Early in the movie Jaws, the town mayor berated Chief Brody for wanting to tell people about a possible shark attack off the beach. He said, “You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.” Put another way, to instill fear in people, “shark” is a much better brand name than “barracuda.”
Dangerous Voyage: The Oceanic Whitetip Shark from All Fins On LLC on Vimeo.
As I work to sell my documentary Dangerous Voyage: The Oceanic Whitetip Shark, I am running into a similar branding issue caused by whoever thought to use the name oceanic whitetip shark to describe this species, scientific name Carcharhinus longimanus. Jacques Cousteau tried to get around this in the 1960s and 70s by calling the species “Lord of the Long Hands” in his documentaries. That didn’t catch on. On top of this, there are two other shark species that go by the name of whitetip, neither of which is particularly dangerous.
White, tiger, bull, mako…these names can make a swimmer run on top of the water and back to the boat or beach. They are all great brand names to spur that type of behavior. Yell “oceanic whitetip shark,” and your swimmer is likely to say “Huh? What?” And yet this species has probably been involved in more tragic encounters with people through the centuries than all the rest combined.
It’s a double edge, I realize. If the species had a better brand name like panther or wolf shark, then given its history, it would probably already be standard fare on the big screen. Because of its name, even where it has appeared, few people know what it is. This was the species that would have been prominent at the scene during Quint’s terrifying monologue in Jaws about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in WWII, not the white shark; this was the species that put the divers in Blue Water White Death: The Search for the Great White Shark into a visceral jeopardy on film; not the white shark; this was the species that Jacques Cousteau called the most dangerous shark in the world. You can dive with them during the day with all due caution. The common wisdom was to leave the water by nightfall when the oceanics are about.
Is your brand name working with you or against you to shape the behavior that you want? IP is a behavior shaping tool. If it does not do that, then it is of little strategic use for you, and at worse may even be a burden to the results that you want.