedia, the name is a spin on the ingredient “lanolin.” And a clever one at that.
  32. Old English: “Old” implies enduring quality, timeless appeal and an air of gentility. “English” implies class and refinement. Together they evoke images of wood-paneled rooms in country estates. (Old Spice is another name that benefits from the “Old” moniker.)
  33. Palmolive: Combining the words “palm” and “olive” creates a single word that embodies soft, supple and organic. Even the way the two words blend together creates a sense of fluidity.
  34. Pampers: Your baby’s backside deserves all the pampering it can get.
  35. Quaker State: Like “Keystone State,” this name is a nickname for Pennsylvania, where the brand was long headquartered. The “long-a” sounds and the order of the consonants allow “Quaker State” to flow smoothly when spoken. (Try saying “Puritan State” instead and you’ll hear the difference.)
  36. Quikrete: Need concrete fast? This is the product for you.
  37. Resolve: This name assures the user that the product has the strength and tenacity to remove tough stains. Who could question that kind of resolve?
  38. Scotchgard: This name capitalizes on the equity of the Scotch brand. The stylized spelling of “guard” is a pleasing phonetic follow-up (much better than, say, “Scotchshield” would sound).
  39. Scrubbing Bubbles: A fun, rhyming name that says exactly what the product is and does. Cartoon “bubble” characters on the can and in the TV spots help reinforce the name too.
  40. Sea Breeze: This name sounds so refreshing you almost expect a gentle puff of cool wind to hit your face when you open the bottle. 
  41. Secret: There’s something about the word “secret” that appeals to women. (Right, Victoria?) Despite the advent of the internet and “Girls Gone Wild” videos, the vast majority of women gravitate to a name that alludes to modesty and feminine mystique.
  42. Slime: Hats off to the person or team who had the guts to approve this unconventional brand/product name. Their gamble has paid off. Who doesn’t love Slime?
  43. Shout: This product avoids the “me-too” naming pitfall by not trying to mimic its competitor Spray-N-Wash. Of course, shouting has absolutely nothing to do with stain removal, yet the tagline “Want a tough stain out? Shout it out!” has been effective. (The word “out” being a part of “shout” helps.)
  44. Slick 50: Like Formula 409, this name uses a word/number combination that slides smoothly off the tongue and indirectly conveys the product benefit. (Slick 49 wouldn’t be the same, would it?)
  45. Swiffer: This is a fun name that sounds lighthearted and promises to take the drudgery out of floorcare. Compared to sweeping, “swiffering” sounds effortless, perhaps because its “wiff” component conveys a light and airy feel. Ending the name with an “er” (as in worker, cleaner, scrubber) makes it sound like it’s doing the work, not you.
  46. Tilex/Windex: There’s no mistaking what these two products are used for. Like Clorox, they benefit from the “scientific X” suffix that connotes a lab-perfected formulation and clinical efficiency.
  47. Ultra Brite: On the brightness scale, ultra bright probably represents the highest end. This is a solid promise of dental dazzle conveyed in a fun-sounding name.
  48. Vigoro: This plant food brand name combines vigor with grow, and rhymes with “Figaro” so although it’s a coined term it isn’t unfamiliar sounding.
  49. Wisk: This name implies that, like a “whisk broom,” the product will remove dirt quickly, completely and without much effort from you.
  50. Zest: Despite the “Z” (typically associated with sleep) this product names implies a refreshing sensory awakening.

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

Picture 1

The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

The Dancing Dead

dancing_skeletons

“Danse macabre” really gets things moving.

The dead rising from their graves and making merry on Halloween night: That’s the story told by Danse macabre, an instrumental piece written by the 19th century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

The work is based on an old French superstition in which Death appears at midnight on Halloween and plays his fiddle, calling forth the dead to dance to his tune. As you listen to the piece, you’ll have no trouble envisioning a throng of grinning skeletons reveling through the cemetery as they celebrate their annual night of freedom from the grave.

Near the end of the piece, a rooster crows (an oboe, I think) to signal the coming dawn. The skeletons recoil in fright and glumly slink back to their tombs for another year.

My elementary school music teacher introduced me to Danse macabre waaay back when I was a little kid and I’ll always remember hearing it that first time. Every October I put it back into heavy rotation on my iPod and let the dead dance through my mind again and again.

The tune is about seven minutes long and is available on iTunes. You can also sample it with various video accompaniments on YouTube.

