Just Marketing Chaff, or a skillful rebrand?

Just Marketing Chaff, or a skillful rebrand?

Thomas Cook group chief executive John Donaldson exclaimed: "You're probably there thinking 'what?'".

We were sitting in the Telford International Centre and had just been told that the group's tour operating brands, Sunworld and Sunset, and the airline brands Caledonian Airways and Flying Colours, were all being replaced by the name JMC.

Donaldson admitted that when he first saw the name he was puzzled - and that's the point. Everyone who sees that name is going to scratch their heads and wonder what it means.

JMC stands for John Mason Cook, the son of the founder of Thomas Cook, who apparently had vision, energy and innovation.

Who cares?Certainly not the man in the street who thinks that Thomson and Thomas Cook are the same company and simply wants a cheap holiday.

In my view, Sunworld was a brilliant name for a holiday company and airline and the group could have saved an awful lot of money by rolling it out across the group.

And it is dangerous to kill off brands like Sunset and Sunworld, which have a strong trade following.

To claim that they are only trade brands is a ridiculous argument, because they would have become consumer brands if money had been spent promoting them.

Even if you buy into the argument that Thomas Cook wanted to create a new name and start from scratch to build a better company and a new culture, I think it is giving itself an uphill struggle by choosing a name that sounds like a building company or a sports shop and will puzzle everyone.

Of course it's different, but it's not necessarilly better. And no-one is going to say "I must buy a holiday from that company because it is the only one that uses initials instead of a name".

The two most famous names in holidays are Thomson and Thomas Cook. They are both simply family names that have, over a long period of time, become associated with quality and value for money. Similarly, Lunn Poly has become a byword for cheap deals thanks to skillful marketing over several years.

Names that have sprung up more recently, such as First Choice, Going Places, Holiday Autos, Go and even Sunworld, are all trying to say something. Holidaymakers will wonder what JMC is saying.

Anyway, all of this matters little because the rebranding operation will probably work.

You could make Skidmore Holidays work as a brand if you threw the kind of money at it that Thomas Cook will throw at JMC, providing the company can provide good quality holidays at an affordable price. Thomas Cook's tour operation can provide decent holidays and, as it has proved this summer, is often the cheapest option on the market.

Far more important is what the new JMCHolidays will stand for. The company's managing director Simon Vincent says it wants to improve radically the holiday experience and become the most customer-focussed operator in the business. No-one can knock JMC for wanting to do that.

But at the launch it should have been able to deliver some substance to the claims it is going to be better than anyone else on the market.

Instead, the audience at Telford heard a lot of hot air and promises.

A discount strategy on pre-bookable seats and an amenity bag for people who have lost their luggage does not amount to a revolution in package holidays.

Vincent claimed what we saw in Telford was just the beginning as an avalanche of glitter was sprayed onto the stage.

He and his team now have a lot of work to do to make sure the sparkle of the launch doesn't quickly fade.

n See Backchat, page 86


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