Legendary repositionings

The World’s first planner?

None of that Lucozade nonsense here. I am trying to gather together set of utterly legendary repositionings from any part of culture or society. There are bonus points for total originality and deductions for mentioning the Fourth Emergency Service (tell me something I don’t know).
The Commonwealth
I think this rates as my top repositioning of all time. You take something ghastly and venal like the British Empire (no amount of bicameral parliaments or efficient railway systems make up for the Amritsar Massacre in my book) and relaunch it as the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth) in the same way we replaced slavery with indentured servitude. OK so now its just about sport (The Empire games as the Commonwealth games used to be called)and having harsh words with renegade regimes and as such rather benign but all in all a crafty way to make it seem like former colonies still had a passing interest in the mother country. The idea was first suggested by by Lord Rosebury (1847-1929), Liberal politician and sometime Primeminister, to my mind earning him the title of the first planner.

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32 Replies to “Legendary repositionings”

  1. This is probably going to miss everyones radar but I used to watch WWF wrestling when I was younger. There was a character called Stone Cold Steve Austin who was the ultimate bad guy. Positioned to be hated by all, and the sworn enemy of the hero, or ‘babyface’ to use the proper termm, Bret The Hitman Hart. But slowly over a number of months the crowds started to cheer the bad guy. At first only a few, like holligans at a football match. But the support was simmering. The response of the WWF was to make him do really abominable things but then… they made the decision to have him ‘turn face’, become a hero. But not in the traditional sense, given where the character was already – doing bad things, ignoring rules and sticking two fingers up at the world… So in one match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin the WWF had Steve Austin lose to a submission move. It was a submission match and the words ‘I quit’ had to be uttered to end the match. Except they weren’t. Stone Cold Steve Austin had gone unconscious. He would rather die than quit. This became legendary. The first real anti-hero of professional wrestling was born. He still did awful dastardly things, but he did them to the establishment, thus making him a hero. He didn’t like or need anybody, and he was loved for it. A truly great repositioning. He made a ton of money, infinately more than he did as a traditional baddie.
    The best thing about the repositioning was that it was inadvertantly brought about as an answer to swelling crowd demand for it. Consumer demand.
    The consumer took a product and used it in a way not initially intended by the wrestling company.
    I am a nerd.

  2. I liked it when they relaunched nasty ‘usury’, forbidden by every major world religion as all new, family friendly ‘Capitalism’

  3. same.
    What about the repositioning of singleton-dom through Friends?

  4. Of course there’s the ridiculous number of examples of repositioning that political correctness has brought on. “Climate Change” for Global Warming, Chairperson, Spokeperson, and all of that as well.
    As one of my professors, Stanley Rosen mentions repeatedly in class, if political correctness were taken to an extreme, we would have to call a woman a wo-person.
    Bottled water is another good one. I just paid $1.69 for a little bottle of “Fiji Water”, brought in from some obscure island spring to meet my water-connoisseur tastes.
    Finally, here’s an article about positioning my home country, India. I’m from not too far from where the Amritsar Massacre took place, although we refer to it as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

  5. I want to reposition political correctness. Political Correctness has been a far more important development in our culture than it is given credit for. It is one of the greatest products of the 1980s alongside the Smiths yet the sad moaning fearful reactionary right have demonised it to the point where it is a bit of a joke. All political correctness is about is thoughtfulness. I am going to work out a potent new way to relaunch political correctness. See if I don’t.

  6. I’m fascinated by PC.
    It seems to be considered the sole preserve of the liberal left but in my mind it elides seamlessly with a more general development of a terror of offending.
    We seem unable, as a people, to do anything without considering, not the effect on others but with jaw dropping selfishness, what they will consequently do to or think about us.
    This extends to the strange phenomenon of the ‘litiginous nation’. It’s a common belief that we are becoming as swift to sue as the Yanks. Every foray into public life is surrounded by protective prohibition yet lawyers have seen no rise in litigation in the UK.
    Think how many decisions are made by your business/school/clubs/service providers/retailers because ‘someone might sue’. It’s a more potent driving force than profit. Yet noone is actually suing.
    Sure, during the enlightenment, it was a great idea to come up with philosophies that were about altruism but these days the inability to just do or say something and take the consequences is an enemy to creativity, self expression, innovation and progress and communication.
    Is this our fate? As we become more intelligent, we see things more as others see them and consequently do nothing.

