The Brand Man, How David Placek Names Things You Want To Buy

He's coined everything from the PowerBook to Blackberry to your kitchen mop. There's a method to his magic.

Don't call it a "Strawberry..."
Don't call it a "Strawberry..."
Omer Kabir

TEL AVIV — When David Placek decided to call Intel’s processor “Pentium” he put a name on a new cornerstone in the way the world works. When he called a new Subaru car “Outback,” he gave life to a personal fantasy shared across the globe. And when he came up with the “Blackberry,” he aimed for a mixture of fun and power.

The man who invents names for the world's biggest brands did his best to explain to Calcalist how the magic is done, and why is it worth to pay him a $100,000 for a name alone.

One of his best-known breakthroughs happened when one of the members of the creative think-tank stood up and wrote on the board with a red marker, Strawberry. Under it he wrote “it’s healthy, colorful, "berry" is fun.” A few minutes later, another employee said Strawberry was too slow a word for such a useful product. Then, a third employee went to the board and wrote with a black marker Blackberry, and under it “Black, industrial, berry is fun."

This was when David Placek understood that his company had survived yet another challenge and found the right name for an innovative new phone that allowed the easy sending of emails. The year was 1999, and soon after the name Blackberry was a ringing phenomenon in the business world.

It is no surprise that Placek considers Blackberry one of the biggest successes of his career, which is focused on one particular aspect: inventing names. While other companies work on marketing, campaigns and industrial strategies, Lexicon Branding — the company Placek founded in 1982 — deals “only” with inventing names for companies and products.

“The name of a company, a service or a particular product is very valuable,” explains the 61-year-old branding maven during an interview to Calcalist. “It is the only thing that remains, products change, campaigns change but the name stays. When I tell this to clients it gets their attention, because people don’t necessarily think that the name is permanent and that they will probably never change it."

Placek notes that if you succeed, competitors will try to get as close as possible in functionality and design. "They can take many things, and might even have a better product or ad campaign," he notes. "But the name is the only thing they will never be able to take.”

David Placek — Photo: The Wharton Club of Northern California

And the price of something so valuable? For Placek's services, the range is from $50,000 to $100,000, "depending on the quantity of research there is to do and the size of the aimed market.”

From Apples to mops

After starting his career in politics in Missouri as a speechwriter, Placek moved to the West Coast to work for advertising firm FCB, where he mostly handled the Levis’ account. “I worked there for six years and got to see how brands can influence the market,” he recalls.

After setting up his own company, Placek's big break came in 1991, when he was called on to help find a name for a new line of Apple laptops.

At the time, the concept of a laptop was still vague, with the early ones weighing more than 15 pounds. Though the new Apple product was modern, lighter and with a whole new design, the public was still not sold on the very concept of a laptop.

“This is how we understood that the name had to more than anything send the message that the laptop is indeed portable," he recalls. "We started looking for words that expressed its portability, while going deep into the values and the spirit of Apple. The second element we looked into was a name that would contribute to the spirit of this new empowerment.”

After many failed attempts they got to the conclusion that the word "Book" had to be part of the new product, since it is the best way to send a message of knowledge and mobility. It didn’t take long after that until the PowerBook went on the drawing board. More than 23 years later, Apple still uses the word Book for its computers. The product developed and changed, but the concept of the name remained.

Sometimes, inventing a name is a matter of differentiating a particular product from others, like for the PowerBook. Other times, the product is really new and innovative and the name’s role is to convince the consumer give it a chance.

This is what happened when Procter & Gamble (P&G) asked Placek to reinvent the meaning of mopping up. “When they came to us we thought we would see just a new kind of mop, but when they showed us the simulations of the product I realised it was modern and made of plastic not like the old kind made of wood and ropes.”

Talking to consumers, his team knew that mopping is the least likable of household chores. So, as with Blackberry, the challenge was to add some fun.

“We started with Swiping and went on to Sweeping and decided to use the letters of these words to create a new one. One of the ideas was to turn the word Swipe to Swif," Placek said. "We added an "f" but the word just ended too quickly. We tried Swiffé and got finally to Swiffer.”

Such work is not as easy as it sounds. There are months of research, and it never happens that someone comes up with a name and everybody agrees immediately. In this case, the competitor brand ReadyMop is worth $200 million today, while Swiffer is worth almost $4 billion.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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