Wednesday, 7 December 2016

What's in a name?

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The long-suffering ratepayers of Auckland were justifiably outraged when they discovered their foolhardy city council had spent $500,000 to come up with an improbable slogan. The city’s proposed new global brand “Auckland, the place desired by many” was worked on by three project staff over a two year period while 115 council staff attended workshops.

To his credit the new mayor Phil Goff was not impressed.

It reminded me of a similar situation that I was involved in some years ago when I was on the Greater Wellington Regional Council. At the time the people who ran our Transport Division considered that we needed a new name to better reflect connecting the buses and trains with the metropolitan areas in our region. At the time the branding was “Ridewell” which was considered to have passed its used-by date.

The council officers engaged a PR company to come up with a suitable name. During the discussion period a number of workshops were held with us councillors to gauge our opinions. I always considered however that the PR firm had its own ideas and our views were more of a public relations exercise within a public relations exercise. They offered up many options, but always seemed to come back with URBO.

It was clear to me that none of us were keen on the name, but we were told this was in fact an inspired choice. Simple four letter names were game-changers and we were reminded of the success of SONY and the new name (at the time) for Woolworths which was DEKA. So URBO fitted the profile perfectly even though none of us actually liked it.

A final decision meeting was held with all the councillors around the table with the slick PR people ready to bully us into accepting URBO. They decided in the build-up to give us a power-point presentation showing names of other transport organisations worldwide and in the process the name Metlink, used in Brisbane city, flashed on the screen.

I was sitting next to fellow Wairarapa councillor and chairman of the board Ian Buchanan and he leaned over and said to me “Surely Metlink is the perfect name?” I agreed that indeed it was. So he proposed Metlink, but the PR boffins were quick to dismiss the suggestion saying this would be registered by the Brisbane city council and could not be used.

Ian was not convinced. He left the meeting and got our receptionist to ring the Brisbane council to see if they perchance had a copyright or patent on the name. The answer came back within minutes; they had no exclusivity and we were welcome to use it.

Ian then put the motion that the new name for our transport system was Metlink. Passed unanimously and all it cost was a phone call to Brisbane.

Auckland must have liked it too because they subsequently changed the name of their transport company to Metrolink.

So that phone call virtually killed two birds with one stone.

And we still had money in the bank.

“Ninety-mile beach was obviously named by one of New Zealand’s first advertising copywriters…it is fifty-six miles long.” - John W. McDermott


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