OK, Mr. or Mrs. Consumer, riddle me this.Which of the above buildings sells pizzas, and which sells radios?
I ask because of some aggressive and misguided rebranding efforts going on by major retail chains. In an effort to both be trendy and transcend an existing identity, they’re seizing the playful halves of their names and marketing around them.
Which sounds great, until you take them out of context.
Pizza Hut thinks its consumers already use “the Hut” as shorthand, so they’ve embraced it as a marketing initiative. That’s fine enough, but it doesn’t scale. The Hut doesn’t mean anything if it’s not related to mealtime and pizza, and it won’t catch the eye of someone looking for food.
Meanwhile, Radio Shack has decided to do the same thing. They, too, say their shortened “the Shack” is used by devoted fans, and that the name is more trustworthy than the official brand. Except, erm, it really isn’t.
When does a nickname imply trust? When it comes from a customer, it says, “I go here all the time,” which can be construed as, “I trust their products.” When it comes from the corporate mouth, the message is,
“You should be my friend,” not, “You can trust me.” It feels entirely different.
But my biggest complaint is with the brand identity these nicknames create. Not only are the messages missing their mark, but they’ve gone so far as to become more or less identical. What do they mean? Tell your coworker, “I’m going to the shack and the hut at lunch,” and see what happens.
I’m all for nicknames; my coworkers have several for me (and probably a few that I don’t know about). But the best ones are descriptive and add warmth and depth to the thing they describe. Shacks and huts, for all their marketing efforts, don’t really do that.