In the Arabic world family name is important – family names are ‘brands’ with real stories, history, notoriety and respect. This is particularly the case in Iraq, a nation very much at the beginning of an onslaught of international brands – some seeking associations with the big family names of Iraq and others planning strategies to apply local relevance to their global brands with the objective of penetrating the Iraqi market.
Recently, I asked an Iraqi businessman why they had removed their family name from the business and adopted a western/international brand name. I expected them to retort with; ‘It was part of our strategy to go global and attract international investors,’ which in part it was, or is now, but the predominant reason, which, incidentally was made about 7 or so years ago came as a bit of a surprise to me.
They went on to explain that in Saddam’s era kidnapping was big business, and by using your family name as your brand name (as was the norm) you were essentially handing the would-be kidnappers an ideal target list; ‘Hello, my name is Mr So-and-So, our business is very successful… come and find us, we can afford to pay your ransom fee’. Targeting successful family businesses was a fairly safe bet for those in the business of kidnapping for money.
As one would expect, in some instances Iraqi businessman distanced the family name from the business. From a branding point of view, it could be considered an absolute disaster – take away the name - take away the history, right? Of course, not everybody removed the family name altogether, but for those that remained in Iraq, creating a distance between your family name and your business was a necessary, protective measure. Some went further than that and fled the country altogether.
Brands are forever changing names, adding extensions and developing sub-brands as strategic facilitators, but in the historical context of Iraq the reasons were altogether more fundamental. Whoever thought branding was merely a commercial activity, free from the influence of politics and in Iraq’s case, crime – might be rudely awakened. If ever there was a strong rationale for a re-brand, surely this was it!
An ironic twist of fate is that as Iraqi brands now seek to establish stronger local and overseas associations, the brand revisions they implemented for sheer familial safety in the past may very well assist them in their future endeavors.
Lisa Knight is Creative Director & Founder of The Brand Foundation, a UAE-based branding agency. Prior to that, Lisa led the creative team of the UK’s governing political party, firstly under Rt. Hon Tony Blair and latterly, Rt. Hon Gordon Brown. Lisa’s career spans 17 years and numerous industries; arts & entertainment, business & finance, fashion, travel, youth, sport & international development.