January 25, 2005

Naming Things

Years ago I worked for a large and prestigious advertising agency in downtown NYC. I was an executive secretary for the president of the company; the top banana; the head honcho. I felt the need to reveal my position because this was probably one of the classiest jobs I ever had in my life. We had four floors worth of employees, one of which (mine, but of course) was clearly designed with executive-type guests in mind. Upon exiting the elevators, visitors were greeted with plush carpeting as they entered the huge double glass doors that led them to my desk, which was obscenely expensive; rich mahogany with etching along the edges, the thing pretty much surrounded me. Expensive art hung on the walls and the crystal candy dish on our etagere was always filled with English toffee. I made big bucks. I was thoroughly impressed with myself, though I'm sure I was the only one who was.
They say the higher up you go, the less you do. This job was a classic example of that. Much of my day was spent chatting with my co-worker who was secretary to the company vice-president. We sat close enough to have paper-clip fights during that final hour of the day when most of the bigwigs had gone home already and the minutes till closing seemed to pass like days. We two had way too much time on our hands and way too much fun on the job.
The copy-writers graced our floor as well, and we would often help them out by typing up offerings for large firms. One day, one of the writers brought the most unique thing over to our desks. It was this little yellow square pad of sorts, bound with glue at the top and boasting about 100 little pages. If you pulled one of the pages off, you could write on it, and re-stick it ~ anywhere! What a great idea! One of our large customers was 3M and apparently they came up with this thing and wanted to pre-test it at several locations to see if it merited mass production. The problem is, they needed a kitschy name for it, as well as some slogans and an ad campaign.
(- and thus was the beginning of my obsession with these little puppies -)
Within ten minutes, my partner-in-crime and I had about twenty of them stuck all around our desks and typewriters. (cripes am I dating myself or what?) Of course, we also had great fun passing the time with notes back and forth to one another; notes with greatly intelligent passages on them like "you suck" ... "you suck worse." Did you know if folded properly, these little squares of paper fly rather well?
We were invited by the writers to try to come up with an appropriate name for the little pads. Between the two of us, we had some goodies, but the one that I turned in never quite made a hit. I thought they should be called "Little Sticky Yellow Mofos." Someone came up to me later that day and explained flat out why I was a secretary and not a copy-writer.
I could have sworn that the name "Post-It Notes" was born in our company, but someone corrected me recently and pointed me to a 3M website that clearly discussed the origin of the name. I guess we lost that particular deal somehow.
It's all good though, because folks like E.F. Hutton and Merrill Lynch seemed to like us pretty well. The man I worked for (president of the firm - did I mention this? Impressed yet?) did coin the well-known phrase "When E.F.Hutton talks, everybody listens" and also "Merrill Lynch is bullish on America." There were dozens more, but my old mind won't let me recall them at present.
To this day, when I see a new product on the market, it conjures up thoughts of a bunch of long-haired, artsy, copy-writer types, sitting around in their t-shirts and Nikes tossing possible names around the room on little sticky yellow mofos.


Blogger Swifty said...

Should anyone suggest there is a better writer of blogs out there, then all I can say is, "quite frankly, sir or madam, you are mistaken". Another little gem.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Wally said...


Your story reminds me of that TV commercial: "That was my idea! But, I never thought to patent it!" I thoroughly enjoyed your blog, humor, and your wit. Thank you!

12:00 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


I enjoyed this post. It's amazing to look back and see what common items and slogans we all know and wonder where the ideas came from. I may now look at Post-Its as "Little Sticky Yellow Mofos". Awesome!


2:43 PM  
Anonymous Bridget said...

Thanks for firing up my memories of my life in a NY ad agency back in the olden days when secretaries sat outside the office doors of execs at typewriters. Was this BBDO you are talking about?

4:10 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Bridget ... thanks tons for reading. No... I was in reference to AFGL. Recall them? They handled E.F. Hutton and 3M ... don't forget we're going back a thousand years. lol

4:25 PM  

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