Ad Agency Names That Suck: 5 Tips To Preventing This Fate

While I agree that being named a Top Ten ad agency is certainly an incredible accomplishment that deserves great respect, I find it rather paradoxical at how a company can end up on Ad Age’s 2017 Agency A List and have a company name that flat out sucks? Is it just me that thinks this way, or what? What follows are five useful tips to successfully naming your brand.

According to a blog post by Kimberly A. Whitler for Forbes, the purpose of a creative ad agency is to develop and execute high-performing strategies for brands. Yet it seems that almost every company named in the Ad Age post couldn’t even get something as simple as creating their own brand names right. I’m baffled.

Take note, if marketing is about communication, then tell me precisely what a name like Widen & Kennedy or McCann is actually communicating to me? Wait, let me guess: two guys who founded the company have the last name Widen & Kennedy and another guy who founded the other company has the last name McCann. Very creative! Very safe? Very bland! Oh, and just taking the initials of the founders’ last names isn’t really any more genius. That’s how VML, a leading agency with over 3000 employees, got its name.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s another example: If I were a potential customer who stumbled upon the name Tongal, just what is it that I can expect out of the company? Tongal is not even a real word found in my trusted Merriam Webster dictionary. I know, I know, Tongal is a successful crowdsourcing company who created its name via an anagram of the name Sir Francis Galton (a scientist mentioned in the book The Wisdom of the Crowds by James Surowiecki. But, I only knew that because I read Surowiecki’s book, and, um, because I also looked it up on Wikipedia.

Wait, I’m not done: Here’s another name that conjures up images of creative advertising genius and winning strategies. NOT! Ready for it? Here goes: Laundry Service. Yup, that’s it. Laundry Service. Okay, I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t tell me a thing about what the company does, nor does it evoke any imagery other than the wet pillowcases of clothes I had to carry to the local laundromat when I was an undergrad and living in the dorms. Not really a very pleasant experience to be sure.

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking: if all the brand names I mentioned on Ad Age’s Top Ten list  really are so dull, than how is it that these companies have gone on to be so successfully awesome? Is it just luck? Good question, but before I tell you, let’s at least make sure that your business starts on the right foot by creating an effective name.

What follows are five tips based on a blog post by the staff of Entrepreneur titled “How to Name a Business.” These tips are suited for companies both big and small, so be sure to pay close attention. Here it goes:

1) Tell It How It Is: If you are an ad agency, then why not use the words “agency” in your name? For instance, would you be surprised if I told you that the Konnect Agency really was an agency? Surprise! But here is a warning from the staff at Entrepreneur in their article: don’t use the abbreviation Inc. or LLC at the end of your name to sound fancy, if in fact, you really are legally none of these business entities. That could get your business into serious legal problems down the line. If that sounds like common sense advice, I shall remind my good friends that sense isn’t always so common. Believe that!

2) Tell Them What You Do: Find a name that tells your customers precisely what your agency or company does. For instance, the staff over at Entrepreneur use NameLab as an example in their article. Namelab—to no surprise—helps brands scientifically create names. There is truly not a whole lot more  required to spark your interest and give you a general sense of what they do. Moving on, I personally think another good example of a descriptive name comes from a list I found of the top ad agencies in California. The name is Conversion Giant. I like the immediate imagery this name evokes: the company clearly converts prospects to customers, and they are monsters at doing it. To coin a phrase used by Neil Gabler in his New York Times’ article “The Weird Science of Naming New Products,” the name has the potential to “lodge into the public’s consciousness.” Cool!

3) Invent a Name: Given that it really is difficult to create an original name that is not already being used, the staff at Entrepreneur also recommend in their article that you put words together to invent a name that is simple and easy to understand. For instance, “Italiatour” is based on the words Italy and tour and it is used by a company that creates tours in Italy for tourists. Work for me! Now here is one of my own examples that I came across recently: Brandastic. This is clearly a combination of the words “brand” and “fantastic” to create the original name: Brandastic. And just like Italiatour, the name hints at what the company does. Brandastic helps companies create fantastic brands.

4. Conduct a Search: Last but not least, the staff of Entrepreneur in their article “How to Name a Business,” also recommends that when you think you’ve found a name you like, conduct a search to make sure it’s not already in use. This could be an involved process utilizing the Patent and Trademark Office and even trademark search companies, but for starters, just use good ol’ Google to conduct a preliminary search. Would you believe that I came up with some names that I thought were pretty cool (e.g., Ad Army, Messenger Mavens, and Brand-Aid), only to find they were all already being used by marketing companies? Bummer! Oh, and while you’re at it, if you find a name that appears not to be in use, don’t get overly excited just yet. Check to see if the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is available. To do this, you can simply use a site like GoDaddy.

