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Bullwinkle Used To Be My Neighbor

Bullwinkle used to be my neighbor. That’s right.

Some years ago, when our offices were on the Sunset Strip, right across the Boulevard from a soaring billboard of the Marlboro Man – that advertising icon who has since been charged with crimes against humanity – our next door neighbor was Jay Ward Productions.

The Sunset Strip eschews the frenetic flash of the Ginza and the hordes of Times Square. It is the Haute Couture of hip; it is the front window on the world of entertainment. Awash with high-end hotels, ultra-chic restaurants, billboards of the lush and sensuous and rock’s most legendary clubs, it pulses with the very heartbeat of creative culture.

And in the middle of this sandbox of sensation sat Jay Ward Productions – creator of Rocky, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do Right and Crusader Rabbit. Ward’s studio was a small cement building at the East end of the Strip.

Perched on a pedestal a few feet in front of the entrance as if he were addressing the United Nations on the subject of animal rights, was a six-foot high statue of Bullwinkle.

Our offices were next door above an English pub that served a stilton cheese salad that made me want to play soccer.

So, yeah, Bullwinkle was my neighbor.

But Rocky, Bullwinkle and friends were not Ward’s most famous creations. Few people outside of the advertising world know that it was Jay Ward who took Quaker Oats from a stodgy second-tier cereal company to the front ranks of the lucrative children’s breakfast market by helping them develop a world class brand: Captain Crunch.

In 1962, Quaker was looking to expand their cereal line. Not a walk in the park competing against a triumvirate of 900 pound breakfast gorillas – Wheaties, Cherrios, and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. The ad guys at Quaker flashed a little marketing brilliance and decided to conduct some market research – of their customers, no less (can I get an Amen?).

A key finding was that kids wanted cereal that would stay crunchy in milk.

Who’d have guessed.

Armed with this key bit of market intelligence they turned to the creative brilliance of Jay Ward and the rest, as they say….

I tell the story not to reminisce about our digs on the Strip, but to make an important point about branding: Your brand should say what your product is … or does.

Yes, there are exceptions, but if your brand is descriptive of the product, it will meet with your customer’s understanding and acceptance much faster than if you try to be cute. And you won’t have to spend the extra advertising dollars trying to drive your brand into the mind of your public.

Here are a few industry-leading brands that are illustrative. Some, having matured, have been “minimized” to their initials by customer use or corporate strategy, but the original names tell the story.

The Wall Street Journal

Kentucky Fried Chicken


Bank of America


Toys “R” Us


Cable News Network

Pizza Hut


In each case, the brand tells the public what it is or what it does.

Companies that carry the founder’s name have been exceptions: Ferrari, Forbes, Marriott and Dell come to mind.

And the information age has spawned some monster exceptions as well, think Yahoo! and Google.

But Hot Mail and Netflix are descriptive and remain category leaders.

A trip through the latest issue of Business Week makes the point. I am pouring through the magazine in search of ads that grab my attention and deliver a message. Some people would call this activity a mental disorder, but it is how I spend many a dinner on the patio of the Daily Grill in Studio City.

I stop at a full page, four color ad. There is a picture of a large pill in the middle of a field. My first thought is that it’s one of the ubiquitous pharma ads: a treatment for fear of open spaces, perhaps. Wait, it’s not a pill, it’s a close up of a pitcher’s mound.

What are they selling?

I look at the bottom of the page to see whose ad it is. What’s the brand?


Ah… sure, Unum. And they are selling….

Now I have to read the very fine print. I discover that the pill cum pitcher’s mound is neither; it’s a base pad, like second base. And Unum, well they sell employee disability insurance. And the base pad…that was something that a professional baseball player might trip over and hobble the “Entire organization for the rest of the season.”


How about the ad in the California edition of Business Week, just $24,000?

Thought so.

Heads up for you ad agency account execs that are looking for a brand that needs advertising help….

What keeps you there, what fuels the on-going sales and income, is marketing that drives that brand into the mind of your public. And a brand that tells your public what your product is or does, greases that track in an almost mystic way.

Many successful non-profits that work to better social conditions, environmental problems, and civil rights have descriptive brands: The Sierra Club; The Earth Organization; The American Civil Liberties Union; Amnesty International; The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

How much easier is it to remember Hotels.com than it is to remember or even spell – Orbitz?

Which brand better communicates a product that handles spam, Cloud Mark or Spam Arrest?

If you were looking for a software program to help you design your new home, which brand would best communicate to you; Broderbund or Chief Architect?

How about software to help you with your income tax, which would most attract your interest to purchase; Turbo Tax or Tax Gaga?

Which is a better name for a GPS system; Nuvi or Street Pilot?

Some of these names sound like an off-planet law firm: Nuvi, Meebo, Orbitz, & Gaga, LLC.

Marketing is about communicating with your prospects. Communication involves understanding. If you have to create that understanding from whole cloth (e.g., Nuvi means GPS), it is a harder sell and a more costly branding program. It can be done, but why make it difficult?

The right brand flies into the mind your prospects like a metaphysical frisbee.

Weekly magazines have done well at this:

Sports Illustrated; Newsweek; The National Enquirer; Reader’s Digest; Cigar Aficionado; Gentlemen’s Quarterly; Women’s Wear Daily and Ebony, to name a few.

Modesty aside, I can’t tell you the number of people that have commented on how “spot on,” they think the name of our company is: On Target Research.

I can’t take all the credit. We simply did for ourselves what we do for our clients: we conducted a branding survey.

We created a number of potential names that communicated what we did. Then we surveyed corporate Sales & Marketing Directors as well as account executives in advertising agencies – both key publics that need and use market research and surveys. On Target Reseach won hands down.

We encourage anyone starting a new company, rolling out a new product or considering re-branding an existing one, to select a name that reminds people what you do every time it is spoken, written, printed, or communicated in any way.

And if you really want to create a brand that makes the angels sing and the cash register ring, give us a call, or send us an email, to discuss a branding survey, because at On Target Research we conduct surveys that drives sales.