I had the privilege of attending a fascinating innovation conference earlier this week. There were innovation leaders from all sorts of industries there, and during one of the breaks I got to know a guy from a company that is a top defense contractor. I am a consumer brand guy and can talk a good game about categories like laundry detergent, breakfast cereal, and soft drinks, but didn’t know much about what was going on in the missile business.
Which got me thinking… the military (and their contractors) are actually fantastic at naming stuff. From a pure branding perspective, think of the Stinger, Hellfire, Trident, Patriot and Longbow missiles. Attack aircraft like the Hornet fighter plane, the Dauntless, the Avenger, the Phantom, and Apache helicopter. Drones like the Predator and the Reaper, pictured above. You’ve got bunker-busting bombs, like the 21,000 pound M.O.A.B. (that’s an acronym for “Mother of All Bombs,” for those of you scoring at home). Look, all would agree that war is terrible, and I don’t mean to get into a debate about how these “products” are used and why. This is a blog about how things are labeled. And from a branding perspective… man, those are some awesome brand names. Even some of their missions have compelling names… “The Surge” and “Shock & Awe” come to mind. Even nicknames for products are compelling; for example, submarines whose purpose is to deploy long range nuclear missiles are affectionately known as “Boomers.” I get it.
The military occasionally excels at graphic design too… recall the iconic “Flying Tigers” of WWII fame. Actually a very interesting and extremely creative way to think about painting airplanes. See below. (Aside- not to be nitpicky, but doesn’t that look more like a shark than a tiger? In any event, if you’re the one getting strafed or bombed, I’m sure you’re really not debating which creature it most closely resembles…) In fact, there is a whole cottage industry of artists, collectors, and history buffs who focus on a trade called “Nose Art,” which can be basically described as “designs on the noses of WWII-era airplanes.”
War is hell. From a branding and design perspective, however, there are some compelling cases.