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BW Businessworld

Another Vain Act

In Gurgaon’s case, the city is contemporary. So at best one could have left it alone or renamed it to something that evoked a brand new image, more in line with the business ethos of the city.

Photo Credit : Sanjay Sakaria

What’s in a name? Well, actually a lot, if you consider the abrupt renaming of Gurgaon to Gurugram earlier this month which left Manohar Lal Khattar of the ruling BJP government amidst debates, controversies, ridicule and more.

It’s not the first time that a city in India has witnessed a change in name. There have been many instances in the past, the most prominent ones being Mumbai and Bengaluru — both significant business hubs — which saw their colonial names changed to vernacular ones. Then there are Chennai, Kolkata, Odisha, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, among others.

So what is the big fuss around Gurugram? Well, first, Gurgaon was a colloquial name, so experts say the new branding exercise is futile. Two, the name change signifies politics of symbolism as the BJP adopts measures to embrace Indian, or rather Hindu cultural values. Now, whether the change will impact the brand value of the millennium city is a larger question that is currently being hotly debated.

After all, Gurgaon or Gurugram under the new brand bandwagon, is home to a plethora of foreign companies, chrome-and-glass multiplexes, high-end residential apartments and plush restaurants, among others. It hosts around 250 Fortune 500 companies today, and that’s not all. Close to 70 per cent of Haryana’s total investments come into the millennium city alone.

“It’s a pointless exercise that serves no purpose,” says Saurabh Srivastava, co-founder and director of the Indian Angel Network, an angel group of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs interested in investing. Gurgaon is a brand that has been built over the years and attracted several corporates across the world.

“Changing the brand identity of Gurgaon will unnecessarily give rise to complications for both the government and corporates,” Srivastava says, adding that foreign companies have always considered Gurgaon and Bangalore as two prospective investment destinations. “Even before Delhi, global giants actually consider Gurgaon. So, in that respect, the sudden change of name may actually devalue the brand, even if it is in the short term,” he adds. Besides, it will also result in huge unnecessary spends that can go up to crores and these include changing a plethora of hoardings and letterheads, among others.

“Name change whether for corporates or cities is a huge re-branding exercise,” says Aalok Bhan, director and head, Products Solutions Management and Customer Marketing, Max Life Insurance, one of the top private insurers in the country. “Some of the well-known name changes for Indian cities were an exercise of establishing Indian heritage over the empire and it made sense. However, the proposed change from Gurgaon to Gurugram is not in the same genre,” he explains.
The implementation of this change will be a logistical pain. In the present context, it would have been better if the government instead focused on issues of importance such as Jat reservation which caused several riots in and around the city.

Branding it Down?
Well, the blip in brand erosion is just temporary and will not have an impact on the long-term growth story. “It is a bit like renaming air to vayu from tomorrow morning. Nothing changes. People will breathe. People will live. People will die,” says Prathap Suthan, chief creative officer at Bang In The Middle and the creative mind behind the ‘India Shining’ and ‘Incredible India’ ad campaigns. Even as a city name change isn’t actually desirable since there is a certain momentum going for it, in the long run there is no business impact. The classic example that comes to mind is that of Ho Chi Minh Sarani in Kolkata, which has been renamed from Harrington Street. Nothing has changed for the city with the rebranding exercise.

In Gurgaon’s case, the city is contemporary. So at best one could have left it alone or renamed it to something that evoked a brand new image, more in line with the business ethos of the city. “A name change, if needed, could have been considered as a forward thinking progressive spur to the dynamism of India’s newest metropolis of sorts instead of going back to traditional roots. The problem is that no one will end up calling it Gurugram. It’s a habit. We will continue, by reflex, calling it Gurgaon,” adds Suthan.

“While there was initial scepticism about the name change and its impact on the city, its citizens and businesses, the reality is far different from the pessimistic expectations. In the long run what works for businesses is the generation of revenue and the commercial gains arising out of operations in a city or a country. After some initial hiccups, it is back to business for most of them,” says Ashwinder Raj Singh, chief executive officer, Residential Services, at global real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

All in all, Gurgaon breathes a certain feeling, of familiarity, love, pride and relationship. This coupled with the general feeling of attachment that the population at large has towards the name, and you know that’s what makes and builds a city brand!

[email protected], @paramitachat