America’s Malls: Naming Is a Life Preserver, Not a Rescue Boat

By Mark Skoultchi

June 16, 2011

“I call this shade American Dream”

Well then, what to make of this mess in New Jersey?

Once upon a time there was a mall called Xanadu. Now, the dictionary says that Xanadu is a “…place of great beauty, luxury and contentment…”

But ladies and gentlemen, what we have nine miles west of Manhattan is much further away from any version of paradise.

The mall has flopped (and that’s really what it is, no matter that they call it a “retailment center”). Not entirely the mall’s fault. Overall, shopping malls are in trouble. Recent figures describe that nearly a fifth of the nation’s 2,000 malls are failing. In fact, there are well over 100 “dead malls.” And new malls aren’t exactly sprouting.

Not that this matters to the Xanadu folks.

No sir, forget the recession, forget the hockey stick decline of malls, Xanadu opened clumsily at full steam ahead as the most expensive mall ever built in the US, at a cost of $2.3 billion, more than double the original cost.

From a naming perspective, giving such a boondoggle–such a misstep in planning and construction–a name that conveys paradise surely must strike New Jersey voters as harshly ironic at best, and more likely insulting. Xanadu is the retail equivalent of a drunk showing up at last call, insisting the bar stay open and break out the Johnny Walker Blue.
When paired with its name, you have the bricks and mortar example of an oxymoron.

But rather than recalibrating the offer (perhaps downsizing the grandiose scope, starting with the name) the mall owners doubled down on the eyesore. Disregarding any recognition of the recession or the crippling tax structure of the state, they’ve gone back to the trough, shamelessly asking for even more money to throw at failure.

As sure as putting lipstick on a pig, they’re going to replace the façade. Yes, that will surely convince customers to shop at Xanadu. But wait, they’re also changing the name. In a truly big-hair moment, the mall owners are adopting…wait for it…American Dream at the Meadowlands.

If only they were joking. Just as “jobless recovery” is hardly anyone’s notion of prosperous times, naming this consumer white elephant a “dream” when it will cost an additional $1.25 billion of taxpayer dollars is shockingly bad.

As pundits point out, American Dream will be 25 percent larger. It’s as if the mall were overweight and rather than fight against too tight clothing by losing some pounds, they switch to stretch waist sweat pants.

The tonality and messaging of American Dream is all wrong. It continues the flaws and (albeit unintended) cynicism of Xanadu. No wonder the word on the street is the architect no longer takes calls from the developer. And these same voices whisper that at last count, the developer had leased only 9 of the 200 retail spaces. Gulp. Swallow hard, New Jersey.

Had Catchword been asked about a name, we would have suggested…

Something more credible, accessible, not cotton-candy fantasies of a better life (does anyone really think an indoor Ferris Wheel and a food court is the embodiment of the American Dream).

Instead, why not go for a name that conveys what this claptrap should represent:  solidity, credibility, not false and cynical promises.

We also would have suggested a name that evokes the local surroundings without referencing “Meadowlands” (now there’s a name that comes with its own steamer trunk of baggage).

And to be frank, we’d have gone with a shorter name. Just saying.

We expect better from these developers. After all, they built The Mall of America near Minneapolis. And that place is humming along without co-opting images so far out of focus with the realities of the property and its performance.

But instead, the good citizens of New Jersey are stuck with a bloated, pompous name that is a stick in the eye and a leak on the piggy bank. And that’s a damn shame which could have been prevented.

In other words, a new name is a life preserver for a brand that’s shipwrecked at sea. It will keep you afloat. But you’re still out to sea.

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