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The Zica brand name provides a sting for Tata Motors

Tata Motors Ltd. has announced it will rename its newest small car, Zica, to avoid association with the Zika virus.

While the company has been promoting its new vehicle for the past few months under the Zica brand, it expects to rename the model in the coming weeks.

It’s a smart move by India’s largest automaker following the spread of the virus across the Americas.  With the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the virus now a global health emergency, and international health experts warning of its dangers, Tata Motors has put itself on the front foot to avoid a potentially expensive and irrecoverable brand crisis.

Rebranding is not a new thing.  There have been many instances in the past where brands have been forced to shed their names to avoid negative associations.  As recently as the summer of 2014, Belgian chocolatier ISIS Chocolates changed its name to Libeert after the company experienced slumping sales due its name association with the terrorist group.

And of course there was Ayds candy for dieters faced with a similar negative association with the health condition.  In perhaps the best example of failed branding, the candy maker refused to change its name following the emergence of HIV/AIDS at the start of the 1980’s.  By the end of the decade with it declared an epidemic, the company considered a re-brand to Diet Ayds – equally risky.

As brand owners are aware, association is a very powerful thing.  Fortunately for Tata Motors, they seem to already know this quite well.  Their decision to rebrand their Zica car is a wise move that protects the company’s brand assets for the longer term.

The Darwinian lesson from this for brands, companies and markets is obvious: adapt or die.

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