The Significant Other and I traveled to LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) the other day to pick up a friend. Along the way, I noticed two major structures whose names always have struck me as counterproductive, if not downright silly.
This is described as a "boutique airport hotel" by its operator, Joie de Vivre Hospitality. The company's philosophy is this:
We create opportunities to celebrate the joy of life through the personality of our hotels.
Our boutique hotel properties are grounded in local culture and actively engaged in the
community (better: communities) around them.
My question is this: What does Custom Hotel mean, exactly? Custom what? What does the name have to do with the Manchester neighborhood where the hotel is located or the airport that is just a mile or so away?
I'm not a branding specialist -- there are such people, by the way -- but that doesn't stop me from thinking about how the Joie de Vivre people could position this property better. Just off the top of my head, I can think of two better names.
1. Why not rename Custom Hotel and call it The Brown Hotel? Its exterior walls are painted brown, after all. Promotional literature could could call it "The Brown" so as not to confuse people who used to refer to UPS as "Brown."
Then the hotel's airport shuttle bus could be repainted brown, further reinforcing the name and making it easier for people arriving at LAX to spot their ride.
2. Or, perhaps better, why not repaint the hotel in a blue tone? There are plenty of blues in the Southern California palette, and the hotel promotes its location near Marina Del Rey and Venice Beach, each of which is near the blue Pacific Ocean.
"Blue Hotel" resonates in part because the term has been used in art: An 1898 American short story by Stephen Crane, a 1987 Chris Isaak song, a 2008 Ryan Adams song. None of these works is upbeat, of course, but blue is a friendly color. In fact, blue is just about everybody's favorite color.
Plus, other hotels carry the same name (no trademark problems), including a classy joint, the Montauk Blue Hotel in New York's Hamptons.
Either way, problem solved.
(Joie de Vivre has other hotels with inscrutable names -- Avatar Hotel, Hotel Avante and The Epiphany, all in Silicon Valley -- and one, Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco, that calls to mind either a stylized 17th century Japanese theater form or, more common now, "posturing" in American political discussions. All very unfortunate.)
The Theme Building is a 1950s futuristic structure that opened on the LAX grounds in 1961. It formerly housed a Theme Restaurant that closed some time ago and was replaced later by a restaurant called Encounter (another meaningless name: Encounter what?) that was supposed be a "destination restaurant" and closed after less than two years of operation.
I see at least two problems here.
1. The "Theme" building would make more sense if it had an actual, you know, theme.
The traditional thing with public structures is to name them after prominent politicos. LAX has Tom Bradley International Terminal, named for a popular mayor, for instance.
The Theme Building was declared an L.A. Cultural and Historical Building in 1992, and you have to think the city fathers and mothers missed an opportunity to change the name to honor someone relevant. Maybe Gov. Jerry Brown, who used to be known as Governor Moonbeam. Or perhaps a local futurist like Gene Roddenberry, the Star Trek creator who died in 1991. Or George Jetson. I'm just saying.
2. There were two chances to get the restaurant name right, and the operators chose the names Theme Restaurant and Encounter. Both chances were blown. The view from the restaurant deck (still open at some times) must be pretty cool even after many multi-story parking lots have filled much of the space inside the airport's U-shaped cluster of terminals.
How about Sky at LAX? Or Starflight Bar and Grill?
Unfortunately, a "destination restaurant" on airport grounds was bound to fail. The road through LAX is clogged at all hours, and most people's memories of trips to airports are not fond. There are many other restaurants in Los Angeles that serve fine food and are not burdened by negative associations.