Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Chesterfield Seizes An Opportunity That West Village and American Tobacco Didn’t

The folks developing that latest remnant of Durham’s tobacco past are brilliant to build on the “brand” associated with the building, “Chesterfield,” rather than the name of the company that formerly owned it.Capture

They didn’t miss much but I agree with the many who are disappointed that the otherwise very successful American Tobacco Campus missed the boat when it wasn’t named “Old Bull” or “Lucky Strike,” the famous brands associated with those old factories.

To their credit and at great expense, a water tower and the 180’ chimney with their famous “Lucky Strike” logos were retained, so to give the benefit of the doubt, there may have been other issues involved with adopting that brand as the name for the complex.

However, “Old Bull” should have been easy to use, it was the historic name of one of the buildings.

So even more disappointing was the successful lobby, without much public input, that subsequently steamrolled objections by the few who knew it was happening and switched the the name of that entire district of Downtown Durham from the “Old Bull District” to “American Tobacco.”

American Tobacco is the name of a now defunct company that departed Durham in 1987, opening the way for developers to emulate the Historic Brightleaf Square, which was by then already an acclaimed adaptive-reuse of old tobacco warehouses into shops, restaurants and offices.

Bright Leaf is the name of the curing process for the tobacco leaves that Yankee cavalry who were bivouacked here during the negotiations in Durham that effectively ended the Civil War, found so flavorful that they mailed to order more when they got home.

As steeped as the name American Tobacco is in Durham history, the brands manufactured in the old factories owned by the company are far more catchy, popular and better known than the name of the company. “Lucky Strike” and “Old Bull,” short for the original Bull Durham brand, resonate as Americana.

The people at the former American Tobacco Company were genius pioneers in brand marketing and they would have been proud that the fame of the “brand” names far outlive the name of the company or its products.

Even though the timing of the downturn is taking a toll, the name West Village appears here to stay. It is better than naming that complex of old tobacco factories after one of the former corporations that owned it, but the folks now developing the so-called “New Cigarette Factory” portion (constructed in 1948,) are very smart to use the brand name manufactured there, “Chesterfield.”

Company names and the products they produce rarely have the staying power in the consciousness of Americans that the brand names they produced have, unless they are the same.

That’s why Ford and Chevy are indelible in the minds of Americans compared to General Motors. John Deere is stronger than International Harvester and the brand “Jeep” transcends the litany of manufactures over the years such as Willys, AMC or Chrysler/Fiat?

Best wishes to the Chesterfield folks. Who knows, maybe it will become the namesake for the now non-descript “Warehouse District.”

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