New Brunswick is hardly new. It’s been around for more than 200 years. The same could be said for Newfoundland, New Westminster, New York City and Nova Scotia for that matter. So how come no one ever talks about updating these names? It’s something the New Democratic Party might want to consider this weekend.
Having had the same old name since 1961, Canada’s third national party is considering a redo at its upcoming policy convention. One proposal would see the party drop “New” from its title. Supporters of the idea, such as NDP MP Brian Masse, figure it’s time to face reality. “Is it another 50 years that we stay ‘new?’ he asked. “Another 100?”
This seemingly innocuous suggestion has sparked considerable internal debate. James Laxer, a one-time candidate for the NDP leadership and perennial voice of dissent from the left, suggested “New” isn’t about novelty but rather a commitment to the principles of the new world order. “Those who want to rename the NDP the Democratic Party want to abandon the social democratic or socialist dimension in the party’s outlook. They want to move the party to the centre to have it compete with the Liberals,” he complained this week.
Laxer may be on to something. After surprising many observers with a slick election campaign last year, a rebranding exercise further bolsters the sense that the once rough-hewn NDP—an amalgam of urban labour unions and a rural farmers party—is going corporate. So what lessons can the corporate world offer on name changes?
Shorten it up. Sometimes simple initials are enough. Gentlemen’s Quarterly publishes twelve times a year. But everyone knows it as GQ. The second “T” in AT&T stands for telegraph, something no one has seen for 50 years. The Bank of Montreal has its executive offices in Toronto but insists on being called BMO. And what’s the O stand for anyways?
The true test of a name is not whether it’s authentically descriptive, but whether people can remember what it represents. Like the transformation of Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC, the party could become simply the “NDP.”
Try a reverse. Starbucks recently unveiled a bold new branding strategy: disguising its new stores as their polar opposites. With 16,000 corporate outlets worldwide, the chain’s latest coffee shops present themselves as small neighbourhood independents, such as 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea on Seattle’s 15th Ave. This opens a wide range of daring options for the NDP, such as the Best Friends of Big Oil Party or the Low Low Tax Party.
Adopt a nickname. This is without doubt the hottest trend in branding right now. Pizza Hut recently announced it was changing some of its stores to “The Hut.” And earlier this month RadioShack in the U.S. announced it will become THE SHACK. Both are transparent attempts at creating snappy nicknames in hopes of endearing the brand to younger customers raised on abbreviations and text messages.
With this demographic in mind, the NDP might simply become THE PARTY. Now who wouldn’t want to vote for that?