Mayvin Director Martin Saville shares his thoughts on corporate rebrandings.
Two very different news stories have caught my eye recently.
The first one concerns the very sad case of Nazanin Ratcliffe, a woman with dual Iranian / British nationality married to a British man. While visiting her family in Iran she was detained by the Iranian authorities, who do not recognise her British citizenship, and thrown into prison. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, started an online petition as a way of drawing attention to her plight. At the time of writing his petition has attracted nearly 700,000 signatures.
The second story concerns the attempt by the respected German company Siemens to rebrand their healthcare division as Siemens Healthineers. As can be seen from this video they’ve written a song. It’s toe-curling. Lucy Kellaway in the FT is scathing. “The Siemens Healthineers song is a writhing, Spandex-clad horror”, she opines.
What links these stories in my mind is that they both involve the attempt to engage large numbers of people in a cause, with spectacularly different results. There are some ironies here. Siemens Health’s ill-fated rebrand was, presumably, the work of professionals. Richard Ratcliffe, by comparison, is not in a people profession. He is an accountant. Clearly, his situation is deeply and viscerally engaging, but I don’t think that alone explains the success of his petition – 700,000 is a very high number even among successful online petitions. I suspect that the difference here is partly in the ‘realness’ with which Ratcliffe is communicating.
Ratcliffe has taken to blogging as a way of updating his petition’s supporters, and, I suspect, making sense of his experience. He writes with great dignity, restraint, subtlety and humility. I particularly recommend this blog in which he reflects on the impact on his Iranian in-laws of saying in public that this situation brings shame on Iran. He writes movingly of operating in a context of pressures he poorly understands. Ratcliffe’s writing demonstrates great ‘reflexivity’, that ability to hold one’s own point of view at arm’s length and critique it. He seems able to do this even in the direst of circumstances.
By comparison, Siemens Health, in spite of the fact that their product is all about relieving human suffering and promoting human health and well-being, seems to have forgotten that they are talking to people. Ouch.