27 Nov 2009 0
When you give something a name, you don’t necessarily get to decide what people are going to call it. It’s more a case of proposing a name, which the public can then accept, reject or subvert.
Recently Newcastle United’s hallowed ground St James’ Park was renamed Sportsdirect.com@ St James’ Park. There are plenty of better places on the internet you can go for a breakdown of the staggering wrongness of this, but from my point of view as a part-geordie who is all but oblivious to football, the main point is that nobody is going to call it that. At least not without plenty of irony, before launching into an expletive-filled rant at Mike Ashley. Even if it was “officially” called Sportsdirect.com@St James’ Park for a million years, geordies would still not be heard saying to each other in the pub: “Ah cannut wait to see the toon thrash Man U at Sports Direct Dot Com At Saint James’ Park on Saturday.”
Nowadays (largely thanks to the interweb) this sort of branding abuse extends to punctuation, with so many firms deciding they’ll look cooler if they throw in some lower-case letters in odd places, or a colon in the middle or some other nonsense. AOL just became “Aol.” Why?? Are we supposed to start saying “Ay, lower-case oh, lower-case el, full stop”?
Sometimes companies that have given themselves tossy names see sense and put them right again, waking up one morning and realising that they’ve been off their faces on the noxious fumes emitted by branding consultants. Perhaps most famously in recent years, Royal Mail briefly became Consignia, but when the entire nation simultaneously cringed, it went back to Royal Mail. Check out the diagram at the top of this article for an example of the sort of toss that led them to imagine Consignia was a good idea.
Abbreviations offer some even weirder examples of branding abuse. Did you know that the British Medical Journal is no longer called the British Medical Journal? Officially it’s just ‘BMJ’. Of course, that still means ‘British Medical Journal’ and it remains a medical journal from a place called Britain, and the press still refer to it as the British Medical Journal because that’s what it is, but officially it’s BMJ.
Similarly, the advertiser body ISBA used to be the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin sort of a name. But you won’t find any reference to the full name in any of its materials these days. If you ask what ISBA actually is then they’ll tell you it’s “The Voice of British Advertisers”. Fair enough, but you don’t have to be unusually inquisitive to wonder what it stands for, do you? I’m guessing that the reasoning behind this was that “The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers” sounded way too stodgy and old-fashioned. ISBA does, after all, exist in the flashy world of advertising, where branding is everything.
Still, I hold out hope that, as every other organisation you come across gets itself a tossy name, we’ll eventually see the pendulum swing back, so that we again start to see bodies called things like the North British Locomotive Company (no doubt about what they do) and The Artisans’, Labourers’ and General Dwellings Company.