When a brand faces a stigma that it can’t shake off, changing its name tends to be a last resort. It is an acceptance that the negative associations attached to the name outweigh any positive equity that has been accumulated in the eyes of consumers over the years, and therefore is actually harming the brand.
If this is true, what can we read into yesterday’s announcement that councillors in Staines, the small Surrey town, have proposed to change the name to ‘Staines-on-Thames’?
The change, it would seem, is designed to distance the town from the single strongest association people have with Staines: Ali G. For those who might not know, Ali G is the hoodie-wearing, illiterate urban ‘Rude Boy’ alter ego of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Shooting to fame in the late nineties, the spoof rapper often talked of his life in Staines. A hit for Channel Four, the comedy didn’t exactly do wonders for the town: Ali G’s Staines was one of gang violence, broken English and teenage pregnancy.
Since then, the town has tried to reboot its image, most notably in January 2009 when it became officially twinned with the tropical island of Mauritius. But the stigma still lingers. Thus the more radical idea of a name change – to finally exorcise the ghost of Ali G, attract new business to the area, and thereby boost investment – appears to be logical. The image of the autumnal Thames – leafy, placid, natural – certainly seems to be the perfect antidote to Ali G’s urban wasteland.
Will the name change be a success? Will it even be approved? The level of residential opposition will ultimately determine this. Indeed some have already termed the move ”pretentious nonsense”. But even if the proposals fail, some of the positive work may already have been done. Yesterday actor Bobby Davro, born in the area, came to Staines’ defense: “its a fantastic town with a great football team, fantastic town centre and lovely pubs”.
Even if the only achievement of the name change discussion is to get these potitive sentiments into the the public domain and national press, then it won’t have been all in vain for Staines’ brand.