Much like a brand might change its name to renew or repair its reputation, the Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to replace the term “high fructose corn syrup” with the more natural sounding “corn sugar.” Having become a popular target of blame for the skyrocketing obesity rates in recent decades, the CRA feels a new moniker might help improve the product’s perception. While the jury’s still out as to whether the FDA will approve the move, I think there’s a question as to whether this tactic is really effective. That is, does changing a name change the identity?
Take Philip Morris Corporation: In 2003, the owner of Kraft Foods and of course, the like-named tobacco giant, changed their name to “Altria Group.” Having suffered from the sins of its namesake tobacco wing, the corporation adopted the new name hoping to protect its own reputation and prevent residual damage to the rest of its brand portfolio caused by the negative publicity that comes from peddling cigarettes.
In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken made a similar move, shrinking its brand name to “KFC.” Fried food-hate was alive and well at the time, and by dropping the word “Fried,” from the name, they hoped to save themselves some PR grief. Not sure if it worked, but the fast food chain now seems more comfortable in its original (and extra crispy) skin, readopting the “Kentucky Fried Chicken” name in 2007. It now uses it alongside KFC.
Of course there are many other examples of companies that, to either escape or revive their reputation, change their names. Controversial defense contractor Blackwater is now “Xe.” Cable-giant Comcast is transitioning to “Xfinity,” and Radio Shack is now just called “The Shack.”
So the question is, what’s in a name? Does a brand’s reputation have anything to do with the name, or is brand perception based on something bigger? I would offer that, while there may be short-term advantages to changing a troubled brand name, ultimately the product or service of the company is solely responsible for its reputation. What do you think?