Saturday, July 04, 2009

On rebranding

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the possibility of a party name change will be one of the significant topics for discussion at the NDP's upcoming convention in Halifax - with Ian Capstick making some of the case both for and against here. So I'll take the opportunity to wade in on the issue.

Off the top, I agree with the view that it's time to remove the "New" from the party name. In general the goal of a name should probably be to capture a party's long-term philosophy rather than ephemeral forces behind its creation. And the problem with focusing on initial "newness" is only highlighted once the term has formed part of a well-established party's name for upwards of four decades.

What about the choice between merely dropping the "New", and looking to add a "Social" or "Progressive"? It's probably true that either of those terms would be more descriptive when set out in full. But it's worth noting that a rebranding effort will also have to consider the new shorthand term for the party. And with a two-word lead-in, the end result would likely be another set of initials (SDP or PDP) or an abbreviation (SocDem or ProgDem) which is both less memorable and less positive than a single-word descriptor.

In contrast, "Democrat" alone as a shorthand for "Democratic Party" would set up the best possible footing to make sure that casual discussions about the party involve positive associations rather than neutral or negative ones.

That is, assuming that there isn't a problem to be found in confusing the party's brand with that of the U.S. Democrats. But just as I don't see the Obama phenomenon as much of a point in favour of trying to adopt the name, nor would I expect there to be too much trouble in maintaining a distinct identity - particularly given that the same faces now associated with the NDP would present the first public image of a Canadian Democratic Party.

Mind you, that also reflects an important reason to rein in any expectations as to what a rebranding will accomplish. After all, the expected continuity in the party would make for a difference from most of the recent party rebranding efforts which might be looked on as positive precedents, since those have tended to be combined with clear efforts to unite substantial elements of two or more parties. (See e.g. the Alliance and the Conservatives federally, and the Saskatchewan Party provincially.)

And I'd also want to be careful in throwing out too much of the NDP's branding during the course of a changeover. For example, while Capstick looks at a name change as a chance to drop orange as the NDP's main colour, I'd wonder whether there's much to be gained in that department given the lack of viable alternatives that aren't already associated with other parties. (About the best options would be either trying to elbow the Greens out of the colour which also forms their name, or switching to a yellow which wouldn't seem to be much of an improvement - and either of those would come at the expense of years of work based on concepts like Get Orange, the Orange Room, etc.)

In sum, I agree generally with Capstick's view that a name change should make for a net plus for the party. But it's important as well to be aware of the limits on what the change would accomplish - as it'll ultimately be the structure behind the brand that matters most in determining the party's success.

No comments:

Post a Comment