Jun
18

Sports branding: Senator’s arena becomes Canadian Tire Centre. Sigh.

Another stadium re-branding: we’re more than just tired.

So you’ve heard about the Ottawa Palladium? How about the Corel Centre? Scotiabank Place? Well forget about them all. As announced this morning, Ottawa’s professional hockey stadium is about to change its name for the fourth time since 1996.  

Your name here

The good part…

Stadium Brand names - sponsorship

Percentage of 111 stadiums for the “big four” professional sports leagues: NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL

Okay, I’m a branding guy. So I get the naming rights game. I’ve been part of board room decisions around JetForm park, and I worked at Corel during 1996. Big brands will pay a LOT of money to get their moniker on the side of a stadium, and into the mouths of fans and broadcasters. And that’s all good.

And we could choose a much more embarrassing corporate partner than Canada’s iconic automotive / hardware / electronics / now grocery brand. We could have a “Sleep Train Arena” like the NBA team the Sacramento Kings, or “Dick’s Sporting Goods Park“, the home of the Colorado Rapids soccer team.

And it sounds like the Senators ownership team actually chose this partnership:

Senators owner Eugene Melynk said of the discussions leading up to Tuesday’s official agreement. “The possibilities kept growing and growing and growing. They made up their mind pretty quickly. After that, they moved so fast. In the end, it’s very extensive. You’re going to see a lot of big changes.”

The annoying stuff…

Here are a few reasons this name change is annoying to me – and if Twitter is any guide (and it is) – it’s annoying many other Ottawa fans as well. Yeah, we’ll get used to the new name. Again. But before the anger dies, some thoughts on stadium branding.

  1. Another name: it’s hard to really develop affection for a brand – any brand – if it keeps changing its name every few years. I had just gotten used to saying “Scotiabank Place”…
  2. Generic corporate blandness: 86 out of the 111 stadiums for the “big 4″ professional sports leagues have generic brand names. That’s 78%. A massive majority of hard-to-differentiate place names. Try this test: tell me where the Pepsi Center is. Minute Maid Park. Gillette Stadium. See? They could be anywhere.
  3. Back to “Centre” again?  The word “Place” wasn’t exactly rocking anyone’s world, but I counted: 17 out of the 30 NHL teams play in a building called “The <Brand Name> Center” or “Centre”. That’s more than 56% of teams in the same league calling their building the same boring thing!
  4. Lack of emotion: Distinctive names aren’t just more interesting and unique, they are durable. San Francisco sports fans demanded the return of “Candlestick Park” after 3M, then Monster.com bought, then abandoned the naming rights.  That’s a strong brand!
  5. You can be creative: Scotiabank also sponsors the Saddledome in Calgary, or as they call it “Scotiabank Saddledome”.
  6. Palladium is a strong name: and this is the kicker. We once had a strong, completely unique name for the stadium, and it’s still used as the street name for the stadium itself. There is no other Palladium in North America. And “Canadian Tire Palladium” isn’t so bad is it?

But enough about me: what do you think?

Jan
15

Ottawa brands: Seven reasons “Red Blacks” will never be our CFL team name.

You only get three downs in the CFL. And Ottawa’s new team has used up two…

So there’s a lot of talk in Ottawa about a couple of potential names being tossed about for the new/old/here-we-go-again CFL football team.“Red Blacks” is the latest, and seems to be gaining a few admirers as well as a host of detractors – including CFL Hall of Famer Russ Jackson. But it may not matter. This name was fumbled. And it seems someone else may have picked it up…

RussJackson

First of all, let me just say that I don’t mind the suggested name. It’s not exciting, but then neither is “Cleveland Browns” or “New Zealand All Blacks”. It *could* have been built into a relatively strong brand, and I’m sure it *would* have grown on the Ottawa fans. Remember, “Rough Riders” was always an awkward name to start with – between Saskatchewan having the same name and being named after an American military unit.