5) Hire a Naming Company: As the last step offered by the staff at Entrepreneur in the article “How to Name a Business,” one might also think about hiring a company that specializes in creating names for brands that project the right image both domestically and globally as well. This is a big business folks! As previously mentioned, the company NameLab  is a leading company in this space—so is Catchword and A Hundred Monkeys. In fact, Namelab worked for the mega brands Compaq and Acura. Yup, they helped invent those brand names. But that being said, note that naming companies can be very pricey—as much as $75,000 for the name, logo, trademark search, and registration fees. Yikes!

Now here are a few more of my very own tips that the folks at Entrepreneur forgot to add: make sure the name is positive and non offensive, make sure the name looks cool on a T-shirt (hat, building, etc.), make sure the name is easy to read/spell/pronounce, and make sure that your name tests well with your target customer—it’s not about what you think.

Okay, so before I leave you, there is still that one pressing issue that I haven’t addressed and I know it is on all of your minds. Here it is again: If all the brand names I mentioned on Ad Age’s Top Ten list really do suck so badly, then why have these companies gone on to be so successful? Um, ah, great question! This just comes to prove an important point about the concept of branding.

Branding is the process of projecting a clear, consistent, believable, and relevant identity with the intention of leaving a positive image in the minds of the customers. Branding involves much more than just creating a name. Branding can also require a logo, slogan, mascot, spokesperson, attitude, fancy building, dress code, work ethic, customer service policy, customer experience, and a portfolio of expert work that you can or have already delivered to target customers. Whichever of these branding elements you use, (and I certainly hope you at least start with the last one—a great product or service) they must all be executed in an integrated manner over time to tell one clear and consistent story. Just in case that wasn’t clear, understand that striving to create a great name is important and having one can certainly help elicit attention and hold interest in the crowded marketplace (especially for new and still unknown companies), but a name alone won’t make or break a company. To be sure, I’ll say that again: a name alone won’t make or break a companyAd Age’s 2017 Agency A List is proof of that.

So, stay tuned for future postings where I will discuss other branding elements like logos, slogans, and spokespersons and how all these elements work together in an integrated manner. Okay?

Wait, who am I? Well don’t worry, I’m really not the critical jerk that I made myself out to be in this post. I was just trying to get your attention! I truly hope you enjoyed the post.

In any case, that’s all for now. And remember, if you want to make it, you have to market. Fight on all.

—Bobby Borg


About Bobby Borg

Bobby Borg is the author of five books (published by Hal Leonard) which focus on business and marketing and motivation in the music industry. He has also written hundreds of music-related blog posts for Billboard, Music Connection, Sonicbids, DiscMakers, Hypebot, Music ThinkTank, Berklee Today, and more. He is currently expanding his market by writing for broader audiences in several industries and experimenting with style and tone.
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14 Responses to Ad Agency Names That Suck: 5 Tips To Preventing This Fate

  1. Kristian Soewardie says:

    Hello Bobby,

    You have a very interesting argument for naming a company. I believe a company makes the name or the name can make a company. I don’t believe that the company’s name has to spell it out on what they do in order to attract businesses. You did provide some great examples in order for people to connect with the brand, and there are all valid. However, just like you stated as well, that there are many successful companies that do not have the brand attachment or the product they sell to the name of the company. It’s not just the name that attracts success. When Nike, Ford, Sony, or even Salesforce first established, I’m sure no one knows what they do. The name did not make the attract the business. However, their product did and its success enables people to identify the name of the company to the brand. A name that has a hook is extremely helpful, but it does not guarantee success.

  2. Julie Goe says:


    You did a great job of creating this blog post. I see that you used some tips from Paul Gillin: most notably you wrote like you speak and your post was easy to read and organized.

    Here are my favorite ideas that you covered in your post:

    • Invent a name – great idea, especially when the brand name gives an idea of what the company does. However, as you also pointed out – a name alone won’t make or break a company; and not all successful companies have a name that explains what they do. (Examples: Apple or Red Bull.)

    • Conduct a search – I agree that this is very important, and often overlooked. One recent example is the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the new NHL hockey team. They are currently dealing with a trademark dispute over their name.

    • I love that you added a few of your own tips and even linked it to your personal web page!

    • I’m kind of glad you ended on the note of “I’m not the critical jerk that I made myself out to be in this post,” as I was a little caught off guard when you went off about common sense not being common. (Although it may be true, it did come off as a little arrogant.)

