Willis Tower? That’s Like Calling Deep Dish “Cheezy Pizza”

The corporate naming game has run amok for years, but the recent name change from “Sears Tower” to “Willis Tower” in Chicago has touched a nerve. Or 96,814 nerves, as the case may be–that’s how many people on Facebook don’t like the idea.
Another 48,747 on ItstheSearsTower.com have signed a petition to bring back the original name, something that’s unlikely to happen. What is likely to happen is a steadfast unwillingness on the part of Chicagoans and visitors to the city to actually use the name “Willis.”
Tom Parrette, Director of Verbal Branding at Addis Creson in Berkeley, Calif. says, “The name ‘Sears Tower’ came to symbolize American industry and audacity, literally and figuratively scaling new heights of cultural prominence.”
Parrette points out that British insurer has joined a long line of place renamers: New York’s Pan Am Building is now the MetLife Building; San Francisco’s Candlestick Park is now Monster Park; Washington National Airport is now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. “But ask the residents of those cities how they refer to their landmarks, and there’s a good chance they’ll use the old name,” he says.
Weighing in with another opinion is Steffan Postaer, a native Chicagoan and President of Euro RSCG/Chicago. He says, “Honestly, the Sears Tower is less iconic to Chicago than people make it out to be. If it were the John Hancock Building…another story. Changing Marshall Fields to Macy’s was a LOT more annoying.”
Yet, people are annoyed. The fact that Sears Tower is a landmark puts it in another league, in my opinion. The fact that it’s the tallest building in the world and located in a city that is a living monument to skyscrapers makes the resistance to change all the more appealing. “Sears” it is, and that’s a credit to the managers of the retail chain in 1973 who invested wisely at an opportune moment.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.