Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: I can't divulge the brand in question but I hope you can advise me in principle on the dilemma we're grappling with.

Over the past few years, we've noticed that people have started abbreviating the brand's full name to a shorter, more colloquial version - a nickname, in effect. Some members of the team feel that we should be going with the flow and formally renaming the brand with this nickname and logo to match. They argue that this will increase the friendly familiarity of the brand because we're reflecting consumer usage and common parlance. But I've a nagging worry about this move which I find hard to articulate, and I wonder if you have come across similar cases?

A: One example that springs immediately to mind (though clearly not to yours) is that well-known soft drink from Atlanta, Georgia. But even Coca-Cola didn't rename itself. Instead, back around 1945, it hedged its bets. It retained Coca-Cola and added Coke.

Luckily, back in 1945, there weren't any marketing gurus with business school backgrounds and several turgid textbooks to their name. Had there been, they'd certainly have poured scorn on this suicidal decision. Over the previous 60 years, many billions of dollars had been invested in a singular name, logo, and the world's most distinctive bottle. What utter madness to dilute this concentrated essence of brand; to add not just another name but another type-face and another quite different form of packaging. It must have seemed like a deliberate attempt to confuse its vast and loyal consumer base. But it didn't. Coke was famous enough and strong enough not only to absorb two different brand names but to benefit from them. In the company literature, they're used interchangeably; and who'd want to sing "I'd like to buy the world a Coca-Cola"?

Rather more recently, 41 years ago, Westminster Bank merged with National Provincial Bank, which has already acquired District Bank. Being the smallest of the three, the name District was allowed to die. The new bank called itself National Westminster Bank and all 3,600 branches traded under that name. Nobody thought it a particularly consumer-friendly name (when have banks ever minded about that?): it was chosen to reassure the City, existing staff and existing account-holders.

Like Coke before it, NatWest was invented by the public and the press. It took over gradually and was only later promoted to branches, chequebooks and letterheads. It's got a cheerful, informal, even slightly cowboyish feel to it. I suspect it helped them keep a safe distance from Royal Bank of Scotland - particularly valuable now. But the bank that RBS bought was, and is still, National Westminster Bank plc.

So nicknames are probably just fine - but only as long as they're genuinely driven by proper people. Trying to force a cutesy nickname on to some aloof institution would be deeply embarrassing. "As part of their new approachability strategy, HM Revenue & Customs announce that from henceforth they wish to be known as Horace."

Q: I'm a receptionist at a leading agency - there are three of us on the desk - and our chief executive says he's fallen in love with me and wants to ask me out. Trouble is that he's married with teenage kids. Do I just tell him to get over it, or make the play as I quite fancy him too? To be honest, while I look fit and talk a good game, I come from a council estate in Romford and hooking up with him (Oxbridge, weekend cottage, Campaign A List) would be a big step up. The only fly in the ointment is that the long-timer on reception says his first wife used to be his PA at a previous agency - does he really love me or is he just trading in for a new model?

A: He's no intention of trading anything in. He just wants to add to his collection.

Q: Apparently, some celebs are now employing people to Twitter for them - isn't this illegal under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (the Regulations) which came into force on 26 May 2008 implementing into UK law the European Unfair Commercial Practices Directive?

A: As I'm sure you know, the final text of the directive included an amendment in relation to financial services (as defined by the Distance Marketing Directive) and immovable property, allowing Member States to impose requirements which are more restrictive or prescriptive than UCPD (Article 3). This minimum harmonisation clause will be explicitly reviewed in 2011 (Article 18). So that's all right, then.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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