Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Bo'Gas Energy Theatre has a nice ring

By Jennifer O’Connell

It’s the international performers I feel most sorry for. Just imagine The Carpenters’ little faces when they hear they’ll be playing their long-awaited Dublin gig at the ‘Bored Gosh Energy’ Theatre.

If corporate sponsorship deals are supposed to alienate, irritate and/or perplex the corporation-in-question’s customer base, then Bord Gais Energy’s recent deal involving the renaming of the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin is €700,000 a year well spent.

But if that’s not the general idea, then it’s hard to know what the hell the energy company was thinking.

The Bord Gais Energy Theatre, which is how the theatre in Dublin’s Ringsend shall henceforth be known, is not a name that trips off the tongue at the best of times.

In the current environment you might say that it sticks squarely in the craw.

On the very same day that the deal was announced, figures revealed that 400,000 people have now fallen behind in their energy bills. It came just weeks after Bord Gais whacked a 22 per cent price hike onto its gas customers.

And that wasn’t the only surprise for Bord Gais customers this autumn: the company has also raised its prices for its 435,000 electricity customers by 12 per cent. That’s an extra €144 on the average annual bill.

In the meantime, the energy provider has been splashing out on the decoration of its plush new premises in Dublin, spending up to €300,000 on 380 new designer office chairs.

At least there was a rationale for the chairs: you knew Bord Gais employees were sitting comfortably when they rang to tell you they’d be disconnecting you from your power supply because you couldn’t afford to pay the bill.

But there’s no such rationale that I can see for the renaming of the theatre – or, for that matter, for this kind of corporate rebranding in general.

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What was Aviva thinking, for instance, when it signed a €40 million deal to change the 137-year-old name of the Lansdowne Road stadium?

It certainly wasn’t thinking of the one thousand employees whose jobs it would cut just two short years later.

We can’t do much about the Aviva job losses now, but at least we’re free to go back to calling the stadium Lansdowne Road now – especially has Aviva has signaled that it no longer much cares what the pampered Irish population thinks.

Shortly before the redundancies were announced, Aviva boss Andrew went on US television to criticize the “culture of entitlement” in Ireland. (Moss, in entirely unrelated news, is on a pay packet of €2.8 million, while the average Aviva workers in Ireland earned €35,000.)

But while the new name of the Lansdowne Road stadium did confound the cynics by actually catching on, it’s hard to see the Grand Canal Theatre’s new identity taking off in quite the same way.

I doubt even Bord Gáis’s eager promise to offer priority bookings and discounted tickets to its customers (or at least to the percentage of them who aren’t so strapped for cash they’re no longer even able to heat their own house) will be enough to help people wrap their tongues around the theatre’s awkward new name.

Ostensibly, the idea behind the expensive rebranding deal – which is estimated to be costing Bord Gais €700,000 a year for each of the next six years - is that it will help to lure back customers who’ve been defecting to rival energy providers.

I may be missing something, but I’d have thought that there’s a much easier way to win back business, a strategy so simple it can be summed up in three words. Cut your prices.

But no, Bord Gais was determined to be more creative than that. In fact, it was so anxious to avoid the obvious route that it attempted to raise gas prices up by an eye-watering 39 per cent this summer. When this didn’t get the approval of the energy regulator, it settled for a hike of 22 per cent, alongside the 12 per cent increase for electricity customers.

You have to wonder what Bord Gáis Energy imagines all this is doing for its image.

Does it really think that people who like going to the theatre will be so impressed by the experience, they’ll immediately march home and ‘make the big switch’, regardless of price considerations?

Does it fancy existing customers will be so blown away by the chance of a 15 per cent discount on, say, tickets to The Snowman Christmas Special with Nicky Byrne, or a night with Psychic Sally Morgan, that they’ll feel better about forking out an extra €151 on the average annual gas bill of €689?

Of course it doesn’t. That’s not what such sponsorship deals are about.

Rather, the renaming of the theatre is supposed to puff up a cloud of positive publicity that we won’t notice all the not-so-nice nice things it’s doing – such leaving around 60 families a week to freeze during the cold winter months because they can no longer pay their bills.

It’s the same mentality which means the ESB sees no contradiction in pursuing a legal action that sends a 65-year-old woman to jail for 23 nights in a row over trees, while bestowing its largesse over everything from guide dogs to women’s hockey and the feis ceol.

The good news is that, given the knack of Dubliners for imaginative naming of public amenities, it can’t be too long before the Bord Gais Energy Theatre sheds its clumsy new moniker in favour of something snappier.

Some observers have suggested it’ll be known as the Beget Theatre, which alludes to one popular way to round off an evening at the theatre. Those with upwardly mobile aspirations might find themselves referring to it as the Baguette. Meanwhile, a columnist for another newspaper has put his spoke in for the Gastropod.

But of all the possible options, I think the Bo’Gas Theatre has the best ring.


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