diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 24, 2015

I don't know what you call this building.

From the turn of the century to 2007 it was known as the Millennium Dome. But you probably call it The O2.

The name is a marketing invention, of course, and utterly meaningless if you stop and think. O2 is the chemical symbol for an oxygen molecule, which the Dome patently doesn't resemble, and which is approximately three trillion times smaller. But O2 is also the name of a mobile phone company who've paid millions for the naming rights, hence you lot dutifully chant their brand name every time you reference the building.

But for how much longer?

Hong Kong's richest businessman Li Ka-shing, who already owns the Three mobile network, is currently in talks to buy up the O2 network as well. If successful the two companies would be combined, and the O2 brand name most likely lost. And whilst that's probably good news for Mr Ka-shing and his PR team, what might this mean for North Greenwich's most famous attraction?

If the O2 phone company adopts a new brand as part of the buyout, it's inconceivable that The O2 will keep its current name. That's not how naming rights work - they exist solely to pump a marketing identity into the public consciousness. So what might the new O2/Three hybrid company be called, should it be forced into existence?

Ten possible names for a merged O2/Three company
O2Three   (alas the telephone code for Southampton)
O23   (looks better than it reads)
3O2   (chemically undistinguished)
O3   (a runner, I think)
Ozone   (which is of course the preceding name written differently, and therefore much too clever to be adopted)
ThreeO2   (which sounds like the number two above three hundred)
Throw2   (that's just silly)
Threeieeio   (ditto)
3PO   (targeting the Star Wars demographic)
Plinth   (if Orange and T-Mobile can call themselves EE, then O2 and Three can call themselves anything)

OK, now take one of those ten names, add 'The' in front and try imagining this building with a new name.

It's not easy, is it?

"One Direction are playing tonight at The O3"
"This is North Greenwich, change here for The Ozone"
"I've booked us tickets for the cinema at The Plinth"

But in fact there is a very strong clue as to what's about to happen, because it's already happened in Ireland. Last year Three took over O2 for mobile customers in Ireland, and nobody bothered to create a new brand name at all. Instead Three swallowed O2 whole, and the O2 name is disappearing altogether.
O2 is becoming Three.
We will soon be welcoming O2 customers into the Three family. You’ll see the O2 logo disappearing on the high street and online and start to be replaced by Three, but for you, it’ll be business as usual.
We'll likely see the same thing happen here in the UK, with purchaser company Three (customer share 12%) completely erasing O2 (customer share 29%). Who cares that Three is possibly a worse brand name than even O2? In the world of corporate takeovers it's dog eat dog and winner takes all, so Three wins.

The Irish experience also provides a more precise lesson in venue rebranding. Ireland's largest indoor arena was formerly called The O2 (I know, total lack of originality), but as of last September it was renamed the 3Arena. Since then Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and The Who have all played the 3Arena, and Dubliners now think nothing of calling the old venue by its new name.

So if the UK's O2 takeover does take place, we'll likely be calling The O2 something Three-related pretty soon afterwards. The 3Arena has to be a strong contender, because we already know these naming rights people have a fairly limited imagination. But alternative possibilities include The 3Dome, The 3Bowl, The 3RingCircus or even The Three.

All of these sound pretty stupid at present. But you'll get used to it, whatever trumped-up name they choose, because you did last time.

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