Friday, February 23, 2007

Take Back Our Names

I’m sure you have all noticed the alarming trend in the past decade to sell the naming rights to buildings and events. It’s where greed meets Marketing theory. I don’t work in Marketing (thank God), but it seems as though all Marketing people want to work for a company like Coca-Cola. This isn’t because Coca-Cola has a superior product, efficient distribution, or great profit margins. None of this matters to Marketing, that’s someone else’s job. It’s because Coca-Cola has embraced the philosophy of brand awareness, which is the Holy Grail of Marketing.

This philosophy, simply stated, says “If potential customers recognize your product brand, they will buy more of it than other brands.”

This is why you cannot turn your head in any major population center in the world without seeing the Coca-Cola brand name at least 3 times. They devote a massive portion of their annual revenues to brand awareness advertising. The objective is to ensure that everybody on the planet knows the Coca-Cola name, and they have succeeded.

The advantage of brand awareness advertising is that it is non-competitive. That is, it doesn’t have to be creative, truthful, or properly targeted to be effective. If you use traditional feature/benefit advertising, your competitors can beat you with better advertising. Brand awareness advertising is just THERE. It doesn’t have to do anything. It doesn’t have to compete.

To be fair, Coca-Cola does do some traditional advertising, intended to convey product benefits such as taste, satisfaction, thirst-quenching-ness, etc. But the vast bulk of their advertising is merely to convey their product name into your brain as often as possible. This is called “building a strong brand,” and it works really well for commodity products, such as ballpoint pens, laundry soap and beverages.

The problem is, not all Marketing people work in commodity industries. But they all went to Marketing school, where the concept of brand awareness was relentlessly hammered into their tiny little brains, until they understood that money can’t buy creativity, but it can buy brand loyalty in large groups of consumer drones who buy on impulse.

So the Marketing people working for banks and investment firms continually try to generate brand awareness for their stuffy industries, failing to realize that nobody with money chooses a bank or investment firm on impulse.

I live in Orlando, FL. We have a large arena here, which was known locally as the “O-rena.” But then, about 10 years ago, T.D. Waterhouse bought the naming rights and called it the “T.D. Waterhouse Center.” This is a clumsy name for a place to go see a basketball game or a rock concert. But to my way of thinking, it’s laughable to imagine that an arena football fan gives a hoot about the business of T.D. Waterhouse. So the name sat up there, meaningless, for a decade. It offended me - huge glowing letters that represented only two things: The greed of the arena owners and the hubris of T.D. Waterhouse.

This year, it was replaced by a higher bidder. It’s now the “Amway Arena.” So now I have to be offended by greed, hubris, and the barely-legal business practices of the world’s most successful Multi-Level Marketing organization.

I used to live in Boston, where the historic landmark Boston Garden was torn down, rebuilt and renamed to the “Shawmut Center,” then the "Fleet Center," then "TD BankNorth Garden." It will never end. The legacy of a respected name has gone the way of the dinosaur, no longer a monument to the Boston Celtics basketball dynasty, but instead a shabby testatment to impermanence. Fenway Park hasn’t sold out, though. Not yet.

These affronts to my sensibilities are endless. When the Orlando Predators play, and the home team achieves a first down, the announcer declares that it’s a “Jack Daniels First Down.”

I suggest that readers of this blog resist this commercial intrusion into our public namespace. If a building has a neutral or generic name, use that whenever possible. Let’s take back the right to define the names of things to suit ourselves, not the Marketing objectives of huge, faceless corporations. Because if we let them have this beachhead, it will only get worse. I guarantee that somewhere, a group of Marketing executives for a large corporation are trying to negotiate the right to change the name of Tiger Woods to “Morgan Stanley” or “Bud Light.”

And it won’t stop there. Picked out a name for your firstborn yet? Just curious. Someone will make you an offer.

1 comment:

burton said...

I just thought of a perfect sponsor. American Standard. This, of course, opens the flood gates for "The Toilet Bowl."