Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Can a name sabotage a brand?

Today's guest post comes from Priya Shah, who, as will be clear, comes from India and seeks to bring sanity to the misguided marketing strategists of Iceland. 

I read that Iceland is running a contest to find a new name for itself because the current name is discouraging tourists from visiting the country. Also, in recent times Iceland's volcanic eruptions and financial collapse have not helped its tourism industry—hence the desire for rebranding with a new name.

This got me thinking about two things – the role of a name in creating a brand, and the mammoth task of branding a country.

I believe a name has little to do with the attributes of a brand, because if it did, a company like Yahoo! would have never been taken seriously. It is the overall image that an organization creates through its products, marketing and PR that give a certain brand value to the name. However, would corporate branding strategies apply to a nation? Sure.

A country’s political landscape, commerce, culture, tourism and media play a big role in defining a country’s brand. To the Western world, for years my country, India, was known as the land of elephants and snake charmers. It took a lot of effort to lift that image and be recognized as a developing nation. And now again, the country is associated in parts as a nation full of slums (thanks to Slumdog Millionaire *rolling eyes*), and in parts as a nation for cheap labor, outsourcing and IT geeks. The Indian government has started a massive tourism campaign called ‘Incredible India’ to showcase the country’s real beauty which thrives in its diverse landscape and culture.

Strategic branding is very important for countries, but I don’t think a new name would suddenly make a country seem appealing to tourists. Iceland's weakening economy and volcanic eruptions are not going to disappear with the new name. Highlighting the country’s gorgeous pastoral beauty, unique culture and yummy pancakes will surely draw tourists!

Priya Shah is a former journalist turned PR professional from India, currently pursuing her Masters at NYU and trying to find her way in the Big Apple.


B.M. said...

Good points -- Changing the name of a brand may be able to act as a partial "reset" for that brand's reputation, but if nothing's changed about the brand, nothing is going to change about the brand's reputation. Would calling "High Fructose Corn Syrup" "Corn Sugar" fool consumers? Not for long... hopefully.

Then again, maybe if a name evokes a bad enough image it's worth some tweaking -- "Canola Oil" turned out to be more marketable than "Rapeseed Oil," and "Chilean Sea Bass" is much more delicious than its "Patagonian Toothfish" incarnation.

Philip Morris shed some bad rep from its conglomerate by forming "Altria" and separating out the Philip Morris name as its cigarette-only subsidiary (Some kind of branding quarantine!) Unfortunately for Iceland, it probably can't put all its volcanos in one corner and call that Iceland as part of its renaming effort.

You're right that Iceland should focus its efforts elsewhere -- Do you really want someone as a tourist if they planned their vacation around the name of the country they're visiting anyway?

Anonymous said...

Very well written post. I am sure Iceland can take some advise from Ms. Shah.

brandsinger said...

Well done, Priya and thanks for your comments BM and Anonymous.

As for me, I think that Iceland ought to leverage its flaming volcanoes and rebrand itself as "Hotsy-Totsy-Land" -- though, of course, I don't think this change should be made without extensive market testing.


hashtagsophiapowe said...

I think you make a great point Priya! The fact that Iceland already has such a unique name is already something it should be capitalizing on in one way or another. Also, as you so rightly pointed out, Iceland should focus its efforts on popularizing all the intriguing aspects of their beautiful country; particularly the pancakes and, call me crazy, but the ice hotel! There are tons of adventurers out there; myself included, who would love to explore the frosty beauty of Reykjavik’s ice hotel! I do find it interesting, however, that Iceland has chosen to take the route of the name change when so many other countries (Turkey, Greece and Costa Rica to name a few) that are facing similar tourism difficulties, have taken the same approach as India.

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