Sunday, April 22, 2018
Business

Success proves that in branding, risque sells

Corin and Brian Mullins thought they had a good name for their debut product, a nonallergenic, high-fiber breakfast cereal, until a supremely satisfied customer called to praise the product's effectiveness.

"Holy crap," the customer began.

After Corin Mullins hung up, she and her husband had a good laugh. Ms. Mullins, a retired Canada Air flight attendant, quickly got back to making the next batch of Hapi Food cereal — the name evoking the Egyptian god of annual Nile flooding — they planned to sell at a farmers market near their home on the British Columbia coast north of Vancouver.

But Brian Mullins, whose career had been spent in marketing communications, allowed his thoughts to wander mischievously. Heavy on chia and hemp seeds, the cereal he and his wife concocted in 2009 was extremely high in fiber. Why not just call it Holy Crap?

At first, Ms. Mullins demurred. But when the couple shared the notion with members of the business class they were taking as fledgling entrepreneurs, everybody loved it. So they made up new labels with the bold name and planned a test. Their first day at the farmers market, Ms. Mullins sold 10 bags of cereal under the original name; two weeks later, when she set up with the new name, she sold 100 bags. The couple, in their early 60s, have worked to keep up with demand ever since.

Not long ago, a cereal called Holy Crap might have been the punch line of a joke. Or it might have been banned. Few would have expected annual sales to grow to $5.5 million in four years.

Consider this recollection from an entrepreneur looking to name his initial venture, a record store, in 1969: "It smacked of new and fresh and at the time the word was still slightly risque, so, thinking it would be an attention-grabber, we went with it." That is Richard Branson on naming his company Virgin.

Nowadays, the bar for grabbing attention has moved much higher — or lower. You can sip wines called Sassy Bitch and Fat Bastard, bite into a Kickass Cupcake, and order a breakfast sandwich at a Los Angeles restaurant called Eggslut.

Have we gotten to the point where pretty much anything goes? And are provocative, cheeky, even crude company and product names good for business?

"If you're selling church songbooks or your customers are in the Bible Belt, it's probably not a good idea," said Eli Altman, creative director at a branding company called A Hundred Monkeys. But, he added, "with today's 7-second site visits and 2 percent click-through rates, I think it's significantly more risky to have a boring name than to have a risque one."

Naama Bloom, 41, left a small software company to start a business in Manhattan selling tampons by subscription online. Recalling a common euphemism of her childhood, among girls and women, Bloom named her 2013 start-up HelloFlo. She knew the name was cheeky, she said, "but my background is in marketing."

While she was planning her venture, two similar businesses popped up with names that were more feminine but also more vague: Le Parcel and Juniper. That left Bloom even happier with her decision. "Juniper and Le Parcel are lovely services," she said, "but you wouldn't know what they were without knowing what they were. Whereas, our name, while it's bold, speaks to a very specific audience: women who say, 'My Aunt Flo is in town.' "

When Carey Smith began making industrial fans, he called his company HVLS Fan Company — HVLS being shorthand for high volume, low speed. Soon, he started getting calls asking about his oversize, "big ass fans." Eventually, Smith, now 61, changed the name of the company to Big Ass Fans. The change played well with clients and potential customers, but not in the company's conservative, churchgoing hometown, Lexington, Ky.

For a time, the Lexington City Council considered forcing the company to remove its name from the side of its building. And the postmaster in Louisville refused to deliver a batch of its promotional postcards. That, Smith said, led to a "great story" in the local newspaper. Asked if somebody at the company had tipped off the newspaper, he answered: "Maaaaaaybe," drawing out the word suggestively.

In the years since, Big Ass Fans has grown dramatically, but it continues to capitalize on the controversy stirred by its name, which Smith characterized as a whole lot of sanctimonious braying about a farm animal common in his home state. The company's mascot, Fanny, which appears on its logo and as a promotional squeeze toy, is a big-eared ass, most often depicted from the rear looking back toward its tail.

The company, which now makes smaller residential fans as well, gives away so many promotional items sporting the logo — baseball caps, T-shirts, coffee mugs — that it has a department just to handle the items. "For everyone who thinks we're the Antichrist, there are a hundred who think this is the funniest thing ever," Smith said.

Funny is a tried-and-true sales lubricant. "Everybody likes a little tongue in cheek," said Kellie Peterson, chief strategy officer at DNC Holdings, a Web name registration company. Peterson said she saw salacious names all the time driving around Tampa, where her company has an office, including a nearby shop called Master Bait & Tackle. The "potential downside of a profane name," she said, "is that it's in your URL and part of your email address."

The dangers include having outgoing emails blocked by spam filters. That happened to Big Ass Fans a few years ago but not much anymore. What has changed, said Tom Sather, senior director of email research at Return Path, a company specializing in email analytics, is that most big email providers now use sophisticated reputation-based filtering and rely less on simply flagging offensive words.

In 1999, when David Hall was running a construction company bearing his name in Aurora, Ontario, he decided to drop the scaffolding part of his business to concentrate on home renovations. With one last scaffolding job to complete, he thought he would make it fun for his workers.

The job was a 10-story hotel by one of the busiest highways in the metropolitan Toronto area. From his scaffolding, Hall draped a huge banner that would soon become his company's name: Mammoth Erection. Heads turned. Smiles cracked. And the image of a hairy, tusked creature was added to the company logo. Most important, Hall said, "People started calling and calling. We never did another home renovation after the one we were working on."

Off-color names bring in the green

 
Comments
Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

Some people are paying for cuddles. And it’s not what you might think.

When Samantha Hess’s marriage ended five years ago, she felt she was lacking a basic human need: Physical touch. As a woman in her late 20s living in Portland, Oregon, she found plenty of men interested in dating, but sexual contact was not what she ...
Published: 04/21/18
Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Judge: Foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa violated numerous rules of conduct

Tampa Bay foreclosure defense lawyer Mark Stopa has violated numerous rules of professional conduct and caused two clients to nearly lose their homes because he failed to tell them about settlement offers from their banks. Those were among the prelim...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Goodwill to open second store in greater Brandon

Times staffThe greater Brandon area will celebrate the grand opening of its second Goodwill store beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday (April 28) at 1407 U.S. 301. The new store will add another 12,000 square feet to the complex, which includes a 200,000-...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/21/18
Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

Regulators allow major solar company to lease home equipment

State regulators Friday determined that one of the country’s largest residential solar companies, San Francisco-based Sunrun, is allowed to lease solar energy equipment for homes in Florida. The decision, solar energy advocates say, could open the do...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida’s unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued. While many factors kept Florida’s economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-ye...
Published: 04/20/18
Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

Owners say new house is a disaster; developer accuses them of ‘online terrorism’

ST. PETERSBURG --- Stretched across the front of Tim and Hyun Kims’ two-year-old house is a big banner with the name of a developer and the words: "I have to fix my new house."Some of what needs fixing is instantly apparent. The front steps are too ...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

Q&A: Walmart leader chats about Florida stores, and the chain’s latest retail strategy

The Tampa Bay Times recently sat down with Walmart director of corporate communications Phillip Keene to chat about the retail giant’s latest retail strategies and how the company is winning over customers in a competitive market.Already, two of the ...
Published: 04/20/18
SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

SunTrust warns 1.5 million clients of potential data breach

Associated PressNEW YORK — SunTrust Banks Inc. says accounts for 1.5 million clients could be compromised following a potential data breach. The Atlanta bank says that it became aware of the potential theft by a former employee and that the investiga...
Published: 04/20/18
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18