Epidemics, disasters and tragedies give neutral names a sudden charge. Now the Omicron virus variant is posing a marketing challenge to some businesses.
It’s a strange time to work for Omicron Granite & Tile in Ohio, US. Or the Omicron Family Restaurant in Wisconsin. Or to be a member of one of the various fraternities, sororities and honour societies whose names feature an ‘Omicron’ — may be more so if there’s also a ‘Delta’ in there. Organization announced that it would start naming Covid’s “variants of interest” after Greek letters. The policy was meant to simplify the variants’ technical names and head off confusion caused by naming diseases after geographical locations.
WORKING AROUND THE NAME
Harshil Shah, director of Omicron Sensing, an electrical manufacturer in Mumbai, said news of the variant has affected the company’s web presence. “Our name used to be on the first page when you search for Omicron,” Shah wrote in an email. Now its website is buried behind page after page of news about the coronavirus pandemic. organisations now grappling with marketing strategies as they find themselves at a tangent to the biggest news story of the last two years: Covid and its growing list of mutations.
The question is, do they embrace the connection?
Omicron Energy, a company that sells testing equipment for electrical systems, was so named because its founder, Rainer Aberer, thought Greek letters evoked technical expertise and mathematics. Today, a statement on Omicron Energy’s website reads: “There is nothing we can do about this hopefully shortlived connotation. ”
The Delta Omicron International Music Fraternity, one of several fraternal organisations that share a name with two Covid variants of interest, said in a statement that its members were “bemused at the coincidence” but that they “do not anticipate any change to the work we do. ”
Epidemics, disasters and other tragedies have been known to give previously neutral names a sudden charge. Ayds, an appetite suppressing candy, had been sold epidemic turned its commercials into morbid camp artefacts.
At first, the company doubled down. “Let the disease change its name,” a spokesperson for Ayds told Advertising Age in 1986. But by 1988, its chairman told The New York Times that sales of Ayds had fallen by more than 50%. Hurricane Katrina had a similar effect on the popularity of the storm’s namesake. Following the 2005 storm, the number of Social Security card applications for babies named Katrina dropped precipitously, according to government data.
And the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported in September that some people who share a first name with Osama bin Laden are still feeling the personal repercussions 20 years after 9/11.
THE FUNNY BONE
In the case of Omicron, some are meeting the naming overlap with benign curiosity or humour. Tara Singer, president and CEO of the Omicron Delta Kappa honour society, said she wasn’t concerned about the public relations effect of the variant on her organisation.
“Delta Air Lines weathered this well, so we will, too,” she said in a phone interview.
Delta Air Lines is recovering from a serious, pandemic-induced decline in business (as is the airline industry in general). Still, the eponymous variant was a tricky subject at the company. A spokesperson for Delta told The Times that, internally, employees often refer to “the variant” rather than invoking the company name.
The airline also responded with a bit of humour. Henry Ting, the company’s chief health officer, wrote on Twitter: “We prefer to call it the B. 1. 617. 2 variant since that is so much more simple to say and remember.”
Singer noted that some Omicron Delta Kappa members have been having fun with the coincidence. She recalled hearing another member say that if a kappa variant hits, “then I’ll go get a Corona beer. ”