The game of the name

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It’s a source of acute embarrassment to younger members of my family that I am able to trot out many advertising slogans of long-ago campaigns from the 70s and 80s – well, it only seems like yesterday to me but apparently quite a few years have passed since then.

So, the news that the Marathon Bar was making a comeback, albeit for a few months and only in selected supermarkets, was enough to have me telling anyone who was listening that it ‘comes up peanuts, slice after slice’. (No one was listening.)

For the uninitiated, Marathon was the original name for Snickers, although I refuse to believe it is 30 years since the change was made. But the fact that Marathon still has some resonance with those of a certain age, even after all this time, underlines the power of a name.

A company’s or brand’s reputation is encapsulated in its name. Companies work hard to promote, maintain and enhance their reputations to ensure that people’s associations with their names are positive. This helps to generate trust and loyalty – and for brands repeat purchases – among target consumers.

That’s why brand identity and messaging are so important for a communications programme. Activities have to reflect and support core brand values.

It can take years to build up a strong reputation but very little time for this to be dismantled. The long-established Townsend Thoresen name did not survive for long after the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise in 1987; Ratners Jewellers was forced into a change of name after its founder described one of its best-selling products as ‘total crap’ and negatively compared a pair of earrings to a prawn sandwich!

Nevertheless, such examples are still the exception. The major point about creating a strong reputation is that it will help companies to weather a storm – because for most businesses there will inevitably be adverse times at some point.

Marks & Spencer may not be quite the retail icon that it once was, and the company seems to have endured more than its fair share of criticism in recent years. However, it is still regularly listed among the most trusted brands and companies in the UK. Indeed, when I began to study PR, Marks & Spencer was cited as the perfect example of a company which had built up such a strong reputation that at the time it undertook hardly any traditional advertising.

Of course, the media landscape has changed a great deal since then, with many more channels and the arrival of social media making the business of reputation management much more complex and challenging. Social media means consumer-facing companies in particular have to be very fleet of foot to deal with any negative comments, and this has increasing relevance in the B2B sector as well.

Establishing appropriate brand values and identity and then investing in maintaining and enhancing these are vital for businesses of any size. Customer loyalty and trust are the solid foundations on which companies can base their success and growth, as well as ensuring that they will be well placed to deal with an unexpected crisis (and for further advice on that topic, take a look at my colleague Simon Wildash’s recent blog).

A strong reputation will also help to successfully manage a name change, if it is required for other reasons, such as with Marathon which became Snickers to align the brand worldwide as markets became increasingly global. And the proof of that pudding is that I am still tucking into my Snickers 30 years later – even if I continue secretly to refer to it as a Marathon. Did I mention it ‘comes up peanuts, slice after slice’?

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