‘Greenwich’ is having a moment as a brand name, with more and more manufacturers using the word to give their products cachet. But what kind of associations does it evoke? We investigate how the name is being appropriated to sell everything from toilet seats to handbags.
What do a tea dress, a tap and a toilet seat have in common? How about if you add in a watch, a pen, a shoe, a fascinator, a kitchen range and a set of dinner plates?
As pub quiz questions go, this one sounds unforgivably esoteric – and yet the answer is surprisingly familiar. For each of the items cited, there exists a product range named ‘Greenwich’.
The tea dress is a thing of beauty. Designed by Cath Kidston, this floral Greenwich Rose Dress is a byword in casual femininity. And though the same can’t quite be said for the toilet seat, both Fosse & Stratton Greenwich Bathroom Basin Pillar Taps and Roper Rhodes Greenwich Seats add a touch of class to any loo break.
The Accurist Greenwich watch harks back to the home of GMT. The Franklin Covey Greenwich Pen is timelessly stylish. Howdens Greenwich Kitchens come in walnut or maple; Sebago Women’s Greenwich Cross Wedges are leather-lined. Denby Greenwich dinnerware boasts “a personality as strong and bold as its rich sea green colour”, and the Greenwich Fascinator flips that aesthetic with a splash of royal red.
Of course, while it will probably bring you pub quiz kudos, this list does little to enlighten. It explains nothing about why the name might be chosen or what kind of status these items gain. Unlike say ‘Belgravia’ or ‘Mayfair’ – consistently used to denote the top of the range – there is little apparent congruity between one Greenwich product and the next. What does ‘Greenwich’ mean to the manufacturers who use it to shill crockery or hats?
For Paula Herron, who designed the fascinator, the answer is simple. “All my ‘hat creations’ are named after places that I hope will conjure up an image of the item,” she says. “Greenwich, to me, is very British and the fascinator is red, white and blue. So I felt it was a good fit with the name.”
Andrew McCrum, co-owner of brand naming agency Appella, agrees that this sense of place is critical to the branding. “Greenwich has a very English cachet,” he says. “People will have heard of Greenwich – it’s got that niche, elite London association.”
Indeed, with the borough’s vivid history, it makes sense that ‘Greenwich’ would function as an emblem of Anglophilia. Even among those who have never visited, the name holds resonance as the home of Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time, not to mention the Cutty Sark.
“A famous place brings images, stories and values into our mind which influence the way we perceive the brand,” explains Eva Leroy of naming consultancy Nomen. “If the brand claims a cultural affiliation, that’s part of the storytelling process. Greenwich conveys discovery and the sciences, travel, astronomy, the navy, the meridian, the royal dynasties and the world heritage.”
On one level, ‘Greenwich’ may work as a kind of shorthand for ‘prestige’. Certainly, many products lean heavily on this connotation: while conspicuously avoiding the lexicon of luxury, their marketing material brims with words like ‘classic’ and ‘authentic’.
On the other hand, as the world grows smaller, parochialism represents a dangerous trait in branding. And particularly where your customers are widely dispersed, you can’t guarantee that Greenwich London will be their go-to association.
“Greenwich Village in NYC could maybe influence our perception of the brand, with a richness of evocations such as alternative culture, music, theatre and the gay movement,” says Leroy of UK consumers. “When we create a brand, we advise our client to test these evocations on every relevant market. A client from the US may have a very different idea from a client in the UK!”
Context here is critical. Across the Pond, the moniker sounds more hip and less historic: Mischa Barton’s Greenwich Shopper is evidently not designed for perusing the National Maritime Museum. Conversely, you would be foolish to think that a Greenwich watch alluded to anything outside the UK.
Of course, the art of branding is more subtle than drawing parallels between product and place. There are many other aspects to a product name, not least its visual and auditory elements and etymological provenance.
“Greenwich is one of those very ancient English names,” says McCrum, whose background is in linguistics. “It’s a bit like ‘Mordor’, with a very old-fashioned construction.”
It would also be remiss to ignore the inclusion of the syllable ‘green’. While the colour all but vanishes when you say ‘Greenwich’ out loud, it may retain some residual relevance, particularly among consumers who don’t really know the town. McCrum feels this can only help the brand positioning – “although it may depend on your position on the political spectrum!” he says.
From wedges to writing implements; cabinets to frocks; different associations ebb in and out of importance, determined by the product’s function and probable consumer base.
Ultimately, this isn’t a strict science: a well-marketed product will gain recognition that transcends the secondary meanings of its name. “Depending on what the conversation is about, it will be pretty clear that you’re referring to the product rather than the place,” says McCrum. “There’s a bit of crossover I guess, but once the product is on the market, it’s kept in a separate section of the brain. So people will associate Greenwich with ‘technical’, ‘classic’, ‘elite’, depending on who is aware of what. Context is the most important thing in naming.”
This article appears in the Autumn 2013 edition of Greenwich magazine.