Outside Edge: Rebranded - a nuisance?

A new moniker can refresh and refocus a charity's purpose, but can also risk blurring a clear and intended message, says Tash Shifrin.

What's the difference between Veritas and Vitalise? Quite a lot, actually. One is the latest venture of the unpleasant, bilious Robert Kilroy-Silk. The other is a decent charity that provides holiday breaks for disabled people.

The problem is, it's hard to tell from the names. What indicates that Vitalise is a charity and not a vitamin supplement? How can we distinguish it from the plethora of bodies now named in similarly trendy, aspirational style?

This is the curse of rebranding - an often expensive, pretentious and somehow very New Laboury exercise.

Private firms have been at it - from Royal Mail's notorious change to Consignia and back, to Engenda, the feeble disguise adopted by Jarvis to distract us from its role in the Potters Bar rail crash.

The unions have given us Amicus, Prospect and - ridiculously - Community, a moniker that makes its press releases sound as if they've come from the local vigilantes.

In some ways, charities have been at the cutting edge of the trend - and with good reason: many have grown up with historical names completely at odds with modern notions of dignity and respect for beneficiaries and members. Those with roots in various religions have also sought a more inclusive public image.

Thus the Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays became the Church of England Children's Society in 1946, and the Children's Society in 1982.

The Spastics Society ventured bravely into the new world of aspirational names in 1994, when it ditched the label that had become a playground insult to become Scope. Its new name was a pointed statement about recognising the abilities of people with cerebral palsy.

Of course, adopting a concept also produced a punchier tag than a name based on the rather technical sounding "cerebral palsy".

Scope's choice was clearly a good one. But for every justified switch, there are plenty of horrid mistakes. What, for example, possessed the well-known Tidy Britain Group to retreat behind the bureaucratic Encams?

Surely renaming is only worth the expense and the upheaval of re-establishing public recognition if the old name is really a problem, and the new one genuinely an improvement?

So the jury is out on Vitalise, formerly The Winged Fellowship Trust, while the change from the Royal United Kingdom Beneficent Association to IndependentAge is probably a good move for the older people's charity.

Clic Sargent's name offers continuity for the charities that merged to form it, but the public may not guess that it is a children's cancer charity.

By contrast, explaining that Stephen Bubb is the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations is the cumbersome curse of journalists - but at least it's clear what Acevo does.

- Tash Shifrin is a specialist social affairs writer.

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