If Mum or Dad ever called me ‘David’ I knew I was in trouble.
David was formal which meant we were about to have an uncomfortable talk.
I was usually just Dave to my mates; at BMP Martin Boase always called me Trotty; Graham Rose called me Trotski; at GGT I was DT to my posh secretary.
When people play around with your name it shows they’re comfortable with you.
Gordon Smith was usually just Gord, or at CDP he was Smiffy, or Gordo to an Australian account man who also called him Gordonzola.
Mike Greenlees once got a letter mis-addressed to Mr Greenlegs, which meant he was forever known as Legs or Legsy.
CDP art director, Stewart Baker, had a boxer’s nose so everyone called him Biffo.
A nickname means you’ve been accepted by the group to the point where they feel comfortable with you, they can personalise your name.
You aren’t just whatever formal name your parents gave you before you were even a person, a nickname signifies a relationship, at least, that’s how I grew up.
I had 35 uncles and aunts from Mile End, none of them ever used any formal names.
For instance, my dad’s name was John but he was only ever called Jack, my mum’s name was Ellen but everyone knew her as Nelly, her sister was christened Mary but was only ever called Polly, my uncle Cecil was named after the doctor who delivered him but he hated it so everyone call him Ginger, another uncle was christened Henry which meant he was called Harry but he changed it to Robert so everyone called him Bob.
It wasn’t until I worked in advertising that I met middle class people who insisted on being called by their formal name.
For instance, I worked with a great art director called Derrick Hass, naturally I called him Del.
He’d never heard this before and he thought it was so amusing he’d sign himself ‘Del’ with quote marks round it.
A while back I got a phone call from an account man who said he’d worked at BMP decades ago, but I didn’t recognise his name.
He sighed and said, “You’d know me as Victor” and I said “Victor, of course how are you?”
(He was very tall and very thin, and at the time the Sun was full of pictures of a giraffe at the London Zoo, called Victor, so naturally…)
Nicknames are nothing new, during WW2, the top American general, Eisenhower, was known as Ike and the top British general, Montgomery, was called Monty.
To distinguish between the two American presidents, both called Roosevelt, one was known as Teddy and the other was called FDR.
Steve Jobs’ partner, Steve Wozniak, is known to everyone as Woz, and Mark Zuckerberg is just called Zuck.
So basically, a nickname is a simple mnemonic, a device to aid the memory.
That’s useful to know when you’re trying to get a brand established.
Marketing experts constantly want consumers to have a relationship with their brand.
Yet they don’t think beyond a paragraph defining brand purpose.
All of those nicknames above are examples of people demonstrating a relationship.
But none of those relationships came about because of brand purpose.
I used to explain to young creatives about brands and straplines and point them in the direction of either logic or mnemonic.
If we owned the market or had a definite product benefit, logic was usually the way to go:
“When it Absolutely, Positively has to be There Overnight”
“It Takes a Tough Man to Make a Tender Chicken”
“Does What it Says on the Tin”
“Where Good Food Costs Less”
“If Only Everything Worked as Well as a Volkswagen”
But if we were launching a brand, or we had no clear benefit, then a mnemonic was the way to go, it was essential to get the name remembered:
“Beanz Meanz Heinz”
“For Mash Get Smash”
“You Only Get an Ooh with Typhoo”
“Why Slow-Mow when You can Flymo?”
“Tetley Make Tea Bags Make Tea”
You don’t need a degree in marketing to understand this.
We’ve got a device sitting inside consumers’ heads that they’re happy to use.
They’re happy to demonstrate their relationship with a brand, as long as it’s fun.
Let’s at least meet them halfway.