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Senior Correspondent

Last month in Senior Correspondent, I wrote an article about a complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal by a person with albinism. This person was offended by the brand name of a whimsical beer marketed by the Earls Restaurant chain. The powerful tribunal ruled in favor of the complainant, and after several months of dealing with the aggravation, Earls finally threw in the towel, accepting responsibility for their insensitivity and agreeing to change the name of the 25 year old beer brand, Albino Rhino. Political correctness had run amok.

The story made the rounds in social media. The vast majority thought the complaint frivolous and the restaurant chain’s decision to dump the name gutless. Earls said they would rename the product by April 24, 2013. Simply removing “Albino” from the name and sticking with “Rhino” would probably suffice, but that’s an easy-out for a lazy marketer. Then again, choosing a completely unrelated brand name falls into the same category. Is there better way?

Great marketers see problems as glorious opportunities. Recently, millions witnessed such action on social media. When the Superdome went black on Super Bowl night, some very clever tweets showed up on Twitter. The commercial tweet that demonstrated superb creativity, timeliness and strategic thought came from the digital agency of Oreo Cookies. Within minutes, they tweeted, “Power out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark.” Business editors jumped on this, spreading the word and issuing kudos to Oreo’s agency, 360i. Agency President, Sarah Hofstetter subsequently credited Oreo for being a “brave brand” that is relevant, visual and constant.

So how might a great marketer deal with Earls Albino Rhino brand problem? Stephen Abbott is a marketing strategist known for his astute branding insights. During the #kaizenBiz Twitter chat, Stephen posted, “the beer formerly known as Albino Rhino.” I think this would make for a brilliant brand name. Oh sure, Earls Restaurants would take some heat from the human rights tribunal. But, at the same time, they would bolster the beer brand’s whimsical image and do some repair work on the master brand’s reputation. A brave brand would do it. 

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