Famous Last Words: Ruminations on Branding
Speaking of brands, someone recently told me that Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., would be closed for a year and a half for $8.5 million in renovations. This was the venue of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865 by the very famous and deranged actor, John Wilkes Booth. “I assume the money is in place,” I said to the person.
It turned out that the money may not be in place and that the theater would like to raise some, but it had never done direct mail and had no experience with it. What did I think?
Starting cold at this late date to test and roll out with a fundraising effort for a project to be completed in 18 months is most likely not doable. Getting test mailings out and responses back starting from a standstill would take several months. Confirming tests and rollouts would require more time. And what would happen if nobody gave a damn and the tests bombed? In a moment of pure inspiration I said, “Hey, why not go to the Ford Motor Company and hit it up for the money and rebrand it?”
My flash of genius: It could be renamed Ford’s Ford’s Theatre—just like Citizens Bank Park, the new baseball stadium of the Philadelphia Phillies, or Lincoln Financial Field, home of our Eagles. I was mentally patting myself on the back for this branding concept—getting Ford to be the angel and cash in on its namesake, the most famous cultural institution in our nation’s capital.
Then I remembered that the Ford Motor Company is on the rocks. It lost $2.7 billion in 2006 and announced 30,000 layoffs along with the closing of 14 plants at the beginning of this year. In 2006, the company lost $738 for every vehicle it sold.
Combining a dying motor company with a dying theater was a truly lousy idea.