Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Towering Pile of Utter Nonsense: Condominium Branding

In which I take aim at the symphony of silliness that surrounds the naming and branding of Asia's throw-em-up, flog-em-off condominiums. The original column for Coconuts is here: http://singapore.coconuts.co/2014/06/17/palm-oil-whats-condo-name

LE C'ORB VERSUS THE FRENDY                      Insta-Art © Jason Gagliardi

My secret theory on the naming of brands, especially the vexed pseudo-science and one-handed greasy pole climb that is the conundrum known as condominium naming, is simply this: The best name is one that has been chosen.

I say this having spent more time dreaming up condominium names and taglines and the rest of the branding babble than any sane man ought reasonably to admit. Six years navigating the high-gloss reflections and shifting sands of adland was enough to give me an enduring cynicism about the seemingly simple task of buttressing bricks and mortar with brand architecture.

It goes like this: Having won the pitch, the triumphant agency sends in the big guns to kick things off with the client (thereafter they may send in the clowns, but I digress).

The client is the project's developer but also, you are about to find out, an instant expert in all matters architectural, design, brand, marketing, sales, style, fashion and cranial nano-surgery. Despite, or perhaps because of all this expertise and intelligence, the client will reject all the first round of names. And then the second. And the third. And the fourth.

Unless you are Clint Eastwood or a call girl penning her memoirs, not having a name is a bad thing. In property, it's suicide. Without a moniker, lacking a crisp appellation that buttresses the brand values while fitting the target market like a Hugo Boss suit, the smartest structure remains ephemeral and amorphous, a chimera skittering on the skyline.

X or Y or The Project or Working Title won't fly (although each is better than many of the clunking groaners and outright howlers gilded, bolted, marbled or Bansky-ed across many of the condominiums and estates of Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok.)

So now begins a dance – a frenetic process-of-elimination, which-way-is-the-wind-blowing, call-my-astrologer/life coach/feng-shui-master, stroke-my-ego, assuage-my-fears, justify-your-existence hustle-shuffle; a kind of courtship dance in reverse.

Your names will begin in elegant lists arrayed by themes or directions; geographical, emotive, topographical, aspirational, prestigious, unconventional, architectural, traditional, contemporary, presented on crisp off-white boards in a neutral typeface.

By round four or five, the structured directions will have disintegrated into random lists of scattershot buzzer-beaters and hallelujah passes, accompanied by increasingly tortured rationales, explanations, justifications and obfuscations.

Finally, because he must, the client selects a name. You may never understand why. It might be because the sky is blue, or a coin was tossed, or he put it out to the popular vote – naming by committee.

That's when world class idiocy can occur and you get horrors like The Trendy in Bangkok (a brand name with built-in obsolescence if ever there was one), The D'home in Hong Kong (Concept – wait for it – “The Door to Home”) and Singapore's Haig Ten, which sounds more like a manoeuvre for longboard surfers than the pinnacle of urban living.

Fashions run through the naming of property brands. Bangkok developers will suddenly develop a mania for New York, and you get The Madison, The Metropolitan and Manhattan (not to be confused with MahaNakhon, the unfinished and unfeasibly tall pile of sugarcubes in Silom that has been designed with its terrorist attack front-loaded).

Hong Kong is still littered with dusty colonial hangovers or neo-colonial clunkers, alongside the “get rich is glorious” school of naming that gives the city its myriad “Million Billion Mansions” and “Super Rich Courts” and “Bigger Penis Towers” along with random head-scratchers like The Belchers (suggested tagline: Satisfying, Slightly Embarrassed City Living). Perhaps the developers should pursue “Sister Condo” status with Singapore's Windy Heights.

Singapore lurches from timeless gems like Lincoln Modern (which simultaneously evokes presidential prestige, freedom, the arts, great design and New York cachet, no tagline required) to obvious tilts at prestige like One Balmoral, One Canberra, 26 Newton, 8 Bassein and 91 Marshall and from whisper-your-address abominations like D'Leedon, D'Hiro @ Hillside, D'Nest, Edenz Loft (note to developers and agencies, gangsta spelling is NOT old money) to hopelessly vague and nondescript cop-outs like Urban Vista (not quite in the league of Bangkok's The Address though – instigator of a thousand late-night “Dude Where's My Condo” conversations with confused cabbies.)

Indeed, the most pretentious babble bubbles from the City of Angels: Last year, a “new super luxury condominium” called MARQUE was unveiled – a fine name, redolent of classic sports cars in British racing green and leather that runs smooth on passenger seats, only to be undone by the ham-fisted copy stating “MARQUE derives from the word 'marquise', a type of diamond cut which symbolises the striking design, inspired by quartz crystals...”

So we plummet from Aston Martins and plummy Miss Moneypenny to glitzy diamonds, greedy girlfriends and fake bling in a stroke or two of the copywriter's unnecessary ejaculations.

Some developers have realised naming condominiums is too important to be done by those in the business and have rung the changes for amateur hour. Earlier this year, Singapore's Qingjian Realty launched a contest to name two of its executive condominiums, with a lucky $1,888 on offer for the winner. The winning entries were still being evaluated.

The winning play goes to Thailand's Kingdom Property, which reaped the publicity and feelgood factor of a competition to “Name It! Brand It!” for its new ultra-luxury condominium at Pattaya's prestigious Wong-Amat Beach, while hedging their bets by already having the actual name selected and in their back pockets – “Mustique” - in case the punters didn't pass muster.

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