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Colston Statue
A statue falls,
a brand
is born
Statues, like brands, exist primarily in the landscape of the mind.

The City of London Corporation recently initiated a review and consultation of its statues and I participated in a discussion the other day about the topic. It sparked a fascinating exchange with many sharing their general discomfort with the whole concept of memorialising some individuals over others – an awkward legacy of the redundant ‘great man’ theory of history perhaps.

As the conversation progressed a blurring of the definition of statues and public sculptures and art emerged. And as we talked about specific statues, some picked examples they loved, but had actually only ever seen online, not face to face.

Interestingly, everyone admired this ‘statue’ of Nelson Mandela erected on the very spot he was first arrested before being incarcerated for 27 years mostly on Robben Island.
Nelson Statue 1
Nelson Statue 2
During the animated conversation, it struck me that the statues we love or hate, despite being very deliberately part of the physical world, exist most viscerally in our minds.

Just like brands.

Statues we see regularly become imprinted on our subconscious. They usually ‘live’ in the more notable parts of a city, town, or even village. However often, despite their familiarity, we may know little about the figure themselves. Other times we know their story well.

A recent BBC documentary (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/l00295d2) about the notorious statue of Edward Colston in Bristol laid bare the searing pain numerous Bristolians felt about this figure of a slave trader with many residents explaining how they would avoid even looking at the statue.

The trustees of Bristol’s premier music venue announced their intention to change the name of their brand from Colston Hall over two years ago. Local resistance at the time of the announcement was significant. A large majority of those surveyed in fact.
Statues we see regularly become imprinted on our subconscious.
Winston Churchill 1
Winston Churchill 2
How times have changed.

At Saboteur we have worked with the team at the Trust to develop a new name for their brand, and it has been incredibly moving to learn just how many people in the city have felt excluded and offended by the organisation’s association with Edward Colston.

Icons are powerful. Statues are powerful. Iconic brands are powerful. And the power they exert impacts our interior life most of all.
Superhero Painted 1
It is not just the material elements that give them most of their power, it is what they represent and the stories we tell about them that influences us most of all. And just like many statues, many of the world’s older, iconic brands have troubled pasts.

At Saboteur we are fascinated by iconic brands and regularly review and unravel the stories that helped raise them onto the cultural plinth they now occupy. The back stories, or brand biographies, of Porsche, Tiffany, Leica and many others make for fascinating, and surprising reading.
Tiffany 2
The stories people tell about brands can also change dramatically as social attitudes shift, or negative information about a particular organisation or individual connected to the brand become ‘the story.’

Brands tend to have marketing teams behind them, whereas statues rarely do. But fallen brands don’t tend to live on in museums. When they misstep, the consequences can be dire and rapid. Dolce & Gabbana, Boeing and Abercrombie & Fitch, to name some recent examples, have all experienced how quickly the waters of consumer affinity can turn cold.

Statues are there to edify us. And when the stories we tell about who they represent no longer perform that function, they should be removed from public space and displayed in museums as historical and educational, rather than inspirational artefacts.

When the statue of Edward Colston is finally displayed in the proper, educational, environment of a museum, only then will many finally feel able to look upon this representation of a person long gone.
Colston Statue 2
For years to come his name will now be associated with a statue that was rolled into the harbour
The story of Colston and what he now represents means that the trustees of Bristol Music Trust were absolutely right to decide on a name change for their brand. For years to come his name will now be associated with a statue that was rolled into the harbour by the people of Bristol as the whole world looked on. They were and are on the right side of history.

Change may feel troublesome to some, but the stories the Trust wants to tell about their organisation and the role it plays in the life of the city have absolutely nothing to do with that part of Bristol’s history. Their overriding focus is the wonderful sense of unity and joy that live music can inspire in a community. And the new name of Bristol Beacon captures that spirit with a rhythm and pride this brave city thoroughly deserves.
Words: Alex Clegg,
The Dreaming Saboteur