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Monday, March 24, 2008

Branding Historical Sites Can Be Tricky

You will enjoy this insightful and thought-provoking guest article from our good friend and colleague, Jason Keeling.

The former Weston Hospital (W.Va.) had capacity to provide for up to 2,000 mental health patients until it closed in 1994. This National Historic Landmark remained quiet until 2007, when a contractor purchased it for $1.5 million. The new owners recently decided to market the location by its pre-Civil War name, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

That decision has drawn the ire of several disability rights groups who claim the terminology is derogatory and outdated. Ann McDaniel, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council told the Associated Press: "It's like turning back the clock to a time we don't want to go back to...I think they could still do what they want to do without being offensive."

The owners claim that reverting to the original name is a matter of historical preservation. Commentator Hoppy Kercheval points out that the old mental hospital in Williamsburg, Va. is known today as it was more than 200 years ago as “The Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds.”

So Marketing Geniuses, do you believe using the Weston Hospital's old name is an appropriate branding strategy, or should a more politically correct title be selected?

Jason Keeling is a PR Consultant, a fellow blogger and an all-around smart dude. His contributions as a young business leader in West Virginia were recognized in 2006 by The State Journal, which named his as a member of its Generation Next: 40 under 40.

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9 Comments:

Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

Jason- Great question! Here's my reaction:

The first law of marketing states, "Perception is reality."

If some find the name offensive, then it is offensive. It matters not what Virginia does; they may be using poor judgment.

Just my $0.02

11:29 AM

 
Anonymous JJ said...

I will have to say, when I heard the new name a week or so ago, I reacted with a giggle, okay two. While I agree that ‘perception is reality,’ for the sake of argument, let’s look at it from another angle.

While odd, the rare name is apparently working to ‘engage’ the public, one way or another. It’s been a topic of discussion at my workplace, Jason found a desire to write about it, and disability groups have spoken out against its derogatory implications. This ‘engagement’ is what causes a person to perk their ears, ask questions and seek additional information. While probably not the most politically correct name, it does invite conversation and, again, ‘engages’ the person’s interest and attention; therefore building the brand.

9:33 AM

 
Anonymous Jason Keeling said...

The new owners have also promoted "Hospital of Horrors," "Nightmare Before Christmas," and "Psycho Path" events on the property, which goes beyond historical context and enters the realm of sensationalism. I think using the "Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum" title is appropriate from a historical perspective, but the above promotions are insensitive to the mental health community.

As JJ points out, this has created a good deal of buzz. So, how do we think public attention could be generated without "circus" type advertisements?

3:34 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let’s look at it this way, it’s his, he wanted to rename it, so he did. The "hospital of horrors" went on last year 2 and no one seemed too offended. Of course it was called "haunted hospital"

7:39 PM

 
Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

jj-

I am glad that you jumped in on this conversation and thought thread. Rather than reply to your comment, I prefer to let it stand on its own. Great stuff! Thanks.
Skip

4:18 PM

 
Blogger CT Thomas said...

What's politically correct or incorrect have to do with historical preservation?

This is simply a landmark with a unique history that allows each of us the choice to accept/embrace it or not.

I believe we have a tendency to over-examine things that do not need to be. It is what it is in my opinion and should not be camo'd with a name that makes it safe.

Let the owners promote as they see fit.

10:01 PM

 
Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

ct - Thanks for joining this conversation. Your points are well taken. We are so glad to have you as part of the Marketing Genius community!

~Skip

4:49 PM

 
Anonymous John Whiteside said...

Well, the issue isn't really whether people are being "too sensitive" - i think people who have a loved one who's been in an institution actually have a right to be sensitive about terms like "lunatic." What's hard is figuring out whether the objections are a small band or irate people, or represent a broader opinion - in which case the name is probably a bad idea.

Which is why testing is a great thing, even a few small focus groups of an online poll can help identify whether something really is a problem.

5:37 AM

 
Blogger Skip Lineberg said...

John-

Thank you for your insightful comment. We are so pleased to have your voice as part of this conversation. Great suggestion, by the way!

Skip

11:51 PM

 

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