A human tends to see what the human expects to see.
That’s it. It’s just the way we put things together in our minds. If there is a gray cat in your neighborhood named JoeBob and you see a gray cat, you’re extremely likely to think it is JoeBob, even it is some other cat altogether.
If your Aunt Mabelline always scowls when she sees you, when you visit and she opens the door — even if she has a perfectly blank expression because she’s having a deja vu about a long-forgotten lover, or maybe her underwear itches — you’ll probably see a scowl on her face.
Because you expected to see something, you ‘Interpreted’ your senses, and you saw it.
Once I had to give up a really cool business name because of this law.
Many years ago, in San Francisco, I decided to start a small business, a telephone answering business. Before the days of email, and even before answering machines, a business would wire an extension from their phone to the ‘telephone answering bureau’ where operators would answer and take messages when the business folks were out of the office.
I wasn’t sure how to name the business, so I invited 25-30 friends over one evening with a keg of beer, and we all sat around the room making up names, of which many were absurd. However, some were good.
I still wasn’t sure which to use, so that first year I used five different names and placed them all the telephone book yellow pages, to see what people would call. As it turned out, they called the most boring and blatant of the names, ie: “A Budget Answering Service” rather than the more fun and esoteric names (“Sundial”, “Western Eclectic”, “Network”, and “Xanadu.”
Now that name ‘Western Eclectic’ was of course a play on words for the US company ‘Western Electric’ which was well known since forever in this country. Once upon a time, Western Electric made every single one of the black telephones used by AT&T, when it was the (only) phone company. And the name ‘Western Electric’ was impressed into the plastic in every handset of every telephone in the USA.
I didn’t want to use this clever name — Western Eclectic — for the answering service, since nobody called its listing in the yellow pages, but since I had a couple of small businesses, I thought it might be cool to have a ‘parent’ company for our vast enterprises, and I liked ‘Western Eclectic.’ Yeah, man. Cool.
Now, at last, to the point …
Humans perceive what they expect. For example, when reading, the human doesn’t spell out the word. They glance at it, grasp its shape, and then since they ‘know’ it, they don’t examine it any further. And that automatic pattern recognition is why spammers can send something saying ‘Vi_8gra’, and all the humans can read it anyway.
But I had to give up the idea of using ‘Western Eclectic’. Here’s why —
The city business-tax authority and the Internal Revenue Service sent tax bills to the Western Electric company, who I suppose they thought lived in my studio apartment in San Francisco.
Not long afterward, I had a very fancy brochure done, and my copyright notice on the brochure was printed as (c) Copyright 1976 Western Electric.
Just because I had written it correctly did not enable people to correctly read it. There was nothing wrong with the people. That’s how reading and pattern recognition works. (If it was different, we’d have to spell everything out like we were in the first grade.)
I realized that there was no alternative but to give up this business name, because it could not be read by humans.
Perhaps this is the reason that humor often works poorly for business names. Because if somebody doesn’t get the joke — and that happens with every joke — then they can’t understand what the business is, and that’s a loss of business right there.
So as you create communications for people, when you move along the tracks that they might expect to see, they’ll follow you well. Go strange on them, and you will lose them.
There. Knowing this valuable Rule-O-Thumb, go forth and prosper.