Thursday, September 13, 2012

Brushing away the Coalgate.

When 23-year-old William Colgate started his starch, soap and candle company in New York in 1806, he could never have imagined even in his wildest dreams that his surname would one day become synonymous with a toothpaste or for that matter, a 186,000 crore scam.

Such is the dance of destiny. One moment, you look like a squeaky clean dental brand. The next instant, you seem to be having all the teething troubles.

The strange fate that has befallen Colgate is not at all new in the naming world. Every now and then, an unexpected event has forced companies, brands, individuals and even towns to confront and contemplate the bitter pill of name change.

Fucking, a village in Austria, was named after a 6th Century Bavarian nobleman ‘Adalpertus de Fucingin’. For centuries, it’s had the same Fucking name. Then along came the four-letter word and its usage became so effin prevalent, that the village name started sounding offensive. Tired of the innuendoes, the hundred odd residents of Fucking voted to rename their town as Fugging!

When low cost American airline ValuJet’s Flight 592 crashed in 1996, killing all the 110 passengers, the company quietly merged with AirTran and took AirTran as its name to ensure a spotless reputation.

Closer home, Maytas Infra, the corporate sibling of the disgraced Satyam Computer Services, recently changed its name to ’IL&FS Engineering & Construction Company’ to airbrush its perceived blemish.

Lest I be accused of advocating a name change for Colgate, let me clarify. Rebranding is simply out of the equation as Colgate is the market leader and has got zero connection to the scam.

But not doing anything to arrest the image slide will be equally foolhardy. Colgate will have to deal with Coalgate. Else, Pepsodent will smile all the way to the bank.

If I were the creative person on Colgate, I would immediately urge the brand to launch a limited edition mock toothpaste called ‘Colgate Black’ targeted at corrupt politicians. The USP of the toothpaste will be ‘Black ko white bana dey’. Such a campaign would give Colgate, a much needed whitewash and a good word of mouth. What say?