I’m not sure any of you noticed, but the sky was swarming with humper flies this weekend. As James Joyce would have put it, “humper flies were general across Texas”. As I slaved in the driveway crafting new bamboo treads for my staircase, endless multitudes of humper fly pairs drifted about me in their droves, stuck together at the rear, gloating that they alone were free to copulate in broad daylight, while I had work to do. The teeming masses threatened to infiltrate my eyes and lungs along with the sawdust I was making, which did little to endear them to me. I took the occasional swipe at the slow-moving dyads out of spite, and gleefully watched them become separated, mid-reverie, and crawl about stupidly on the concrete in their broken euphoria.
When my wife returned home from some errand, I pointed out the myriads of humper flies with a cynical chuckle. “Those are love bugs,” she told me. She’s from Texas, so she also says ‘rolly polies’ when she’s talking about potato bugs. “It never occurred to me as a kid why they were called love bugs.”
Love bugs! What a cute name! Well, all of a sudden my distaste for these licentious arthropods dissipated, and I saw them more as hapless, almost insignificant citizens of earth doing their best to continue the ol’ bloodline in spite of their miniscule brains, than the invertebrate Lotharios for which I had so quickly developed disdain when I was calling them ‘humper flies’. It’s amazing what a little rebrand can do for your perception of something. I quit swiping at the love bugs and let them enjoy this one time of year, nay, of their entire lives, probably, that they get to experience coupling.
This thing about names affecting the public perception brings to mind the polls asking people whether they preferred “Obamacare” or the “Affordable Care Act” (in case you haven’t heard, they’re the same thing, but people overwhelmingly chose the second one). Take Greenland, for instance. It’s rocky and almost completely frozen over, like the former planet Pluto, and just about as far from civilization. But because it’s called ‘Greenland’, it’s colored green on every map I’ve ever owned, and I still envision Irish-looking, rolling hills speckled with fluffy sheep, even though I know better. I’ve heard from several sources that Vikings first started calling it that to get other gullible Vikings to go settle there. Damn speculators.
One great example of how something’s branding can completely change the way you feel about it is the famous case of the Patagonian toothfish. Here’s a picture of one. As you can see, it’s really ugly. It’s also seven feet long, and used to be a rather invasive species.
One day, in 1977, an American fish monger named Lee Lantz was down in Chile sourcing new fish for the American market, when he came across this horrendous looking thing that some fishermen had caught inadvertently and neglected to throw back. Lantz dubbed it the ‘Chilean sea bass’ and within a couple of years, it had caught on back in the states. In addition to its being plentiful and having a nice texture, its big selling point was actually its lack of flavor. Just like its pure fabrication of a name, a chef could make the Chilean sea bass taste however they wanted to, and sell a ton of it. Nowadays, it’s a pretty fancy fish. But the Chilean sea bass has nothing on the orange roughy. It used to be called the ‘slime head’, and now it’s dangerously over-fished because it just sounds so damn tasty.
The moral is, what you call something really makes a difference in how people will receive it. The manner in which you brand your offering as a business can be the difference between giving your salespeople wings and shooting them in the foot. “Four out of five” sounds way better than “B minus” or “we missed twenty percent”. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, ’tis true, but as we all know, the name is what ultimately mattered to Romeo and Juliet, and it’s what matters in life. Carry on, love bugs. Carry on.