    Fun facts that I learned:
    • I have never known (nor have I ever wondered) what URL meant. That was an interesting tidbit to learn. Thanks for sharing!
    • I had no idea that there was a business for naming companies. Very expensive, though!

    Julie Goe

    • Bobby Borg says:

      Thanks so much for your review Julie….Ha ha…I’m actually a really nice guy…but I was trying out this whole “Be bold get attention” concept that we read about this week. Let me know if you think I saved myself by disclosing at the end, or if I should just axe that approach in future blogs. I’m totally experimenting.

  3. Victoria Johnson says:

    Hi Bobby,

    Great post and of a very current interest to all of us. I loved the suggestion about inventing your own name as well as tips on how to do it. This is exactly how creative ideas are born!

    You’re so right about the importance of making sure that the name you choose is not plagiarized and legally correct. I think this is where your 4th tip helps – doing a research. If there is one thing we’ve learned throughout our master’s program at USC is that research is crucial to the success of any work! The same rule applies here.

    I checked out the agencies’ names and, while I didn’t find one that truly jumped at me, I have to admit, I did like the name Droga5. It sounds like something out of GOT. LOL. Anomaly was another one that sounded pretty good.

    Thank you

  4. Miyu Kataoka says:

    Hi Bobby:

    Keeping it simple, yet telling the potential client what you do are so important. But it definitely is difficult, especially when one search on Google can bring many search results of companies with the same name. Perhaps creating something very unique is the best way to go!

    • Bobby Borg says:

      Yup. It is hard to find a legal and available name. I think that process of inventing a name is pretty cool. However, I still think that this can be done in a way that makes sense with the company: For instance: Travelocity is clearly a travel agency. Thanks for reading. BB

  5. Gilbert says:

    Great post, Bobby!

    I literally just commented about the same thing on our 541 Discussion Board. I feel the firms are either on one side of the spectrum or the other when it comes to agency names. They either select something that is completely off the wall and has no relevancy around what they do, or it’s something so basic and simple that it makes you wonder if they gave it any effort at all. I’ll give agencies the benefit of the doubt and believe that they use all of their creative powers on the work they produce, but even that’s a stretch. For me, the biggest and most impactful tip included within your list is “tell them what you do.” As cliché as it sounds, there is so much noise out in the market place and everyone is always consuming so much content that if a consumer can’t understand what you do in a split second they will probably move on to a competitor that was able to clearly communicate it.

    • Bobby Borg says:

      Thanks for reading Gilbert. The name game is an exciting and complex one. I think that we received some great reading on the topic. A name alone won’t make you, but a great name that says it all is what resonates with me the most. Think go Netflix (brilliant). They have flicks on the net. Think of Travelocity, they do a velocity travel bookings. Thanks so much for reading. best. BB

  6. Kandyce Pierce says:

    Hi Bobby,
    Such a thoughtful post! I wish I had the chance to read this before coming up with the names I suggested in our class discussion board. I’m sure it would have helped a bit LOL!

    One thing I did notice about the ad agency names you mentioned was that although they weren’t necessarily the most creative, something like Laundry Service would actually make me want to know more about the agency and even why they decided to go with that name. The issue lies in the fact that I have no idea how I would stumble across that name and assume it was an ad agency (without some type of research in the first place). Your point on that is spot on! Maybe they should have named themselves Laundry Service Agency? 🙂

    Out of all of the tips you shared, my most favorite is the Invent a Name tip. I know that I would struggle naming something but when faced with the challenge, having the freedom to create a new word/name helps. It not only clearly defines who you are but also what you are about. It really is that simple and while some words just shouldn’t be placed together, most come together in a nice way that can leave a lasting impression, like your Brandtastic idea.

    You mentioned making sure the name is easy to read/pronounce. This is a major key! So often I come across brand names that I hate to bring up because I have no idea how to properly pronounce it so in conversation I hesitate and I notice the other person is also unsure. An ad agency should want their name spoken most often and highly above the competition so keeping it simple yet intriguing is important.

    Thanks for sharing,

    • Bobby Borg says:

      Hey KP. Thanks for the review. I think that names like Laundry Service become cooler after the brand is established and looking back in retrospect. Know what I mean? it’s like so out there, it is cool. But could you imaging laying down the only 100,000 dollars you had to your name with a partner to open up an agency and calling it Laundry Service. HA HA. NOOOOOO way! I would be like: lets do something that makes sense: Like Tude With Tact Agency! Or The Perception Factory! HA HA. Thanks!

  7. Rebecca Kulick says:

    Great article! Good find for this week. I always have difficulty when it comes to “naming” and this was really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

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