What’s in a name? Everything.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. A couple of days ago, a PR agency was being castigated for calling itself ‘Strange Fruit PR’. I knew the name was familiar but couldn’t quite pinpoint it. Was it something to do with ‘Oranges Aren’t The Only Fruit’? In what way was that controversial? Then I realised. Oh dear. Oh dearie dearie me. Oh dearie dearie dearie dearie me.

There was a link to the Twitter account. It didn’t exist. So I looked for the website. That had been taken down. So I took it as one of those strange warps in the fabric of spacetime that you occasionally glimpse, shrug your shoulders, and move on.

But today it turns out not to have been an interdimensional anomaly, but a real thing. It seems the Twitter backlash has caused Strange Fruit to change its name. Hardly surprising really. I mean, what on earth were they thinking?

This is quite a brazen example of really getting branding very badly wrong, but the closer you look, the more difficult branding gets. It’s not just a name or a logo. It has to be something that differentiates you from your competitors, makes you relevant to your audiences, and works internally, now and in the future. It’s a tough nut to crack and I’ve had several goes at it in my time, using the seat-of-the-pants method (ie making it up), going through agencies (ie doing it properly) and bringing it all together for my direct clients.

So branding is deep and wide: deep in that it gets to the heart of what a company is about; and wide because it affects everything that company does. However, the public face of a brand is its name, strapline and logo. So when I was thinking about Strange Fruit – when I’d got over the shock of how completely dumb they must be, that is – I got to thinking about other examples down the ages. Here are some:

  • Consignia. It was called Royal Mail. Then it was called Consignia. Then, after a backlash, it became Royal Mail again. The idea behind the new name was to have a brand that encompassed more than just ‘mail’. This made sense, because the brand has to reflect what the company does. I daresay the word ‘Royal’ also seemed old and out of touch. However, people just didn’t like the new name. It smacked of an awful portmanteau, that is, a word fused from other words, in this case ‘consign’ and ‘insignia’. Whereas Royal Mail had weight and authority, Consignia seemed a bit, well, plasticky.
  • Abbey. This relaunched Abbey National with the promise of ‘turning banking on its head’. This line is nonsense. What does it mean? Credits become debits? The bank gives us money which we invest and then give back to them? It became an object lesson in how to mismanage a rebrand and seriously damaged the business. Mark Ritson gives a great breakdown of this breakdown. Talking of poor straplines as opposed to names, there’s also Mellow Birds, a coffee brand that promised it will ‘make you smile’. What on earth has that got to do with coffee? So does my cat.
  • New Coke. There’s a problem with putting ‘new’ in front of anything. Sooner or later, it’s going to become old. Then, where do you go? So it was with New Labour, so it was with New Coke. Actually they did pretty much everything right, with consumer tests apparently proving that the new taste was better. Then the backlash came, and remember this was well before any social media existed, or even online communications of any significant type. Coke switched back to Classic Coke and continued to outsell its competitor. So perhaps this goes to show, sometimes you can follow the right path but make sure you’re agile enough to switch.

These are all mistakes that, when you examine them more closely, were made honestly. Portmanteau names can work, in the same way nonsense words work, especially in crowded markets where you have little choice (Google, Yahoo). You just build the brand around the name and it becomes synonymous with its values. Straplines aren’t even necessary much of the time, but the management of the rebrand needs to be tight. And New Coke got it right, then got it wrong, then got it right again.

But Strange Fruit? Gah.

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