How To Name A Product
March 18, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
When I first began my acting career, I was quickly attracted to the abundance of advertising work that was available to Chicago actors. In the early 1970’s Chicago was the second largest advertising center in the United States, and the most lucrative kind of work that an actor could get in the 1970’s was in the advertising arena. There were countless advertising agencies within an area within a few square miles around Michigan Avenue. Not only were there advertising agencies, but there were marketing companies and specialty video companies that produced training videos for corporations. There were also companies that produced trade shows, and major theatrical production companies that staged large industrial shows for major corporations. While my initial interest in acting was to become a movie star or a television star, the opportunities in advertising and marketing seemed far more plentiful and lucrative so I focused on that.
A lot of actors turned their noses up at advertising work, but personally, I found it fascinating and fun. And before I knew it, I was working with more advertising people than theatre people. The advertising people were more fun, and their jobs in most cases paid more per hour than I was paid for performing eight shows a week in a theatre. And memorizing a thirty second commercial script was a lot easier than memorizing a script for a two hour long play. And since I was still technically in the Army, I had to report from time to time to perform maintenance work on armored personnel carriers at an Army Reserve unit. So it made more sense for me to go after lots of jobs that took short amounts of time and paid more money than it did doing plays that took lots of time and paid less money.
Two of the most interesting people I met early in my career were Bob Welke and David Ayers. Bob was one of the first people to hire me to do commercials, and we still enjoy working together. When I first met Bob he was working at an ad agency in Milwaukee, and he hired me many times. But, when he moved to Chicago and went to work for Albert J. Rosenthal and Company on Michigan Avenue, I was really glad. Personally, I always thought Albert J. Rosenthal had one of the neatest lobbies of any agency anywhere. It was completely decorated with antique furniture, tiffany shades, and stained glass windows. My first visit to see Bob at his new job was a memorable one. I was taken into the agency “think tank” by a receptionist. When she opened the door the first thing I saw was a giant mound of orange balls on a table. Bob and David looked perplexed as they studied the giant mound of balls.
I stood quietly in the doorway and watched them think. When they finally noticed me, they motioned for me to enter and join them. I asked: “Sooooo, what are you guys doing?”
Bob said: “We need to think of a name for this brand new product, and we aren’t sure what it is. We need to define it.”
A ring of oil began to form on the white paper surface that the orange balls sat on. The balls didn’t move, and the hot lights that were focused on the orange balls were causing the orange balls to secrete more oil which began to drip on the floor. I took a step back from the table to avoid the splatter.
David said: “Try one.” So I gingerly took an orange ball off the pile and ate it. It crunched.
“Hmm. It’s good. What is it?” I said.
Bob reminded me that they didn’t know, and that’s why they needed to name it. Bob continued: “All we know is that they are round; and they are made from cheese.”
David paused before he said: “We are thinking of calling them ‘Cheese Balls’.”
That was a seminal moment in my career. I was in the presence of pure genius. I was there at the birth of ‘Cheese Balls’. It was just like picking out the perfect name for a baby! I savored the name; I savored the taste. Since that fateful day, each time I pass by ‘Cheese Balls’ in the grocery store, I fondly remember that moment of inspiration. And an entire generation of snackers with oily orange-tipped fingers can point to the brilliant work of the two creative geniuses who created a name that consumers could remember. Like many other consumers, I spent many enjoyable hours of snacking on the product Bob and Dave named. And each time I crunch on a cheese ball, I think of them.