Sometimes it’s best to call a spade a spade

It's a spade. Call it a spade.What’s with the rash of everyday things being renamed in complicated ways?

First up is Pizza Hut. For years, this chain has been synonymous with pizza, salad bars and, if you’re a kid, their ice cream factory, which lets you keep returning to eat more ice-cream until you’re actually sick.

But what’s this? They don’t seem to have a salad bar anymore. For 2009, they appear to have renamed it the Salad Station. As their website explains:

“Grab a bowl & help yourself. Check out our all-new Salad Station, and get creative with new ingredients, dressings, drizzles and toppings.”

Umm, sounds a little bit like a good old salad bar to me. So what’s with the name change?

Ready what?

Next is that rather well-known US chain of coffee shops: Starbucks. As you might have seen, they recently launched a brand of instant coffee called VIA.

No, I don’t know why they’ve capitalised the name. And I also don’t know why they’ve decided to call it ‘ready brew’ instead of instant coffee.

Check it out for yourself. The instructions for making it are: “1 Pour in packet. 2. Add hot water. 3. Stir and enjoy.”

In short, this coffee works in just the same way as every other instant coffee you’ve ever seen, bought or drunk. But they’ve decided to call it ready brew, even though it’s as instant as coffees come.

I suppose this sort of behaviour should be expected from a brand which has tall, grande and venti instead of the more usual small, medium and large. But I don’t think it’s a good thing.

It’s about being different

When companies start using new names for things that already exist, it’s because they want to make themselves look different.

Starbucks wants you to think its instant coffee is unlike any other instant coffee. And Pizza Hut wants you to think of its salad bar as something new, rather than pretty much the same thing it’s been doing for years, albeit with a few new ingredients.

This isn’t a new trick, and these aren’t the only brands guilty of it. But I don’t think it’s a particularly clever thing to do – unless your product really is something revolutionary.

It’s a bad idea for two reasons:

  • It makes people cynical
    People aren’t stupid. So giving a new name to an old idea won’t fool them. It just increases cynicism – so when something comes along that is genuinely revolutionary, they’re less likely to believe it.
  • It reduces clarity
    Calling instant coffee ‘ready brew’ just confuses things. I associate the word ‘brew’ with proper, ground coffee, or with tea. But definitely not with instant coffee. That’s already got a name, so please use it.

(For the record, I haven’t tried VIA or the Salad Station. It’s possible they’re both landmark inventions. But I seriously doubt it.)

What’s your view? Encountered any examples of this sort of thing lately? Maybe you think it actually works, and does help to reinvigorate a company’s brand. Leave a comment and let me know.

3 responses to “Sometimes it’s best to call a spade a spade”

  1. SooperT says:

    I read a book that explained why Starbucks call their cup sizes by different names (tall, grande and venti). Basically its all about decision making and comparisons.

    Customers tend to make their purchasing decisions by comparing product A with product B, or competitor A with competitor B.

    Starbucks have priced their product higher than their competitors, so don’t want their customers to make direct comparisons with the competition – this is why they have slightly different sizes and different names.

    I would guess Starbucks ‘Ready Brew’ is way more expensive than instant coffee, so Starbucks are trying to avoid direct comparisons by dreaming up a new ‘type’ of coffee.

  2. Neil says:

    It’s a good idea because they want to imply their coffee is better than instant. If they use the same language as Kenco or Nescafe, people will assume it’s the same crap coffee (maybe it is, but that’s not the point).

    As a copywriter, surely you don’t think people are stupid for buying something becasue it’s been given a sexy new name (and identity)? That’s our job.

    Imagine if Virgin stuck with Business class like everyone else, rather than Upper Class? It would lose it’s cheekiness, it’s voice. Language is all part of the expereince. And only the most earnest of Plain English sticklers would think that this reduces clarity.

    I’m not a Starbucks fan by any stretch. Neither do I think it’s a good idea to hoodwink your custoemrs with fancy langauge. But nobody is being fooled here – it’s a complicit process. It’s what their custoemrs expect. And the less new words companies want, the less work we copywriters get.

  3. John says:

    Hi Neil,

    Thanks for the comment. Sorry for the delay approving it – I was away for a couple of days.

    I agree with some of what you say. For instance, Virgin have obviously put a great deal of thought into their Upper Class concept.

    They’ve worked hard to ensure its ‘cheekiness’ flows through the whole thing; including the name, tone of voice (check out the ‘snooze pack’ on their website) and more.

    However, I think what’s different about VIA and the Salad Station are that the they’re both fairly lazy attempts to give a new identity to an old product.

    VIA is instant coffee in a sachet, with a name that gives you little clue as to what it is. The Salad Station is a salad bar, though I admit my point about clarity isn’t so valid with this one as the name at least gives you a fair idea of what you’re going to get.

    I’m all for intelligent rebranding and for descriptive names that put a smile on your face. And I’ve seen exactly how using the right language and a distinctive tone of voice can lodge your brand in people’s minds, giving it a real advantage over its competitors.

    I just don’t think Starbucks VIA or the Pizza Hut Salad Station do any of those things very well.

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