And it’s not nearly as embarassing as the former team name “Renegades”. Or the Rapidz baseball team – who played three seasons under three different names (thanks to Rock Norris for the reminder – shiver).

But it will never happen. And here’s why.

Seven good reasons Red Blacks can’t be the name

1) The first down: Ottawa Rush Smacked down

The first down was a Hail Mary pass from OSEG quarterback Jeff Hunt. But  the really awful name “Ottawa Rush” was prematurely “discovered” after the Ottawa Citizen found a trademark application, and then apparently abandoned when the public reaction smacked the ball out of the air.

2) Second down: Ottawa Red Blacks fumbled

But then they made the same basic mistakes with their second attempt. Again, the Ottawa Citizen found an application online “to trademark several variations of the name Ottawa Red Blacks, for use with a proposed football team.” And the name was then confirmed as an option in an e-mail from Jeff Hunt.

Hunt explained OSEG hasn’t made a final call just yet, because the group is planning to do some focus testing on potential names first (and) release the team name… in late January or early February.

3) Naming contests kill good names

You held a naming contest, and that was a giant mistake. Take my word for this. As nice and democratic as it sounds, this never works. I could go on for hours about this, but in your case, the biggest reason is that it made the people who care most take sides too early. You basically set the stage for a large crowd of vocal people to be disappointed whatever the outcome.

4) Negative public reaction

But of course, it’s too late for focus groups when nine out of ten people in an online survey have already decided they don’t like it. Of course, OSEG could ignore this feedback and push on (at their peril). But there are several bigger issues that will kill this name before it flies.

5) Trademark threat 1: Semi-professional team in Watertown, New York

Watertown Red and Black: Okay, it’s not a Canadian brand, but Watertown is just across the border – well within the reach of TV and radio broadcasts. And this team could make the case for trademark confusion.

6) Trademark threat 2: powerful US College football team

redandblkforever_largeUniversity of Georgia Bulldogs Ever hear of American College football? Yeah, well they know the value of branding, and this team brand, fondly called the “Red and Black” by its fans (see t-shirt at right) is about as big as they come – having just won their 2013 conference bowl game. And the UGA student newspaper (Red & Black) also owns redandblack.com. So let the confusion – and litigation – begin!

7) Web Address: gone

It seems that for all of their work on the trademark front, it seems the team did not secure any of the key Web addresses it would need to really build a solid brand online.  As a matter of fact, “RedBlack.ca” and “RedBlacks.ca” were just scooped up yesterday AFTER  the media storm began. And I’m willing to bet it wasn’t OSEG that registered them with GoDaddy.com.

So now it’s third down…

So Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. You’ve had two chances to launch your brand right, and both times you lost yardage. So your choices seem to be: punt or push on. But I’d like to suggest a third option:

Bring in a special team.

Branding – and particularly NAMING a new brand – is a tricky business, and it’s obviously not OSEG’s specialty. Call in the people who do this all the time. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one local guy who could help.

But before I get too smarmy, any readers want to weigh in? What do you think?

Nov
16

Social brands: I love you RebelMouse. But the name?

Clever, catchy, and utterly unhelpful.

In case you missed it, there’s a new buzzy social media tool in town called RebelMouse. And even in its early release phase, it’s not perfect, but it looks awesome and works (almost) flawlessly. So why is that grumpy branding guy DenVan going to complain about the name? Didn’t the almighty Seth Godin and his equally legendary counterpart Shakespeare say that names don’t matter? I Beg to Differ… and so does the world!

But first. What I like about RebelMouse

Here’s the DenVan “dashboard” page with all the bells and whistles.

Okay, before I get all Scrooge-y hater on the Mausketeers, let me just say, this is the slickest, most impressive looking new social media product I’ve seen in, well, ever. The team at RebelMouse knows exactly what they’re doing, and they’ve earned the incredibly effusive praise they’ve gotten from across the social echo chamber – from this rave in Mashable to this one in PandoDaily.

