"Sensationally Naff": The 1995 Plans To Rebrand Tube Stations After Advertisers

By M@

Last Updated 07 March 2024

"Sensationally Naff": The 1995 Plans To Rebrand Tube Stations After Advertisers

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Burberry Street over a platform entrance at Bond Street
Image: Matt Brown

London Underground offered station rebrands to advertisers as early as 1995.

In 2023, Transport for London briefly rebranded Bond Street as Burberry Street. It proved... controversial. Many thought this was a step too far, confusing passengers for the sake of advertising £££s. It followed on from a gentler 2020 experiment which saw the fleeting existence of a Picardilly Circus, to promote a show about the greatest Star Trek captain.

Picardilly circus roundel
Come on... this one was pretty clever. Image: Matt Brown

But the idea of renaming tube stations for financial gain is nothing new. Indeed, it could be argued that commercial rebranding goes all the way back to 1932, when Gillespie Road station was changed to Arsenal after lobbying from the nearby football club. In the mid-1990s, however, London Underground toyed with station sponsorship as a full-on commercial offering.

Name That Tube

"People will be able to sponsor anything, from part of a station for a week to a train or line for 10 years," a spokesperson told the Evening Standard in March 1995. "So far we've contacted 20 to 30 big companies and every one of them has been very interested."

Tube bosses were tight lipped about the potential sponsors. So the Evening Standard did what every news desk still does today: speculate about amusing hook-ups.

"Charing Cross and Blackwell," was one idea, referencing the food company. Victoria Wines, Tower Records Hill, Old Spice Street and Angel Delight were other of-their-time suggestions. Some rebrandings would still work today: Harrodsbridge and Bayswaterstone's, for example. And some are hilariously desperate, such as Jolly Green Giant Park and Danny Baker Show Street.

A roundel saying Oxford Dictionary
Yup, this was another suggestion. Image, dodgy photoshop and incorrect typeface choice by Matt Brown

"There will have to be some sort of obvious relationship between the station and the new name," offered the spokesperson — a rule that Burberry arguably broke in 2023. Then again, crossing red lines is what that fashion house is most famous for.

It was estimated at the time that a complete station rebrand would cost a million pounds (in 1995 prices). TfL must have found ways to bring this cost down considerably, as it only charged Burberry £200,000 (in 2023 prices) for its five-day splash.

The article also speculates that sponsorship might attract the interest of well-heeled celebrities. "Music lovers may soon be able to board a train at Seven Beverley Sisters, change at King's Singers Cross and get off at David Bowie Brixton," it teased. Utter nonsense, of course, because all three are on the Victoria line, so there'd be no need to change. (Also, Carole King's Cross would have been a tidier example.)

The concept presaged the 2018 celebratory rebranding of Southgate to Gareth Southgate station, though that was TfL's own stunt and not from a paying client.

London Underground was keen to point out that they wouldn't accept all potential advertisers. Tobacco and drinks firms, for example, would be denied, as would frivolous dedications. "We wouldn't want some millionaire naming a station after his dog," clarified a spokesperson. That would be Barking.

"Sensationally naff"

Debdenhams tube roundel
Here's one we made up just now

The 1995 plans provoked the predictable backlash. One "disgusted of Hampton" letter to the Standard labelled the scheme cheap, vulgar and gimmicky. Simon Caulker, writing in the Observer, described the idea as "sensationally naff", drawing parallels with BT's recent replacement of red phone boxes with glass kiosks and the demise of the London red bus to wraparound advertising. Meanwhile, actor turned MP Glenda Jackson called it ridiculous. "Commuters will not relish the prospect of having to ask for a single to McDonald's Central," she predicted.

The plans were quietly shelved, but not forever. 20 years later, TfL began to dip its toes in the water (almost literally, because one of the first campaigns was to change Canada Water to Buxton Water in 2015). Several other brands have ventured beyond the poster boards since, including the presence of IKEA on the tube map, Google Pay on Oyster readers and a handful of cheeky roundel campaigns. Emirates Airlines, of course, got naming rights to the cable car for its first decade, since replaced by IFS cloud computing.

Fury (manufactured or otherwise) about the Burberry Street stunt has reportedly caused a bit of a rethink at TfL, but we're sure to see further campaigns down the line. Indeed, Londonist is in intense negotiation right now for a 20th anniversary campaign to match our budget:

Londonist Bridge

Archive information sourced and quoted from Newspapers.com and the British Newspaper Archive, accessible with subscription.