It’s not everyday that a national landmark is rebranded, but in the U.S. where everything and anything has a price tag, that’s exactly what happened last week when the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois became the Willis Tower. The new name comes from Willis Group Holdings, an insurance company headquartered in London that is leasing space in the Sears Tower (according to the BBC, Sears vacated the building in 1992 but the name has remained until now).
It’s always difficult for people to accept the rebranding of a landmark. Even sports stadiums that are rebranded when a new company becomes the primary sponsor can be a difficult transition for consumers to accept. However, in time, most of the rebranding backlash typically subsides as consumers lose their attachment to the previous brand name. Truth be told, as far as venue branding goes, the brand name usually has very little to do with the experiences that happen inside of the building. When it comes to stadiums and arenas, the same teams still play inside and the same types of music and entertainment groups still visit for performances. The only thing that really changes is the name outside the building. In other words, companies try to brand well-known buildings, stadiums, etc. to keep their brands top of mind, but the branding efforts typically lose their effectiveness over time.
My guess is that the rebranding of the Sears Tower in Chicago will leave many people upset and longing for better times in general — and better times in the past included the Sears Tower, not the Willis Tower. Ultimately though, this too shall pass, and the Willis Tower will continue to exist. Will people start referring to the Sears Tower as the Willis Tower anytime soon? It’s unlikely because the building is ingrained in our lives as the Sears Tower. It’s a habit that Willis Group Holdings needs to try to break if they want to benefit from the rebranding in the short term, and consumer habits are hard to break.
I also think that the transition would be easier and would happen faster if a well-known, popular brand had purchased naming rights to the Sears Tower. When an unknown brand enters the picture and takes over, consumers are highly likely to resist. Again, it goes back to the comfort and security issues that are innate for most consumers.
What do you think?
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