Is South Africa a bad name?

Chris Moerdyk

In the middle of a highly emotive talk show on radio last week about changing town and street names in South Africa, someone threw in a curve ball and suggested that it is time for the country to change its name as well.

There have been calls in the past for our name to change to something like Azania in an effort to appease those revolutionaries who believe that "South Africa" still translates directly into "Apartheid".

In my opinion, however, we should not even consider changing our name unless there is some sort of tangible benefit other than giving revolutionaries a nice warm feeling.

A new name should make us prouder than we are already; it should increase foreign investment and make more tourists come and spend their money here.

In short, changing the country's name should be a marketing decision with a guaranteed return on investment because just changing the name to give people warm feelings will cost billions that, instead of just appeasing sensitive egos, could be used to build houses, schools and toll-less highways.

In terms of branding, there might seem to be quite a strong argument to change our name because the majority of the global population, according to some research I saw a while ago, still thinks South Africa is a region and not a country.

Which is quite embarrassing because that means a lot of people think that Zimbabwe is an integral part of South Africa.

The point is, other regions are called South America, West Africa, North Africa and East Africa. Not Southern America, Western Africa, Northern Africa and Eastern Africa.

So, our region that is called Southern Africa, of which South Africa is just one of many independent, is completely out of step with pretty much the rest if the world and confuses foreigners.

Having said that and from a marketing point of view, will changing South Africa’s name result in a long-term positive return on investment ?

Frankly, no.

Because marketing history has shown that brand names actually have nothing at all to do with the success or failure of a product, service or country.

After all, just look at some really famous brands with really silly names. Mercedes Benz for starters. Think about it - if you had to build a brand new luxury car today would you even think about calling it Mercedes or any other woman’s name? Agatha Benz? Mary Benz? Angelina Benz?

There are hundreds if not thousands of now famous brands that have really silly names yet enjoy the loyalty of millions of consumers.

I mean, hands up anyone who would have thought of calling a computer company Apple? It could only have taken a brilliant entrepreneur to have the balls to do that and certainly is not the sort of name that a marketing committee would have come up with. Steve Jobs could have called his company Pomegranate, Raisin or any other such inappropriate name and it would have been just as successful as it is today.

And how about Google? Or Yahoo?

Or, for heaven's sake, Virgin?

The point, very simply, is that a name does not make a brand - the brand makes the name.

Which means that whatever we call South Africa - be it Azania, Mandelaland or The Republic of Number One - our future prosperity will depend on our honesty, integrity, humility and productivity and whatever we are called will make no difference at all.

Yes, apartheid did give South Africa a bad name. But right now, crime, corruption and a patriarchal rapist culture is giving us a bad name as well.

Changing our name won’t change our stripes.          

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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