diamond geezer

 Friday, October 03, 2014

Yesterday's Evening Standard contained a cringeworthy four page pullout section extolling the joys of Midtwon. It was packed with crass fatuous brandspeak, interviews with grinning local employees and the general bigging-up of various businesses in the Holborn/St Giles/Bloomsbury area. In total the name Midtwon appeared more than thirty times, in every case as if it was a normal word that drips naturally from people's lips. And it so doesn't.

Yesterday's Midtwon pullout came came hot on the heels of Friday's Hoxton Holborn hotel hogwash and a Midtwon lifestyle article on Tuesday so full of verbal diarrhoea that I had to wash my hands afterwards. Clearly some sort of promotional push is going on, so I wasn't surprised to see the pullout's online version labelled as advertorial, even though the printed version had no such warning. Indeed the drive to introduce Midtwon into Londoners' vocabulary is coming from just one source, a Business Improvement District funded by a levy on local companies. There's no cohesive community here, merely an artificial boundary marking out administrative territory which the inmidtown BID team are desperate to rebrand.

And Midtwon's not the only offender. The Northbank Business Improvement District covers an adjacent area along the Strand, and they too are trying to impose a bland portmanteau name across a well known part of London. But Northbank (like Midtwon) is a name with no history, indeed is the sort of empty terminology that could easily apply to parts of Detroit, Seattle, Melbourne or Birmingham. And each is symptomatic of a branding culture that commercial interests are increasingly trying to impose on places and things that have a perfectly good identity of their own.

Kate Bush has just finished her run of gigs at the Eventim Apollo, which you or I know as the Hammersmith Apollo, except officials choose to use the name of a ticketing company instead. The famous SSE Arena is named after three letters so unhelpfully vague that the venue feels forced to add the word "Wembley" under the logo, for fear nobody will have a clue where they're talking about. The Barclaycard Arena is an imminent renaming in the heart of (go on, try to wildly guess the city before clicking through to find out). Meanwhile Newcastle FC suffered considerable reputational damage for a few years by attempting to call St James' Park the Sports Direct Arena, whereas Arsenal and Manchester City have named their stadia after Middle Eastern airlines without a shadow of remorse.

It's all about the money, obviously. If the difference between The Ricoh Arena and The City of Coventry Stadium is enough to pay for additional players each year, what board would turn down the offer? Boris got his cablecar off the ground by selling the naming rights to a sponsor, ditto the cycle hire scheme was partly funded by a high street bank keen for high profile publicity. Labelling a project with the name of a financial backer is increasingly the modern way, which some would call bearing down on costs, but I find deeply depressing.

Because the problem is, as a society, we let the rebranding engineers get away with it. They offer up a new name for something and we start using it, succumbing to their cunning ploy like sheep. We start to call the Hammersmith Apollo by a bloody stupid new name because someone told us to. We've completely forgotten the Millennium Dome because someone persuaded us it's an oxygen molecule that represents a phone company. We go to matches at the Emirates because we're unwitting corporate whores. Repeat a name enough times in enough places and the unthinking masses adopt it as their own.

But renamings don't always bed down, don't always work. Nobody prefixes the London Eye with whatever the name of its sponsor is this week. The Kia Oval is only ever the Oval, unless you're the dull sucker writing the press release. Barclays Cycle hire steeds are known as Boris Bikes, which is indeed rebranding of a kind, but means the bank wasted its money. Sometimes the relaunch fails, when society collectively rejects the updated title in a mass outbreak of good taste.

So I trust that Midtwon is another name destined for the bargain bin. It's a vacuous label applied to a meaningless area, the whim of a committee who think their business strategy is more important than centuries of history. Repeating it several times in a free newspaper won't bring the term to everyone's lips, merely make the proponents look more desperate. And I realise I've made things worse by bringing the name to your attention, because the oxygen of publicity is what these lexicographical manipulators crave. But I'm sure I can trust you to continue to shun the Midtwon brand, because if we can't hang on to using the proper names of things then the marketing merchants have won.

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