Coppola Brand Missteps

A good way to decrease business in a hurry is to change the name of your company and not tell your customers.

Niebaum-Coppola Café in Palo Alto had a brand name with a star pedigree. It was founded and owned by Francis Ford Coppola, the great film director who brought us The Godfather and now produces an array of respected California wines. Most nights, the restaurant did a booming business.

Name Change

However, the restaurant has recently changed its name to Rosso & Bianco with “Francis Ford Coppola Presents” above the logo. When I walked past a few weeks ago, I did a double-take. Was there new ownership? Was this just a special promotion? The hostess assured me that Coppola still owned the restaurant.

Last week, I had dinner again at the restaurant. The Coppola memorabilia was still there, as was the warm ambiance of a grand European café with high ceilings, rich wood panelling and wrought iron light fixtures. The authentic Italian food was as I remembered with a menu filled with Southern Italian pasta and meat dishes, as well as Neapolitan-inspired pizzas from a wood-burning oven. The wine, as one would expect in a wine restaurant, was excellent. Why then was the restaurant more than half empty when other popular restaurants up and down the street were filled?

Customer Confusion

My guess is customer confusion. What is Rosso & Bianco? For those that follow the Coppola hiearchy of wines, Rosso and Bianco are the inexpensive red and white table wines reminiscent of the wines that would complement a typical Italian family’s dinner. But, for most, the new signage, just makes one wonder what is up with the restaurant formerly known as Niebaum-Coppola.

Since the Niebaum-Coppola winery has changed names to Rubicon, still owned by Francis Ford Coppola, I understand why he did not want to have the Niebaum-Coppola name on any of his properties. But, couldn’t he have called it ‘Coppola’s Restaurant and Wine Bar” instead? Everyone would then call it “Coppola’s”—not bad. Even with the current name, the brand confusion could have been lessened with some marketing and public relations to prepare the public before the name change. There was a nice article in Food and Wine about the change of the Niebaum-Coppola Winery to Rubicon. But, couldn’t Coppola have done some restaurant name change articles in the local press, an attractive poster on the restaurant door about the name change, a mention on the local online forum, a name change event at the restaurant—before the name change?

Marketing Myopia

Business has been down since the restaurant changed its name. But, why wouldn’t it? Customers don’t like to be confused. The beauty of brand loyalty is that you always know what to expect from the brand. When the brand name changes with no explanation to customers, it’s logical to expect that the brand itself, and what it had always promised, has changed. With the Coppola name, a wonderful ambience and great food, this restaurant should be filled every night. Let’s hope this restaurant can recover from its owner’s marketing myopia.

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