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GaGa's For Lady Gaga? Coincidental Celebrity Lifts Local Brands04:35
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Shoppers try samples of GaGa’s lemon sherbet, and often ask if it's connected to pop singer Lady Gaga. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Shoppers try samples of GaGa’s lemon sherbet, and often ask if it's connected to pop singer Lady Gaga. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

Jim and Michele King get the question again and again.

"Is this named after Lady Gaga?" an elderly customer wonders while sampling a GaGa's frozen dessert in a Rhode Island grocery store.

"Bingo," Michele King says, adding, "It’s actually named after my husband’s grandmother."

Her husband, Jim King, has gotten used to telling the story.

"It was 1963, I was a couple of years old," Jim King said. "And just like any grandchild who can’t pronounce names, I couldn’t pronounce Grandma. And it came out 'GaGa.' "

The name stuck, and so did the recipe for her lemon sherbet, a King family favorite. When he lost his job as a television anchor in 2003, Jim made a fateful batch.

"I said to my wife, I said, 'I think I can sell GaGa’s lemon sherbet,' " he recalled. "And she said, 'You’re crazy. Why don’t you go do something useful and clean the garage?!' So, the garage is still a mess, but the business is going well."

GaGa's frozen desserts for sale at a Dave's Marketplace in East Greenwich, RI. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
GaGa's frozen desserts for sale at a Dave's Marketplace in East Greenwich, RI. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

GaGa’s now sells in more than 1,000 stores, mostly on the East Coast. It seemed obvious to name it GaGa. After all, it was Grandma King’s recipe. But the other meaning fit, too: to go gaga for something. Apparently, an aspiring singer named Stefani Germanotta thought that word would make a great brand, too.

When Lady Gaga went platinum, Jim King noticed his company’s sales pick up, especially for the rainbow flavor. That symbol of diversity flew off the shelves. King says Lady Gaga's message of individuality — she's officially launching her Born This Way Foundation at Harvard University Wednesday afternoon — resonates with his product and his grandmother's beliefs.

So for every pint of rainbow sherbet sold, GaGa's is now going to donate 25 cents to Lady Gaga’s foundation. Two grocery store chains, including Rhode Island-based Dave’s Marketplace, will match that amount.

"Last year, we sold approximately 5,000 units of that particular product," said Rick Silvia, a specialty food buyer for the independent grocery chain. "So I think we’ll do much more, mainly because of the publicity that the foundation is going to get, and the publicity with GaGa’s. We’re looking forward to having a great season."

GaGa’s Sherbetter, Inc. isn’t the only local company that’s poised to cash in on sudden celebrity. So is Boston's Blue Ivy Events.

"It’s totally unpredictable," company owner Veronica Alexandra said. "It’s completely priceless."

Alexandra's company stages weddings, corporate parties, you name it. And Alexandra gave plenty of thought to naming her company.

"I felt that ivy is very romantic," Alexandra said, explaining her thought process of mapping meanings for her brand. "It droops,  it’s beautiful, it intertwines like relationships, it’s prestigious. There’s all sorts of pieces of it that I thought were defined enough and not at all tacky."

Boston's Blue Ivy Events shares the name of celebrity infant Blue Ivy Carter.
Boston's Blue Ivy Events shares the name of celebrity infant Blue Ivy Carter.

So "ivy" it was. Then Alexandra went through the rainbow. Green ivy was too boring, she thought, and decided on blue. Partly because of the saying, "something borrowed, something blue," but also because blue is a common corporate color. Imagine her reaction when power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z named their first child Blue Ivy.

"My mind works fast enough to recognize the business in it," Alexandra recalled.

"And I also recognized the fact that it was these specific celebrities. [Beyoncé] has an exceptional style to her. Jay-Z?  He’s a mogul.  He’s a capitalist.  He’s totally taken his scenario of his life and has turned it to be an empire," Alexandra said. "So I couldn't be more excited that these two people who have major brands like that would pull this name together."

There was only one problem. Alexandra didn’t trademark the name. So now she’s spending $5,000 to apply for one, at the same time the happy couple (the company's website congratulates their "SOUL MATE couple") is applying for one, too. They could both get a trademark for "Blue Ivy," for different applications.

That's a hassle GaGa’s Sherbetter, Inc. doesn't have to worry about. The frozen dessert maker already trademarked GaGa, back before there even was a Lady Gaga.

Both local companies admit they’ll profit from the brand confusion. But they see it as a win-win, an aligning of brands, almost like the rare parallel of a double rainbow... the resonance you get for picking a good name ahead of its time.

This program aired on February 29, 2012.

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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