Unbound Edition. Meaningful conversations about brand, from Davis Brand Capital.

Kroger’s Dilemma:
How to Reposition
a Nickname?

Does a nickname belong to the institution or does it actually belong to the people who patronize the institution?

Atlanta’s NPR Station, 90.1 FM WABE, aired a piece about Kroger’s planned grand reopening of its Ponce de Leon store. Kroger’s desire is to shake its less-than-flattering, informal nickname, Murder Kroger, which it acquired after years of tragic incidents involving said store, including murder!  The planned reopening is using the name BeltLine Kroger – in effect, re-nicknaming the store, though, looking over comments in recent articles, not everybody in the community is buying it, yet.

I spoke to Michell Eloy, the WABE reporter, yesterday about this issue from a brand perspective.  We had a wide-ranging discussion that included some of the following thoughts:

A deliberate, organic process
In the instance of Kroger, brand management can begin to introduce a more positive narrative. Aligning itself more closely with the BeltLine, a community success story is a good first step. However, nicknames are often a reflection of communal experiences and perceptions — both positive and negative. Shaking a nickname is possible but it’s not going to happen overnight, rather it will need to happen organically. It will take time and consistent, meaningful actions on behalf of Kroger. Showing, rather than telling, will be really important here. Then there is a chance that the more favorable story will eventually begin to replace the less desirable one.

A step in the right direction
Based on what we know, the strategic decision to align this Kroger location with the BeltLine is a sound one. The BeltLine is a nationally recognized urban renewal and transit project that has helped revitalize areas of the Old Fourth Ward and joins previously disconnected neighborhoods. The idea that the BeltLine’s equity might help reinvent the store’s “murder” image isn’t too far fetched.

After all, the surrounding neighborhood improved significantly in the past decade. Across the street, national brands like Chipotle and Whole Foods have moved in and avoided the murderous moniker. A former flophouse hotel is turning into a “boutique” (yet leaving the iconic Clermont Lounge in its basement intact). And a block away is Ponce City Market, one of the city’s most ambitious redevelopments in decades.

A matter of commitment
While we have no knowledge of Kroger’s plans, it will be crucial for the brand to go beyond the obvious signals, as important as they may be: introducing a more positive narrative in the form of an evolved (nick)name — BeltLine Kroger; beautifying the building and parking lot; and developing a physical connection to the BeltLine.

The bigger question is how Kroger plans to be a true community member and how committed is it to helping the neighborhood thrive. And longer term, what will Kroger name its numerous locations along the BeltLine’s proposed path?

From experience we know that greenway initiatives — think St. Louis’ Great Rivers Greenway and New York’s High Line — are integral in stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods. These types of initiatives bring social, economic and environmental benefits to communities. So, understanding what the community needs and exploring how the BeltLine and Kroger can collaborate to further strengthen it will be essential. Contributing to the community’s and the BeltLine’s success will be most meaningful and move Kroger from co-opting a name to rightfully owning it.

Remember how long it took New York City to shake its bad reputation. Repositioning the city’s brand entailed much more than introducing the “I heart NYC” tagline.


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