Here’s what they do right:

  • Frictionless sign-up: I’ve never found it so easy to set up a service. Never. Try it yourself to see how quickly you can go from tire-kicking to driving off the lot wondering how you’re going to explain this to your wife. It took me no time to set this DenVan page up.
  • Effortless blending of social channels: my page displays my Tweets, my blog posts, my Instagrams, and custom links – all in a format that’s as easy to scan as Pinterest. Many services do that in many different ways – as TechCrunch tries to explain in this taxonomy: 1) Social graphs; 2) Vertical content channels; 3) Aggregators. But it’s bloody hard to do elegantly.
  • Beautiful design: did I mention how clean and elegant it is? Well the mobile site is just as good – something most established social media stalwarts like Facebook and Twitter haven’t managed yet.
  • The team: and though the product has a way to go in terms of living up to its promise as a real Social Media network and/or tool set – and becoming more useful than a glorified “About.Me”. I’m impressed by the great pedigree and corporate story this startup has built for themselves. So I have confidence they can nail the product end of things.
  • The name: Huh? Wasn’t I supposed to be slamming the name?!? Wait for it. What I like about the RebelMouse name is that it’s not Squidoo. Or Jugnoo (sorry Danny). Or ShooBooBeeLooBeeDoo… okay I made the last one up. But I had you going didn’t I? RebelMouse is at least a clever and memorable memory hook.  But…

The name isn’t helpful

Sorry Mouse. The name RebelMouse just doesn’t help people understand your product at all – not even as a metaphor. In my product naming work, I try to help clients understand the tricky balance between the descriptive qualities of a name and the metaphorical / iconic qualities of a name. Strong names need a bit of both. Not everybody has to be a “Facebook” or heaven forbid “Friend Feed”. There is room in our brains for strong metaphors like “Google” or “Apple”. And that’s not to say RebelMouse can’t become a household name. As I say, they’ve nailed the product so far. It’s just that it will have to work a lot harder than a Facebook or a Google to equate that name with their service.

What do you think?

Are you impressed with RebelMouse? Confused? Does the name work for you? Comment away!

Oct
17

Airport branding: Heathrow kills the TLA BAA. Hooray!

London’s  airport manager “BAA” rebrands to… wait for it… “Heathrow”!

Beg to Differ celebrates the departure of a bad airport brand, the arrival of an old friend, and after the gates, wishes the grand old dame of British airport brands a successful baggage retrieval. (Oh, but mate: don’t bother hailing a cab. Take the tube instead.)

BAA humbug

If you’ve ever flown through London’s Heathrow Airport, or Glasgow, or Stansted you’d be forgiven for not knowing that you were actually in the hands of an entity called BAA – which once stood for British Airports Authority, but more recently became “BAA”, which stands for, well, not much at all. Because it was just another TLA (see previous rant here).

And now, in a stroke of brilliance (and possibly desperation), they decided to drop the three letter moniker. Here’s the story in brief:

It is the end of an era for BAA with the company announcing that the name is to be dropped in favour of stand-alone brands for its airports. Its airports – Heathrow, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Southampton and Stansted – will cease to be called BAA gateways from today.

So the company running Heathrow Airport will now call itself “Heathrow”? And didn’t spend a billion dollars doing it?  Wow. Unlike a lot of nonsense in the branding world, that actually makes sense!

I completely agree with the “Thumbs Up” verdict from Mark Ritson in the UK version of Marketing Week:

The simple rebranding of BAA as Heathrow might look pretty bleeding obvious to the untrained eye, but it’s a job very well done. Brand managers around the world should note how the strategy has been executed.

Indeed. And hopefully they also think twice before choosing a meaningless abbreviation, acronym, or impossible to spell “domain grabber” name as well.

I wish “umbrella brands” like “The Ottawa Hospital” (better known as the Civic Hospital, Riverside Hospital, and General Hospital) would take note of the other lesson here: Branding is the art of making sense. And stretching the idea of a Hospital – or an airport – to cover whatever you want it to? That just doesn’t make sense.

More reading: