jump to brand
John Murphy was the man who came up with the name for the beer of the Bahamas in 1986 – the very sticky and satisfying to utter ‘Kalik’.
One day he got a frantic call from his contact at Heineken who asked if he could go to the Bahamas to help solve a problem.
At the time the Bahamas imported all their beer – Becks was the preferred brand and Heineken, who had just won the tender to construct a brewery on the archipelago, was second in demand.
The dilemma was that the government’s tax scheme favoured domestically produced brands.
So if Commonwealth breweries, part of the Heineken company, ploughed ahead with producing Heineken they would be stung but if they produced it under another name that the Bahamian market did’nt like then they would lose customers to Beck.
John studied the market research, hastily ran some focus groups and found they had a serious issue.
He proposed to develop the beer brand of the Bahamas, which not only the Heineken customers would be happy to switch to, but also would entice the Beck drinkers.
He found the Bahamian culture an amalgamation of colonial influences so decided to stick with brand imagery suggesting mellowness and relaxation which conjured up associations of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
The locals loved parades and festivals and the biggest cultural event was Junkanoo. This traditionally was a three day Christmas parade which had expanded to many weeks over the summer.
The cowbell was associated with this major festival – and this unique instrument made a distinctive kalik sound which everyone recognised and which immediately inspired John to use this echomimetic name.
It had never been written down before and was an instant hit. Commonwealth breweries were delighted. Now Kalik is the unquestioned beer of the Bahamas held in great affection and also exported widely to the US.
When Novamark, which later became Interbrand, was commissioned by McVitie’s in 1984 to name their oaty biscuit the brief was a steady, homely, even slightly mundane name.
John immediately pointed out this needed to be super catchy and to be highly protectable because this delicious biscuit was going down a storm in consumer research groups and all the supermarkets would be eager to bring out their own-brand imitations.
It had to be something impossible to copy.
As usual, Novamark came up with more than the name.
Besides conducting the legal searches and trade mark registration, it also commissioned graphic design and developed a positioning statement for advertising agencies to work from.
The resulting Hobnobs caught exactly the neighbourly feel McVitie’s was searching for but even so they were not entirely convinced and debated going for another name on the shortlist.
John championed it hard and McVities must be relieved they went with it – the product was soon a cult one with a chocolate version that followed in two years.
Thirty five years later this is still one of the company’s best sellers.
For the first couple of years after setting up his branding company John Murphy would send out huge mailshots to 7,000 companies at a time and one of these in 1979 upturned a job for Sainsburys who were planning to get into the DIY business with a Belgian retailer and needed a name for this new business.
This job also turned out to be instrumental in John’s budding brand consultancy getting a firm footing in the trade mark world.
The many names developed to date in-house and by their advertising agency had turned out to be legally unavailable.
John’s client Peter Davis (now Sir Peter David) said they just wanted a company name and did not wish to conduct any trade mark searches as it would not be used as a trademark on any product.
John strongly advised against this, and luckily for Homebase, it was agreed the new name should be both a corporate name and a trade mark covering all the goods likely to be sold in the new stores.
So a name that was available in over twenty different trade mark classes was the resulting brief – a massive legal searching exercise.
Homebase was the name selected from a shortlist which is now used as a company name and as a brand name on scores of own-label products.
Sainsburys liked Novamark’s handling of the legal search so much they handed over all their trademark legal work.
Likewise a name creation job for BT resulted in Novomark nabbing all their business and within a couple of years it had the makings of a name creation business with a new assignment every couple of months as well as an embryonic trade mark legal practice.
Homebase was sold twenty years later for almost one billion pounds – their name, no doubt, a large factor in this price.
When a frantic phone call from a senior executive at Austin Rover arrived in late 1979 John Murphy knew this high profile job could be the one to make his branding company.
Terry Nolan needed John to come out to Longbridge urgently ; he needed a name for the company’s major new car, designated as the successor to the Mini.
After years of decline there were at last stirrings of renewed business confidence in the UK and the nation’s hopes hinged on the Anglo-French Concorde and the new car being developed by Austin Martin.
The car was supposed to have been named the Mini 2 but sales of Mini number one were still robust so another name would create another rich seam to be mined while sales of the first car ticked on.
For two years a name had been sought but the favourites had always turned out to be unavailable or unsuitable in some important market.
The job was a nightmare and John Murphy left that day with a binder of thousands of unsuccessful names developed internally, by Saatchi & Saatchi and by other advisors.
Could he pull it off when so many had failed? He said ‘yes, no problem’ but his branding firm at the time included three people – his sister and Mike Grant from his Dunlop days – attracting this client was a massive coup but also a massive challenge.
Not making this high profile job work meant guaranteed bad publicity but if they did produce a winning name a golden reputation was secured.
The first thing John did was develop a naming strategy. He knew, from previous focus groups, that people liked to see some form of symmetry and rationale in car naming so he proposed the first letter in every case would be M and as the cars became bigger and more expensive the M-prefix names would become longer and lusher.
They used their usual consumer groups, as well as a lot of desk research, to produce shortlists of names which were checked for language suitability and ‘fit’.
John Murphy recalls spending part of Christmas week trailing around the offices of obscure airlines in London tracking down native speakers to ensure the selected names were not offensive in Farsi or other such languages.
Mike Grant then conducted initial legal searches on the survivors and finally a working list of about thirty names, all starting with M, were presented to Austin Rover.
Shortly after Christmas Sir Michael Edwardes, the South African boss of Austin Rover threw two spanners in the works. First he announced his family had come up with ‘Mate’ – this was quickly retracted when he looked it up in thedictionary and found, among other meansings, it was the name of a South American caffeine drink.
Next he wanted the employees of Austin to select the winning name after The Prince of Wales had told him off for not consulting the workforce enough on key issues.
So now three names were needed on a worldwide basis – after much frantic work Metro, Maestro and Match were put forward and Metro came out tops.
One of the ballot papers choosing the name Metro was pulled out of the hat and the lucky employee received the first Metro off the line.
The press went to town on this story with big coverage from the likes of the BBC and the Sunday Times on what turned out to be the most successful car launch in the UK todate.
The bright new dawn of naming the Metro also heralded the bright new dawn of a small branding company which had shown it could punch well above its weight.