How children named the Super Bowl

How the NFL championship game came to be known as the Super Bowl is the stuff of marketing legend.  The game was formed in 1966 when two rival American football organizations, the NFL and AFL, agreed that the best teams of each league would square off against each other in a championship.  But as most recently reported by Allen St. John, author of The Billion Dollar Game, no one could agree on what to call the contest.  NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle favored the bland “The Big One.”  (Yes, if he’d had his way, in 2009 the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers would be playing in Big One XLIII.)

Fortunately, Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, had a better idea.  Inspired by watching his children playing with a bouncing ball called a Super Ball,  he half-jokingly suggested the name The Super Bowl — in retrospect, a bold, even arrogant suggestion for a game that had zero credibility at the time.  Well, the name stuck.  And you know the rest of the story.

I find the naming of the Super Bowl to be fascinating from a marketing standpoint.   A name is perhaps the most important element of a brand (next to performance).  And yet in my experience as a marketing executive, creating a memorable name can be confounding.  As charming as the Lamar Hunt anecdote is, I have also seen terrible names result from the same kind of capricious decision making-process that went into the naming of the Super Bowl.  At the same time, hideous brand names have resulted from expensive, seemingly well organized research, too.

What’s the most effective process you’ve seen for formulating a brand name?  What’s your favorite naming anecdote?

The Razorfish Doodle Wall

Razorfish employs the kinds of people Forrester Research describes as “creators,” or individuals who actively contribute to social media communities through their own blogs or other uploaded content.  You can find many creators in the Razorfish Chicago office (where I work), home of the Doodle Wall.

The Doodle Wall, adjacent to the 4th Floor break room, is a community mural where employees can express themselves with free-form doodles.  Val Carlson, a Razorfish Creative executive based in Chicago, explains that the wall lets employees “express themselves, blow off steam, take a break to clear your mind, meet people, and get inspired.”

The wall has inspired some rather striking art (my favorite is the apocalyptic looking “choose or not” image that looks like something right out of the book of Revelation).

Val explains that the Doodle Wall has its origins among a Chicago-office client team with a “very 80’s style corporate looking table in their area that they started doodling on about six or eight months ago.  It evolved into a work of art.  They took a piece of heavy, stodgy, dated furniture and turned it into a reflection of their team and our culture.  They ran out of space, and we decided that it would be great to have a wall similar to the table so that everyone can participate.”

She tells me she is pleased with the results — and surprised at how many people outside the creative or design teams have contributed their doodles.

The artwork currently adorning the Doodle Wall is being painted over now.  The next version of the Doodle Wall will be dog-themed.  Razorfish recently won some work with a pet industry company that will soon come to the office for a collaborative session.  We can’t wait to show the client our dog-related doodles.

The Doodle Wall impresses me because of its usefulness as a collaborative tool among employees.  And although my Razorfish colleagues operate in a largely digital world, they’ve capitalized on a simple social format in an offline environment.

In 2009, I believe we’ll see more Doodle Walls take hold in the digital realm thanks to the uptake of multi-touch technologies and formats like Surface (developed, of course, by Razorfish owner Microsoft).  Digital spaces like Surface make it possible for people to create content together in offline environments like retail stores, bars, and museums.  (The 2008 Razorfish Client Summit featured a Surface application where event attendees could swap information and bid for a guitar signed by Sir George Martin.)  We’ve barely tapped into the potential social applications of multi-touch.

Will something like the Doodle Wall flourish in the digital world?  You can bank on it.  Razorfish is.

Thank you to Dan McBride for the lead image of the Doodle Wall pictured in this blog.

Annie Leibovitz at Work

If you rely on the power of an image to tell a story — which is true for just about any marketer — then you owe it to yourself to read the recently published Annie Leibovitz at Work.  Leibovitz describes the stories behind noteworthy photographic shoots of her career, ranging from her astonishing American Express portraits to her coverage of the Rolling Stones’s 1975 tour.   Whether you’re a web designer, event producer, or art director, you can learn a lot from this book, such as:

* It’s better to be memorable than beautiful  “The camera is not enamored exclusively with people who are conventionally beautiful,” she writes.  “There are times when a person is powerful enough in some other way to make the photograph . . . William Burroughs was certainly not beautiful, but he was a photographer’s dream.  The camera loved that gaunt, sinister look.”

* Take what’s given to you.  Leibovitz recalls visiting Philip Johnson’s famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, relishing the opportunity to photograph this most iconic of homes.  At the time, Johnson lived in the home he’d designed, which presented some problems when she arrived for the shoot and discovered that he had no intention of leaving her alone.  “This was frustrating,” she writes.  “I knew that I should be sociable, but I wanted to study the house.”  Instead, Johnson followed her around the home attempting to make small chat and interrupting her work.  Finally she decided to include him in the photographic essay.  “In retrospect it was a rare opportunity to see someone living in a classic house,” she remembers.  “To see it being used.  It was fall and there were leaves all over.  Johnson’s dirty boots were thrown on the floor.  He was staring out at the rolling lawn and the maple trees, which were changing color.”  In other words, Johnson gave her photographs more character than would be found in photos of an empty house.  Rather than fight his presence, Leibovitz took what was given to her — and improved her work.

* Embrace limitations.  When Ogilvy and Mather hired Leibovitz to shoot celebrity portraits for American Express advertisements, Leibovitz was given two requirements: the photos had to be vertical in format and they needed to fill a page.  Basically she would need to learn how to shoot more formal looking portraits, which was not her style.  It was hard and unnatural to frame subjects in a vertical format.  Losing the horizontal image meant sacrificing background that could enrich the shot.  But she worked within the limitations — and then set out to challenge popular notions of how a portrait should look.  She created inventive, colorful portraits full of depth and intrigue, like the famous image of horse jockey Willie Shoemaker standing alongside basketball giant Wilt Chamberlain.  Placing them side by side on a Malibu beach was akin to a work of art.  (“I was thinking of circus pictures — Tom Thumb and the giant,” she writes.)

After you read Annie Leibovitz at Work, track down a copy of the Rolling Stone 1,000th issue special collectors’ edition (18 May-1 June 2006).  This issue tells the story behind the creation of Rolling Stone‘s most famous magazine covers – how the vision and style of the photographer meshed (and sometimes collided with) the expectations of the subject.  Patti Smith comments on the outcome of a photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz:: “what I really feel about this photograph is that Annie captured something about me before I knew about myself.  Later, I finally grew into that person.”  Herb Ritts discusses how he improvised a photo of Cindy Crawford by impulsively using a translucent fabric  to capture her essence in a beach pose.

Want to be a better marketer, designer, or creative director?  Leave a little room for improvisation.  And don’t miss an opportunity that presents itself like a powerful moment longing to be photographed.