Telecom to rebrand as Spark

First published in Fairfax NZ Business on 24 February 2014

Once in a while something magical happens just as an editorial deadline approaches. The fog of writer’s block lifts and there it is: a gift from the advertising agency heavens. Spark.

I desperately wanted to write a positive column this week and to cheer on a Kiwi brand in Australia that’s going gang-busters, but like you, I couldn’t ignore Telecom’s announcement that it is to rebrand as Spark.

I truly salute the enthusiasm of chief operating officer Jason Paris, who thinks the new changes are “bloody exciting”. Undertaking major initiatives in big corporates that re-energise the team is fantastic. No doubt the future of telecommunications is indeed bloody exciting.But the name change is an exercise in pointlessness.

In fact, every year or so a corporate rebrands itself with buzz – Mondelez, EY, Kering. Some time ago, back in 2002, another little company by the name of Pricewaterhouse Coopers also embarked on an exciting rebrand. Do you remember it?

PwC spun off their consultancy and launched it with much fanfare under the new name of Monday. Several weeks later, the BBC announced the demise of the $135 million name change. Appropriately in an obituary, with an opening line that read, “Monday passed away quietly on Tuesday after a short but controversial life.”

I don’t take issue with the $20 million or so Telecom is thought to have paid to rebrand. Telecom is a massive organisation with its logo across numerous materials; billboards, uniforms, phone bills, vehicles, TV ads.

It costs a lot to redo all that with a whole new look and refreshed brands can be fantastic for many companies and worth every penny. However, this is not a fantastic rebrand and the ridicule and confusion that Spark will generate in the media and on the street is warranted.

Why change a name that has so much history, meaning, brand recognition and relevance to something that already feels dated?

For us marketers, the temptation to rebrand is like a disease. In fact it is a rite of passage for a shiny new marketing manager to suggest a rebrand in the first week of the first job they take. Several years go by. The marketing manager faces the boardroom firing squad multiple times, is made redundant a couple of times and takes on a more weathered resilience. Then, in the best cases, like a butterfly they reemerge with commercial acumen and genuine ability. From that point on, a true marketer realises that changing a name, logo and font is not going to turn the business around.

Telecom will never get away from public opinion that it’s a mammoth, bureaucratic corporate lug.

Like the banks, we hate the brand for the same reasons we depend on it. The market dominance and size of the company just makes it feel solid. Companies like Telecom and Australia’s Telstra, while not loved, are respected. After all, they are synonymous with the development of national infrastructure and communications. That level of recognition, market dominance and reputation, took decades to build.

I watched the street interviews and read the results of the opinion poll this publication conducted. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents think the rebrand is meaningless. I’ve read the comments to numerous articles written about the announcement. It is clear that the general public is confused and wants to know, ‘why?’

I’m with public opinion on this one.