With 30 years in the branding business under his belt, Marc Hershon could be considered an authority on how to name things. A graduate of Redwood High School, he also attended College of Marin before getting a job in radio. From there, he sidestepped into the comedy business. He’s used that improvisational spirit to inspire moves into teaching improv, writing TV movie screenplays for the Hallmark Channel, writing comedy for the likes of Dana Carvey, Jay Leno and Bill Maher, and being on the teams that have named products and companies like BlackBerry, Swiffer, Garmin’s nüvi GPS, Sony’s Crackle and the Clash of Clans game. Most recently, he was part of the group that helped to name NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s “city of the future.”
1. How did it feel to name a mega-city?
I’ve taken to saying that this is the first project I worked on that actually put a name, literally, on the map. I was part of a small team from Landor, an international branding agency, that had this crazy responsibility and nothing about this assignment was like anything I had worked on before.
2. Swiffer? Was there a close second?
I’d be hard-pressed to remember what it might be after all this time — that was more than 20 years ago. I do remember that the clients from Procter & Gamble were pretty insistent that that word “mop” had to be in the name, because they were afraid consumers wouldn’t know what this new device-on-a-stick was supposed to do. David Placek, the founder of Lexicon Branding, the Sausalito company where I learned most of what I know about this business, was pretty sure — after watching videos of people using the prototype and hearing them say things like “This sure is faster than mopping!” — that the name needed to index on speed and ease and stay far away from mentioning the “m” word.
3. BlackBerry? Is it because the buttons looked like a blackberry?
On the original prototypes of the very first devices, yes, but we knew that if successful, the design would likely change in future generations — this was even before they added phone capabilities. So the name was really meant to sound disarming and friendly in a world that was beginning to swarm with techy, largely meaningless words.
4. If you had a dog, what would you name him/her?
Tough question. I often tell people who ask me to help name either their dogs or their kids that those projects are way too personal. And I charge way too much money for something you can get out of a baby name book for free. If I have to answer that, male or female, I would name my dog Marc, just because I like the idea of both of us turning to look every time someone says my name.
5. Can you recommend a good local comedy experience?
For folks in Marin, there’s no better local comedy show and venue than Tuesday nights at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. The shows feature both veteran and newer comedians and I think you always get your money’s worth. Occasionally, you might even see me onstage there. It happens.
6. Who was the funniest kid at Redwood? What’s he doing now?
Sadly, the funniest kid to ever pass through my old alma mater had to have been the late Robin Williams. He was several years ahead of me so our paths never crossed there, but I got to know him once I got into booking comedy shows in the Bay Area. And once I was performing with some of the various improv groups in town, we saw each other fairly often — usually onstage — and it was always a treat to be improvising lines in a scene with the master.
7. If you could rename Marin, what would you call it?
Now you’re talking about rebranding something and, not to get technical, I would have to ask you a battery of questions in return. Why isn’t Marin working for you? Is there something inherently wrong with the name? More importantly, Marin has come to stand for what the people and the collection of communities that make up the county, along with the land itself, are all about. What would you like a new name to communicate that isn’t already represented in the name Marin? What’s compelling about Marin is that it’s a word that, inherently, doesn’t have a definition in the dictionary. Its sole meaning has come to embody what this place is, what the people are like, and the experience that is, uniquely, Marin.
8. Do you like your name?
It’s OK. The fact my father decided to go with the less common spelling, with a “c,” has always been an interesting wrinkle. He was a fan of the art of Marc Chagall, which is where he got it from — it’s not some kind of family name or anything. My last name is an Ellis Island invention, I think from Hershovitz, based on some research my sister did. So it’s a tiny bit ironic that both my first and last names were made up, essentially.
9. As a kid, was namer something you thought you would do?
Like pretty much everyone else, I had no idea there was such a thing. I didn’t learn about it until I was in my 20s. And it was relatively new — usually a company with the product named it themselves or they’d have their ad agency take a swing at it. But over the past 30 or 40 years, the legal hurdle of getting a name trademarked has made the field very challenging. I often say it’s one of the only jobs that actually gets harder every year no matter how good you get at it.
10. What did you think you would do when you grew up?
For some reason, when I was about 8 years old, I thought I would be a scientist. Turns out I was terrible at science in school. But, man, could I talk. I wanted to get into radio since I was in junior high school but once I had my own show on the air, I started looking around to see what was next. I’ve improv’d my way into a lot of interesting, creative endeavors. Besides radio I’ve written and performed with a sketch comedy group in Los Angeles, been a writer for game shows on TV, run a half a dozen improvisational comedy troupes, drawn an editorial cartoon for the past two decades for the Half Moon Bay Review, co-authored a business book called I Hate People!, and regular readers of Marin magazine know that I periodically write within these very pages. I even helped name Spaces, the biannual spin-off to Marin.
11. What’s your favorite drink and where do you like to drink it?
When I’m deep into a naming assignment, I get what I call a “naming headache.” My favorite remedy to cool down the ol’ brainpan is a Tanqueray martini, without a whiff of vermouth, a tad dirty with a couple of olives for nourishment. And no one serves ’em up meaner and drier than Jason at the bar at Frantoio.
12. Best street name in Marin?
I’ll go with Mark Drive in Terra Linda. It’s in that industrial park off the freeway, and they spelled it wrong. But it’s still a pretty cool name.