  7. The repositioning of geek is awesome for those of us proud to be one.
    From socially inept, unattractive to opposite sex, locked in a darkened room – Bill Gates.
    To networked expert, future facing, entrepeneur – Steve Jobs.
    We won’t just inherit the earth, we might even get laid ;-)

  8. The British Labour party is a boring example.
    The US Republican Party is more interesting – it enjoys majority support among groups which would have never voted GOP a few decades ago: the South, Catholics, the working poor, etc.

  9. Regarding the Gates (Nerd?) Vs Jobs (Geek?) issue I once heard a neat joke which asks the difference between a Geek and a Nerd.
    Ans: A Nerd doesnt know he’s a Nerd.
    Nice chairing at the MRS Richard – great session – very thought provoking – Mark Earls was good but I thought you shaded it…

  10. Just read Russell Davies post on urban spam. I think that comes into the category of genius repositioning in this case the kind of ambient or guerilla marketing that clogs up our lives to no one’s benefit except the advertiser. I will now refer to all that shit as urban spam. All hail the planning genius of Russell Davies.

  11. Agreed – Russell’s ‘Urban Spam’ is quite brilliant. Unusual for him to be so vociferous about it though.
    Anyway – onto the Legendary Repositionings thing. This might be cheating but we haven’t mentioned cultural changes that can be construed as repositionings in detail, so here are a few (excuse any omissions – my taxonomy of cultural paradigm shifts leaves a little to be desired…)
    Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Agrarian Age, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, Romanticism, Modernism, Post Modernism (that feels like cheating adding ‘post’ to everything), Information Age, Creative Age and my own vernacular up for debate – Velocity Age.

  12. I’ve heard it called the post-information age.
    But I like the velocity age – reminds me of a ‘news’ article on MTV I saw many years ago that plotted ‘significant’ technological developments on a curve and showed that we were evolving faster and faster.
    It does feel that way – things are moving so fast now. Makes what we do very exciting in my opinion.
    There is only one time in a planet’s history that it connects itself. Maybe this is the connected age?
    I read recently that:
    At DDB New York, the agency’s “wall of opportunity,” which was originally used for creative briefs, is now a place where creative staffers can post articles and ideas about emerging technologies.
    Richard – have you been working with Royal Mail? They are using your neologism!
    Rory – speaking of geek jokes:
    There are 10 kinds of people in the world.
    Those that get binary.
    And those that don’t.
    I fear I may have veered off topic…sorry – geek.

  13. Just worked out that I’m reading the atrribution of posts the wrong way.
    Carry on ;)

  14. Faris – you are correct I do work with Royal Mail and yes the Velocity Age is a piece of vernacular that I have been seeding and writing (a book actually) about for them :-)
    Love the geek joke – brilliant.

  15. I have a 3 year old and a 6 week old.
    They are both boys. Which is brilliant because No2 can wear all of No1’s clothes and save us stacks of cash.
    Except it makes you feel a bit guilty at not making the effort for the second child.
    So I have repositioned the handme down clothes for my peace of mind and my second son’s sense of self respect as vintage.
    job done.

  16. 1st Division repositioned as the Premiership. This has completely changed the make up of football attendance and the amount of money in the game. Or maybe that was to do with the millions of pounds spent by Sky and the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough disaster? For whatever reason football in England has been repositioned from a yobs game with a fenced in crowd to a sport for all with civilised all-seater stadiums. Just watch a game from the French League to see how far the repositioning has come.

  17. What about Personnel to Human Resources. Worse still, I recently met a ‘Director of Talent’ in a call centre business….

  18. No logical order here :
    The Labour Party ?
    IBM ?
    and soon Apple as movie and music Major ?

  19. Oh and another one : Botox ?
    It was formerly used to fix squint by blocking the relevant muscle…
    This may be more than repositioning, as it managed to find a new application to botuline toxic.

