Thursday, April 24, 2014
By Bill Nemitz firstname.lastname@example.org
Attention all business schools: If you're in the market for a new case study on the perils and pitfalls of product naming, look no further than "The Short Life and Sudden Death of the Maine Kwikie."
"We knew we were going to be doing something provocative," conceded Gerry Reid, director of the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations, in an interview Tuesday. "But obviously, it was never our intent to be offensive."
Translation: So much for a much-needed break from all the Zumba talk. The "Kwikie," a carefully misspelled conversation starter if ever there was one, will not be coming soon to a Maine State Lottery dealer near you.
It all started about six months ago when Reid, well aware that the lottery's 40-plus instant scratch-ticket games account for two-thirds of its $230 million in annual sales, also realized that the myriad games lacked an overarching brand name.
He decided they needed something new, something memorable, dare we say something edgy that could transform the simple act of buying a scratch ticket into a more exciting (begone, double-entendres!) experience.
"So we formed an internal work team -- a couple guys who work for me and our ad agency -- and we spent a few meetings generating name ideas," recalled Reid. "You can spend $100,000 or $200,000 with a consulting company who will do this for you -- and they don't do it any differently. They just sit around in their conference room with a big pot of coffee and brainstorm."
Reid, who came to state government with more than 30 years of marketing experience in the food, beverage and tobacco industries, wasn't surprised that in the end, "95 percent of our name generation was, we thought, boring."
The branding team also perused close to 350 names submitted by the public in response to a television ad seeking ideas. Little surprise that names like "Sucker Lotto," "Wicked Fun Money," "Easy Scratch" and "Jamaica Me Money" all failed to make the cut.
Ah, but there was one that kept coming back: The "Quicky," which eventually morphed into the "Kwikie" because it was less suggestive of . . . well, you know.
"We weren't oblivious to that," noted Reid. "In its slang meaning, some people could draw a derogatory meaning from it, a suggestive meaning."
But hey, turn on the TV during prime time and what do you see? A never-ending series of Cialis ads for "E.D." that inevitably (and inexplicably) end with the loving couple sitting side by side in separate bathtubs.
"So we asked ourselves, 'How is (the Kwikie) going to play in popular culture to-day?' " continued Reid. " 'Is the world sufficiently progressive that they'll smile, chuckle and move on? Or will they go the other way and take a more -- and I mean this in the nicest way -- a more moral tone; that somehow this is inappropriate and we shouldn't be doing it?' "
In other words, Reid and Co. were well aware that the "Kwikie" could either succeed spectacularly -- or fail miserably.
Now to be fair, the same can be said of Steve Jobs when he decided during a drive through the hills of Palo Alto to name his new computer the "Apple."
Ditto for Stanford University wunderkinds Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they christened their new search engine "Google." (The original name -- and I'm not making this up -- was "BackRub.")
Of course, anxious as Reid was to introduce Maine to the Kwikie, he knew enough to proceed with a little discretion. So he first sat down with the lottery's two biggest retailers to see what they thought.
"They loved it," Reid said. "They thought it was provocative, exciting. And they thought it was about time the lottery stopped being so boring."
Next, Reid floated the concept with a larger group of 25 to 30 top lottery dealers.
"Same reaction," he said.
Finally, earlier this month, the lottery sent out promotional packets to all of its 1,300 retailers alerting them that the Instant Game tickets would soon be rebranded as "Kwikies."
"That's when I knew I was going down a bad path," said Reid. "We got at least 20 or 30 fairly emotional responses."
"Really bad . . . dangerous . . . our female clerks are going to be concerned . . . et cetera . . . et cetera . . . et cetera . . ."
Then came the media coverage -- complete with store owners aghast at the thought of asking their customers, "Would you like a Kwikie with your six-pack?" (Or conversely, lecherous male customers growling, "Gimme a pack of Marlboros, honey. And while you're at it, toss in a Kwikie.")
Monday morning, after a long weekend of second-guessing himself, Reid called his boss, Commissioner of Administrative and Financial Services Sawin Millett. "I said my mea culpa and told him, 'We're not going to do this,' " he said.
Looking back, Reid sees a couple of blind spots.
One was that crazy misspelling: "If you're trying to divert people from going to a bad place, that should be a warning sign. Because they will go there."
Another was the disconnect between the "Kwikie" as seen on television and a "Kwikie" as heard down at the local 7-11.
"We were trying to steer people toward the fun, lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek area," Reid said. "But when taken out of that context . . . it could be negative."
Regardless, Reid is happy to report that the cost to the state was minimal.
The biggest outlay -- a television ad that was ready for broadcast -- can be salvaged with a new voice-over once a new name is selected. (You didn't hear it here, but that list of public nominees does include "Zumba Cash.")
Meaning that for all the hoopla and hand-wringing, no one in Maine actually bought a Kwikie?
"That is correct," replied Reid. "Or if they did, it wasn't from me."
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: