A Mysterious Case of Rebranding

In this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Caroline Harrison reflects on an amusing case of rebranding and ponders what the outcome may be.

In what surely must be one of the strangest cases of rebranding known to man, UK supermarket Sainsbury’s announced earlier this month that it is changing the name of its ‘pollack’ fish to ‘colin’, the French word for hake. The reason for this rebrand is that Sainsbury’s believes many customers are too embarrassed to ask for pollack because of the way it sounds.

The retailer is hoping that this move will increase sales of the fish, which is cheaper per kilo than the similar tasting cod, and is more sustainable.

Now I have to admit that it took me quite some time to work out why on earth I should be embarrassed to request ‘pollack’. Personally, I think I would feel more stupid asking for ‘colin’. That’s because, although I now know that colin is a French word and should thus be pronounced ‘co-lan’, most English-speaking natives automatically recognise this word as the boy’s name ‘Colin’, and would find it difficult to say anything other than ‘col-in’. Certainly the thought of having to adopt a faux-French accent at my local fishmonger seems pretty embarrassing to me.

Now I am not for one moment suggesting that just because I have no problem asking for pollack, that my views are representative of the wider fish-buying marketplace. Indeed, I understand (and would expect no less) that Sainsbury’s made this move only after conducting market research among its customers.

Certainly you do wonder whether there might be some explanation for the comparatively low sales of this fish – over and above the fact that it’s far less well known than cod in the UK. What’s more, it wouldn’t be the first time that a fish that had fallen from favour with the British public underwent a stunning resurgence following a rebrand. Just a few years ago, by changing the name (not to mention the perception) of the humble pilchard to the Cornish sardine, an unfashionable fish was transformed into a popular national favourite (and gave a much-needed boost to South West England’s economy to boot).

Returning to our friend Colin, the truth of the matter is that this is more than a rebranding campaign. It’s obviously a massive publicity stunt, but it’s also an exercise in raising awareness.

I suspect sales of Sainsbury’s pollack have increased massively in recent weeks, but I’m sure it won’t be because customers are no longer embarrassed to ask for it. It will be, in part, thanks to a curiosity brought about by the media hype of this unusual case. It will, of course, also be because the public is suddenly aware that this fish is a very decent alternative to the more popular cod. I for one, when next at the fishmonger’s, will be aware of pollack (or colin). I now know that it is a good, cost-effective and eco-friendly option, and will likely give it a try in the near future.

I’d also be very interested to know if competitor supermarkets and independent fishmongers who still sell plain old ‘pollack’ as they always have, are witnessing an upturn in sales on the back of Sainsbury’s actions? Only time will tell…

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