Thursday, 7 January 2010

Branding: make it catchy

It is interesting to note that Offa, King of Mercia from 757-796 is still making a bit of a splash in our supermarkets. There are lessons to learn. Everywhere you look, the shelves declaim: “Special Offer” – which obviously employs the modern spelling of his name. They knew a thing or two about PR and branding in those far-off days, always looking to make things distinctive and memorable. Their key insight, developed over hundreds of years, was to use throwaway parts of speech as names. It lends a surprising familiarity. Offa’s dad, for example, was Thingfrith, a name that rings with clarity and decisiveness down the years. One can almost hear his mother calling: “Thingfrith! Put down that axe and come to your dinner at once.” He would, inevitably, have been known to his pals at school as Thing, and they may have given him merry hell for it, but it seems to have done him little harm. On second thoughts, though, calling his son ‘Offer’ might perhaps suggest a brooding and resentful nature. It’s hard to say.

What may have made things worse for Thingfrith is that he had a couple of alternative names, presumably because the Thingfrith thing didn’t stick in everyone’s mind. He seems to have been known also as both Dingfert (now Dingbat) and Thumfried. This latter clearly comes from his school days and suggests an incident not unlike Alfred’s burning of the cakes, only more painful.

Thingfrith (or Thumfried) was himself from a long line of well-named Kings. His ancestor Eowa (“Here you are”) ruled over the midland people called the Hwicce (which modern branding experts should note is so good they named it once). “Here you are” has the distinction of being the only King in British History to have died in two battles which perhaps explains the undisguised note of surprise in his name.

The Venerable Bede, local news correspondent with The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and founder of the National Union of Journalists, on whose information much of the above depends, has himself a name that excites the imagination. It could so easily have been John Smith, but The Venerable Bede is obviously catchier and more memorable. He may also have been small, round and highly strung. Typical journalist.

But the lesson from history is clear: when it comes to names, make it catchy.

© Roger Murphy 2010. All rights reserved.

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