What should you do when your brand name becomes bad news?

July 15, 2022
By Maria Cypher


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Maria Cypher, co-founder and principal at California-headquartered Catchword Branding, grapples with the history of brand name changing in the wake of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine.

In late 1987, just as leaders from the United States and the then-Soviet Union were signing a historic missile treaty, Stolichnaya ran a full-page ad in several American newspapers. Makers of the vodka, at the time the only one imported to the U.S. from the Soviet empire, proudly billed it as “Another thing both sides agree on.”

It was a cute way to capitalize on the accord. But what do you do when the current events swirling around your brand name are not a buoy but an anchor? If you’re Stolichnaya and it’s 35 years later, you change it.

Though the spirit has been distilled in Latvia since 2002, it—alongside other vodkas with Russian-sounding names—immediately became a target of protest after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. In the days following the first attack, as world leaders imposed sanctions and watchdogs cried foul, the name Stolichnaya was retired and replaced by the sleeker Stoli. The move, the parent company said, was in “direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” and was meant to make the brand’s condemnation clear.

Stoli is hardly the first to find itself suddenly reminding people of bad news. After all, products and companies don’t have a monopoly on names; diseases and terrorist organizations have them, too. Changing your name can be an effective and even necessary response in some cases. In others, brands have fared fine by doing less, opting to simply communicate about a coincidence or even silently riding out the wave. …

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