Come out ye Nike Black and Tans*? Sure, someone might have thought that a bit of a googleen was in order.
Taglines, naming, branding…
Trying to figure out what to tag and name your products can be a minefield. As someone who was at one point the product manager for a product named Auto BJ can attest. And no, I didn’t name it. For the record it means “Automated Box-Jenkins” (a technique used for time series analysis and forecasting, which I’m sure clears that up).
I also worked one time with an outside marketing firm that suggested we bill our new product as The Final Solution. I had to point out that this was already, ahem, taken.
And then there was Black Rocket, which was how Genuity branded its hosting service - all the while pretending it was something other than web hosting, something that we touted as the world’s first Network Services Platform in our hell-bent drive to create a new category that we could lead. No need to ask how this one played out. Anyway, as we started to roll Black Rocket out we found that the name was used by a condom in Spain and a particularly potent form of hashish in Holland. That’s some Network Services Platform you got there, baby.
The latest somewhat ill-considered product name comes from Nike which, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, is advertising black sneakers called Guinness, and black and tan sneakers dubbed Black and Tans.
Now, it is my guess that if people in America are familiar with the term Black and Tan at all, at all, they’re thinking of the drink that’s half Guinness (stout – the black) and half Harp (a lager – the tan). This is actually quite a tasty concoction. I’m not a big beer drinker, but on occasion, in an Irish pub, I’ll have one of these. I think that in Ireland, I would order this as a Half and Half, however, not as a Black and Tan.
That’s because there is still plenty residual animosity to the Black and Tans, a paramilitary band of notorious British ex-soldiers who shot up and burned down quite a bit of Ireland during The Troubles, when Ireland struggled to throw off the British yoke. There are few people left alive who have anything but a vague childhood memory of this time, but cultural memories (especially when it comes to things-horrible) are long. There are plenty of places in Ireland where there are monuments to those fighting the Brits for independence, or fighting each other over the form that this independence would take. (The end result being the division of Ireland into two countries, which, as history has shown us, doesn’t tend to work out.)
Last May, my husband and I rented a carriage house in Galway that was just off Father Griffin Road, named for Father Michael Griffin who was murdered by the Black and Tans in 1920.
On the one hand, naming a product Black and Tan doesn’t seem like something that’s going to get a lot of kilts in a knot. Most people won’t get the allusion. It’s something in the way back rearview mirror. Etc. On the other hand, while calling your product Black and Tans may not rise to the level of, say, calling it The Final Solution, it is perhaps not in the best of taste – but maybe on a par with the novelty song of my youth, “Please Mister Custer, I Don’t Want to Go.”** A laugh-riot to most of us in those pre-PC days, but maybe something hurtful to descendants of those killed there, and even to those descended from those doing the killing. Sample of the lyrics, as I recall:
I had a dream last night,
There was a terrible fight.
Somebody yelled “Attack!”
And there I was with an arrow in my back.
Mildly distasteful by today’s sensibilities; keen wit in 1960. (At about the same time, the Massachusetts Turnpike came out with a logo that depicted a pilgrim’s hat with an arrow through it. That arrow is long gone.)
Anyhow, there hasn’t been a colossal hue and outcry against Nike, but there’s been some. The Huffington Post ran an article on it he other day.
While the company may not be aware of the historical meaning of the name, some Irish-Americans are unimpressed. Ciaran Staunton, President of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, told Irishcentral.com that the move left him speechless. "It would be the American equivalent of calling a sneaker 'the al-Qaeda'... Is there no one at Nike able to Google Black and Tan.”
Well, I don’t think this is quite the equivalent of “calling a sneaker ‘the al-Qaeda’”, but I’m with Mr. Staunton on “Is there no on at Nike able to Google Black and Tan.”
If they had, they would have gotten a bit of the old history for themselves, and maybe someone with a modicum of sensitivity might have given pause before deciding that this was a good name for a sneaker.***
*“Come out ye Black and Tans” is an Irish rebel song, lyrics by Dominic Behan (Brendan’s brother) and popularized by the Wolfe Tones.
** I have absolutely no idea why thinking about the Black and Tans jogged my noodle into dredging this one up. The mind is, indeed, a wondrous thing.
***Nike’s apparently not the first to commandeer the name Black and Tan for a product. Ben and Jerry’s did it a couple of years ago, but ended up withdrawing the ice cream flavor (or at least the name) as being inconsistent with their pacifist leanings.