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UMD Alumnus Shares Secrets of Product Naming

Mike Pile
Mike Pile and his team use a unique mix of linguistic science and creative art to generate names. They frequently generate 10,000 or more ideas for one product.

Mike Pile '81 was faced with a problem. He had to give a name to an after-school program that would attract two audiences. The program wanted to engage "cool" and "rebellious" kids and, at the same time, entice parents with a rigorous academic program that focused on science, technology, engineering, and math.

Pile played around with the owner's middle name, "Zane." He juggled words like zany, maniac, and brainiac. The result? ZANIAC!

The next step for Pile, who is founder and creative director of Uppercase Branding, was to pitch the name to the client. As you might expect, all were enthusiastic.

Pile's company is a unique advertising agency offshoot. Their sole purpose is to name companies and products. They name flavors, colors, events, buildings, and programs... you name it.¬† Or, rather, they name it. Among Uppercase’s clients are both pre-launch start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, including Nokia, FedEx, Clorox, P&G, Heineken, Coke, and Clif Bar. They use a unique mix of linguistic science and creative art to generate names. Think about this... They frequently generate 10,000 or more ideas for one product.

Exposure to advertising came early, as Pile's father worked in the advertising field in Minneapolis. From 1985 until 2008, when Uppercase landed on the scene, Pile reveled in an advertising career that took him around the globe.

From Minneapolis to New York City, and from Warsaw, Poland, to the San Francisco Bay area, Pile did it all: advertising, branding, corporate communication, and public relations, He worked at U.S. and international advertising agencies, including Bennett-Geisse, Lowe, Lintas, BBDO, and Y&R. He joined AT&T and Sunlink Solar to manage their in-house advertising efforts. Along the way, he created exciting campaigns that had lasting impact, some as important as work for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and others as whimsical as SPAM’s 50th¬†anniversary celebration.

Pile has fond memories of UMD. He worked on the Statesman student newspaper for a bit, but he remembers the outdoor adventures most vividly. He visited Park Point beach on hot sunny days, netted smelt at Lester River, biked Seven Bridges Road, skied Lutsen Mountain, zoomed down Rock Hill snow on dining center trays, and simply enjoyed the outdoors in Bagley Nature Center. He lived in Stadium Apartments where he appreciated the view, “The apartments had high ceilings and a balcony. We had a large window with the best view of the creek,” he said.

Pile almost missed his career in advertising. He graduated from UMD in 1981 with a political science major and a history minor. During his last term at UMD, he attended the Washington Semester Program at American University. He was on his way to law school and was scheduled to take the LSAT when a friend convinced him to take a road trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans instead. Mike said “I switched gears when I skipped the LSAT, and I didn’t looked back.”

Pile added strengths with every new adventure, and Uppercase Branding is is the perfect spot for Pile right now. "It's weird, and different, and creative. It blends my love of words, ideas, and language."

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About Uppercase Branding

Does branding sound like your kind of career? See the UMD Marketing/Graphic Design major.

Written by Elise Viger and Cheryl Reitan, July 2015.

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Cheryl Reitan,

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