  20. a couple of my old favourites:
    “Debt” (nasty, scary, morally wrong) to “credit” as in “credit cards” (friendly, easy, everyones right).
    “Jungle” (dark, scary, dangerous head hunters) to “rainforest” (green, needs protecting, full of admirable tribes people).
    A more recent one: I was just driving past the latest “mixed development” in Brentford, when I looked at the rising tower that I think is going to be the “affordable housing” part. Looks like a council tower block to me. I think someone has re-branded “tower blocks” as “affordable housing” while I wasn’t paying attention. (ooh, a little bit of politics, as Ben used to say)

  21. I’ve enjoyed the oscillating re-poitioning of Winscale as Sellafield, and Sellafield as Winscale. This seems to be done whenever enough negative equity has been built up with one name, they switch to the other.
    I wonder if they have a tracking study to assist them in the timing of all this?

  22. The repositioning of R&B (or what had been known in the US music industry as “race music”) as Rock and Roll.
    In the 1940s plenty of musicians like Fats Domino and Louis Jordan were recording in styles virtually indistinguishable from rock and roll. There’s even some of the stuff on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music from the late ‘20s. Then along came another re-positioning, young people aged 13-19 became teenagers and a new market was borne. In 1951 Cleveland, Ohio DJ Alan Freed began playing this music for a white audience and is credited with coining or at least introducing the phrase “rock and roll” to a white audience. Nevertheless, black music was still taboo on many white-owned radio outlets.
    The repositioning of R&B as Rock and Roll really got going when savvy artists and producers like Bill Hayley, Pat Boone and Elvis quickly recognized the potential of rock and raced to cash in with sanitized, versions of this music. This paved the way for black musicians of course like Little Richard to break into the mainstream but the many of the innovators were left out in the cold.

  23. Richard – couple of late additions here – I have collected a few that have been triggered by discussing your thoughts about repositionings with others. Most seem to be a tad depressing – says something about repositioning and lying about important things perhaps. I also apologise if in fact these are merely euphemisms – sorry. Here they are:
    ‘anti-abortion’ repositioned as ‘Pro-life’ (their opponents then chose ‘pro-choice’ to define their opponents as ‘anti-choice’ which was rather clever too.)
    ‘Civilian casualties’ repositioned as ‘Collateral damage’.
    ‘Shell shock’ (WW1) repositioned as’Post traumatic stress disorder’ (Vietnam onwards)
    ‘Mercenaries’ repositioned as ‘Private Contractors’
    ‘bombing’ repositioned as ‘air support’ or even ‘softening -up’
    ‘serious incident involving a nuclear weapon’ repositioned as ‘broken arrow’
    ‘war against terror’ repositioned to ‘global war against terrorism’ repositioned now to ‘global struggle against the enemies of freedom’
    No wonder people are losing faith in our institutions! Is it people like us advising them though – this is the question?

  24. Thought of this as my other half was merrily chewing away this morning on the bus.
    Chewing gum has been repositionred from a mild manifestation of teenage rebellion to a active part of your daily dental care regime.

  25. Redundancy repositioned as “letting go”, “trimming excess”, “job realignment” etc.
    “Debt” repositioned as “Credit”
    On a political note:
    “Vendetta” repositioned as “war”, “Hunch” repositioned as “Evidence”, and “Privacy invasion” repositioned as “Patriot act”.

  26. Actually, while I think about it:
    Tims comments on wrestling were right. (not that I have watched it since the age of 14!)
    But the TRULY genius repositioning they did was to actually admit it was fake. Instead of doing it sheepishly they said it proudly and repositioned it from sport to sports-entertainment, whilst removing the noose question that was dogging the company and product.

  27. the retreat at Dunkirk was repositioned as a victory for the allies

  28. I saw this wonderful book in the Tate Modern shop that repositioned astronmy for kids as ‘the zoo in the sky’

  29. A slightly jaundiced thought, having read some of the political examples above : “lying” re-positioned as “re-positioning”. Is this the fate that awaits planners who work in PR?

  30. I went to the local recycling centre this bank holiday – didn’t these used to be known as dumps?
    You used to go to the dump and heave a load of old tat out of the car in a shady manner before driving off sharpish. These days you unload the same old tat but with pride and a sense of civic duty fulfilled. Excellent work councils of Britain.

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