Professional punslinger Jim Davies celebrates those brands brave enough to take a risk on name wordplay, undercutting the pomposity of conventional positioning
A strong showing at the Design Week Awards earlier this month was topped by the Best of Show – the Peezy, by Funnelly Enough. This is an ingenious funnel-like device which allows women to deposit a mid-stream urine sample without missing their cue. It answers a real need simply, elegantly and with a splash of wit… a worthy winner indeed.
But as someone whose currency is words, what intrigued me most about the Peezy and its maker were their names. If headlines and straplines are the creative writer’s icing, puns are the cherry on top. The rest is cake mix – occasionally rich exotic fruit, but more often plain old Victoria sponge. So I adore puns, and spend many a lonely hour grappling, honing and refining until they shine like rubies. And then the client slings them out.
Why? Because puns are often perceived as dangerous.
The audience might not get them. If they do get them, they might not like them. And even if they like them, they might be sending out the wrong vibe.
Take the Peezy. The name is descriptive, memorable and fun. But is it appropriate? The Peezy is actually a serious, functional device, used mainly, I suppose, in GP surgeries and hospitals. These aren’t laugh-aminute places, so you could argue that the levity of the name is at odds with its purpose and context. On the other hand, you could take the view that this is exactly the kind of environment where people need warmth and reassurance, and that the word ‘Peezy’ relieves the situation by being so pleasingly down-toearth.
Far better the Peezy than the XE35 Urinicollector or some such.
Puns have a habit of deflating pomposity. And that’s part of the problem. Many brands are all about building status and importance, a sense of aspiration and untouchability that doesn’t sit too easily with welcoming wordplay or homespun humour. But actually, being playful or risqué shows confidence and humanity. You know you don’t have to take yourself too seriously because you have a serious product.
Those canny hippies Ben and Jerry were pioneers of the pun, with word-perfect icecream flavours like Cherry Garcia and Vermonty Python.
More recently, brands like Soap and Glory have followed suit. Eschewing the clinical look of most cosmetic brands, they’ve gone all busy and retro, with a range of puntastic goodies like Sexy Mother Plucker Lip Gloss and Wizard of Flaws Instant Line Filling.
These names are engaging and effective because they spell out the benefit and are rooted in the brand. Slowly but surely, a familiar language builds, until you feel let down when there isn’t a pun to savour.
Where puns fail is if they become too generic and forced, leading to a distinct whiff of cheese. Provincial hairdressers are particularly guilty of this: The Best Little Hair House in Town, Hair-ODynamics, Right Hair Right Now, Scissors Palace, Herr Kutz – hair-curling puns that convey no point of difference, and might even be rancid enough to put people off. I did, however, recently come across Merchant of Tennis – a peach of a pun for a specialist Canadian tennis retailer. Perhaps it’s the literary allusion that makes it more acceptable.
As for me, flushed with the success of the Peezy, I’m determined to keep the puns coming. It takes a lot for a dedicated punslinger like me to put his best weapons back in the holster.