Makeovers and rebranding can be a risky business

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A few years ago, the good people of New Brunswick seemed anxious to change the name of their middle-of-the-road maritime province. Their main concern appeared to be New Brunswick’s image on the world stage. Of course it is possible they were also keenly aware and perhaps a tad resentful of their beautiful, next door neighbour, Prince Edward Island. P.E.I. is not only much prettier but it boasts a truly elegant name as well. It’s difficult to argue with that.

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And while P.E.I. is home to Anne of Green Gables, rich, red soil, and damn fine potatoes, New Brunswick has the Magnetic Hill (located just outside Moncton) where, incredibly, vehicles appear to be able to roll uphill. And though it may not be listed as one of the true Wonders of The World (the “hill” is a type of optical illusion created by rising and descending terrain), it is spellbinding nonetheless. The Magnetic Hill continues to baffle and confound people as New Brunswick’s most enduring tourist attraction with thousands of curious visitors every year.

OK, we were discussing rebranding the province of New Brunswick. But why would anyone even consider such a superficial makeover? The answer might be found in the world of advertising where rebranding is a common practice. A tactic proven to be a largely beneficial strategy adopted to better market certain products – thereby increasing that product’s market share. If done well it can lead to remarkable success. But it can be a tricky and risky business as it can just as easily boomerang and bite you in the keister. Almost forty years ago, we witnessed a classic piece of marketing sleight-of-hand. In 1985, the Coca-Cola Company introduced “New Coke” to replace the original formula of its legendary soft drink, Coca-Cola (aka Coke). But public reaction to the new brand was extremely negative and “New Coke” was an overnight, marketing flop. Or was it? Almost immediately, Coke’s original formula, re-branded as “Coca-Cola Classic” was launched and sales went through the roof, leading to speculation that the hasty introduction of “New Coke” was merely the first step in a most diabolical marketing scheme. The success of rebranding is based on the belief that most people are gullible.

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Ad biz sharpies know that if you call something by a different name, most people will believe it is actually a different thing. That’s how “used cars” came to be known as  “pre-owned vehicles” and “undertakers” are now called “funeral directors” and “we’re putting you on hold for a few weeks” became “your call is very important to us”. And that is most likely why the good people of New Brunswick are so eager to give their province a marketing makeover, so they might more successfully enhance and promote their distinctive brand. After all it worked for Coca-Cola Classic.

In fact it might even be a good idea to incorporate the word “classic” in any and all rebranding plans. The very first step might be the addition of a really impressive tourist attraction right next to the Magnetic Hill. I would suggest a humongous casino surrounded by a family-friendly, prehistoric theme park. And before you can say Tyrannosaurus Rex, New Brunswick is rebranded as “Jurassic Classic – The Crown Jewel of The Maritimes”. It shouldn’t be too long before folks are cancelling their dream vacations to Paris and Rome. Instead, they’ll be heading down east to see what all the fuss is about – and to see cars defy gravity.

You’re welcome, New Brunswick. And remember, it’s all uphill from here.

Terry serves up a little food-for-thought each week and welcomes your comments:

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