How to build a creepy Tim Burton Halloween scarecrow

Want something cool for the front yard this Halloween?scarecrow

If you’re a Tim Burton fan like I am, you can easily make a pumpkin-headed scarecrow straight out of Sleepy Hollow or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Start with a couple of long, fairly straight tree branches. Try to find one about 8 feet long and another about 6 feet long. Lash them together with some rope to form a cross. (The long one is the vertical piece.)

You can use a couple of thinner branches as supports for the crosspiece. Tie one end of a thin branch to the vertical piece and the other end to the crosspiece. Allow part of the branch to extend beyond the crosspiece; this is where the “hands” will go. Do this on both sides. (You can kind of see how I’ve done it in the photo.)

You can give the scarecrow “hands” by tying a few sticks together with twine and attaching them to the ends of the diagonal support branches. (I don’t know why, but those stick hands take the scary factor to a whole new level — perhaps because it’s creepy to imagine them grabbing you.)

The easiest way to put the scarecrow up is to insert the bottom end into a piece of pipe (about 2-1/2 feet long is sufficient) that you’ve pounded halfway into the ground. I’ve found this works better than trying to dig a hole for the base or supporting the scarecrow with ropes and stakes.

Decorating the scarecrow is the fun part. In the past I’ve tied on torn strips of old sheets. More recently, I bought some cheap black fabric to give it more of a “cape” or “batwings” effect.

Top it off with a pumpkin (larger ones look better) with an appropriately sinister grin applied with thick black magic marker, and you’re done! (Shining a light on the scarecrow at night is kinda creepy too, and it makes an eerie shadow on your house if the light and scarecrow are positioned right.)

So there you go. Have fun! Bwaaa-ha-ha-haaaaa!

Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.

Firing Squad

Before you can develop an effective name for a brand or product, you need to do some homework. Rush headlong into the brainstorming process without asking some questions and setting some parameters, and you’re almost certain to be wasting your time. (We discussed the challenges of creating brand and product names in Part I of this series.)

Here is some information we request from our clients before we begin work on a name:

  1. Complete product description: what it does, how it works, what makes it different/superior, etc.
  2. Description of the person buying or using the product. What is important to them?
  3. Product attributes the name should convey (e.g., ease of use, speed, durability, the results it produces, etc.)
  4. Are there any client-imposed prohibitions (e.g., name can’t have the letter “X” or the word “green” in it, can’t have any military connotations, etc.)?
  5. Does the competition have a similar product? What is it called?
  6. What kind of tone should the name convey (e.g., aggressive, relaxing, friendly, reliable, etc.)?
  7. Does the parent brand have an established and recognizable image that the name should relate to?
  8. Does the name need to relate to other names in the product line (e.g., are all the products named after an animal)?
  9. Does it matter if the name is literal (Quarter-Pounder, Shop-Vac) or metaphorical (Whopper, Dirt Devil)?
  10. Are you open to having a coined name created, providing it conveys the appropriate attitude and imagery?

Asking these questions – and getting as many clear, definitive answers as possible – is crucial to creating a memorable, likable name that makes a positive connection to the customers.

Want to see 50 examples of great names?

 

Staff member dodges locomotive to get the perfect shot


OncomingDesigner/photographer Josh McLaughlin recently put himself in harm’s way to snap this gorgeous color photograph of a vintage Norfolk Southern steam locomotive (subsequently featured on the front page of the Lakewood Observer).

As the steam engine passed through Lakewood on May 12, Josh crept up to the tracks and snapped away at the oncoming train with two cameras, capturing color and black-and-white images along with a peppering of soot from the coal car.

He says it was a small price to pay to get the pictures he wanted: large-scale color to convey the size and power of the engine, and monochrome closeups of the wheels and gears to illustrate its complexity.*

wheels

Big dramatic events are obvious attractions for shutterbugs, but Josh also keeps an eye out for things of interest in his everyday travels.

“I run and bike, so I have plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view,” he says. “Many times after a long run I grab my camera and hike back to the place I just traveled to get a shot of something that caught my eye.”

flowerJosh’s two young daughters, as they progress through childhood, have been frequent subjects of his photos. In fact, family has been his inspiration from the start.

“I became interested in photography at an early age thanks to my grandfather,” Josh explains. “He always had a camera and would take pictures of anyone and anything. He was great at getting people to smile and that’s what showed me the way.”

He shares his grandfather’s passion too.

“I have shot a wide range of photography over the past 15 years, professionally as well as personally, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I enjoy the unique challenges that each product, portrait or fine art piece entails.”

rainbow mist
mountain
* The b/w locomotive image was taken from about 6-8 feet away from the moving train. Don’t try this at home.