Strong Money

By Mark Skoultchi

September 9, 2008

My first paycheck as an English teacher in Caracas, Venezuela was a manila envelope stuffed with over a million bolívares. It was July of 2004 and I was a millionaire. I felt rich for a moment and then very nervous about carrying all that cash on the metro ride home. Only the next day did it sink in that my millionaire status was only the equivalent of about 400 US dollars. Café con leche down the street from my work was about 3,000 bolívares.

This year Venezuela’s government did some strategic naming of the bolívar. As of January 2008 the “bolívar fuerte” (strong bolívar) was introduced which redenominated the old bolívar at 1000 to 1. The Bank of Venezuela announced its hopes that the new currency would help lift the country out of rapid inflation and a tumultuous economy with the slogan, “a strong economy, a strong bolívar, a strong country.”

The new name (and denomination) seems to have had a minor effect on the nation’s economy (still growing due to high oil prices). The official, fixed exchange rate is about 2.15 to the dollar while the black market rate values the bolívar at less than half that: 5.2 bolívares to the dollar. Yet without economic reforms that often accompany the currency re-naming, it’s unlikely that the name itself will fulfill the high expectations of Venezuela’s leaders.

So it’s yet to be seen if a new name can save the day. Venezuela’s foray into naming underlines some crucial points in our business of brand name creation. A great name isn’t going to save a bad product (and a bad name probably won’t sink a really great product). But if the product can live up to its name you’ve got a winning combination, and in Venezuela, a paycheck that will fit into your purse.

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