beyond the press release


Will Marketers or Consumers 'Ker' About PPR's Name Change?

Since this post concerns the importance of names, name changes and their symbolic impact, I thought I should begin by referencing the biggest and most frightening name being Googled today: North Korea. Oh, wait -- I’m sorry, the “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea.

Even after 65 years, the irony of the national rebranding is hard to ignore. There is nothing democratic about the imprisoned peninsular state. Nor is it a society structured around the peoples’ welfare. The CIA’s Web site describes its economy as “one of the world's most centrally directed and least open, [facing] chronic economic problems.” Lovely.

Starting with its name and continuing through the present, North Korea and its bellicose rhetoric have largely been ignored. But nations aren’t the only entities in the re-naming business. Corporations and people do it too.



Consider PPR -- formerly Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, the French holding company with subsidiary brands such as Gucci, Puma, Sergio Rossi and Alexander McQueen. Last month the company announced it was changing its name (the fifth change since 1988) to Kering, pronounced “caring.” It’s inspired by Celtic and English -- “ker” means “to care” in the Breton language. It’s also a nod to the indigenous language of Brittany, company founder François Pinault’s home region in northwestern France, where “ker” means “home.”

According to his son François-Henri Pinault, the company’s move is about separating itself from the brands it is no longer associated with or is selling off while appreciating corporate roots.

Sharing is Kering? Maybe yes, maybe no

But if that’s the case, what does caring or kering have to do with a luxury brand holding company? To me, such language seems fit for nonprofit work or a children’s hospital. Even an auto insurance commercial might better capitalize on the caring theme. Lettering-wise, Kering looks like “Keurig,” the ultra-fast coffeemaker. K-Cups aren’t cheap, but is this really the image PPR…err…Kering wants? As with the long history of name change misses -- Qwikster, the attempted Netflix spinoff and hip-hop artist Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., a.k.a. Snoop Doggy Dogg, then Snoop Dogg, now Snoop Lion come to mind -- rebranding fails when new names don’t resonate with what’s come before.

That said, when a company’s stated goal is to grow its revenue from 9 billion 24 billion euros ($31 billion) by 2020, it’s clear that PPR’s higher-ups thought the name change would help achieve that aim. It has also been reported that PPR sought counsel from three consulting firms -- Dragon Rouge, Havas Lifestyle and TBWA\ Corporate, all branding heavy hitters -- in the year-long renaming process. These are not the decisions of a company that takes its renaming lightly.

So in contrast to my above rebuke, here’s why Kering’s efforts might succeed:

  • Odd as it may look, Kering is a far more manageable word than Pinault-Printemps-Redoute is a phrase. And while PPR was concise, it had no character. Keeping with the nationalist theme, PPR feels reminiscent of abbreviations like the “USSR,” or “PR,” short for Puerto Rico. At best PPR could be law firm or investment bank initials -- neither of which inspires joy.
  • Branding indifference isn’t the same as branding hatred. Unlike the Democratic People’s whatever, there’s nothing ironically offensive in Kering. Brand indifference could be reversed, assuming the company meets or exceeds its financial goals. And if the name outlives all recent iterations, that too could be a story.
  • Many news reports have discussed the name change -- and it’s only April, two months ahead of Kering’s official June 18 unveiling. This gives Kering the opportunity to better promote its efforts. Barring any North Korean kraziness, summer is often the slow news season -- another bonus for a small story.

On balance, however, I think you know where I stand. It took some serious brain juice to draft three positives regarding Kering’s re-branding. Of course, assuming your name isn’t abbreviated DPRK, almost any re-branding would be an improvement. In Kering’s case, I doubt a moment of explosion or implosion is nearing -- regardless of what they call themselves.

So is PPR/Kering on its way to marketing brilliance -- or should the brand have sought a more democratic approach to discerning peoples’ name-changing wishes? I encourage you to share your thoughts with the MediaPost community.



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