Inside the L.A. offices of AEG, owners of The Brick, the Twin Cities’ newest and most disparaged concert venue, the mood was dark—as dark as Marilyn Manson’s lipstick. After a disastrous opening and an embarrassing run of shows that had to be outsourced to other clubs, the time had come to set things right—to do what needed to be done to salvage the company’s multi-million-dollar investment in the burgeoning Twin Cities music scene.
“Hey, we need a few more chairs in here!” barked the silver-haired executive in charge.
“Sorry sir, there are no more chairs in the office,” a sheepish intern replied.
“Screw it, then. VPs can stand, and managers can sit on the floor.”
“But if we sit, we won’t be able to see you,” noted one of the managers.
“Well, you can still hear, can’t you?!” yelled the executive. “You don’t need to see my lips move to know that I am deeply upset about this whole Minneapolis fiasco. I mean, wasn’t it you guys who said taking over the little friggin’ apple was going to be a cakewalk? Wasn’t it you guys who said Minnesotans were patsies and would attend any damn show we threw at them?”
Several of the company’s top managers stared into their laps and said nothing. One brave soul offered an observation. “In retrospect, perhaps we should have had a soft opening with a less popular band than Jane’s Addiction.”
“A soft opening!” fumed the executive, a purple vein pulsing across his tanned and shiny forehead. “The place is called The Brick, for chrissake! You can’t have a soft opening in a place called The Brick! Bricks are hard. Any damn fool could tell you that. What are we doing to fix this?!”
One of the young VPs standing against the wall cleared his throat and said, “Well sir, we have raised the stage, added 20 TV monitors, outfitted the men’s bathroom with trough urinals, and widened the entrance. Oh, and we dropped the maximum capacity from 2000 to 1,200 people.”
“You what?!” screamed the executive. “Are you telling me that you made it possible for more people to take a piss, but also made sure that fewer people would be pissing?”
“Uh, yes sir, but that’s not quite how we would phrase it,” the VP replied. “What we really want is to improve the customer experience and create a world-class venue that surprises and delights our guests.”
“By making it easier to pee?”
The executive leaned forward and held his forehead in the palms of his hands. “Please tell me that you are doing something else—that this is not the entire plan.”
“No sir. We feel that in order to communicate the magnitude of the changes we’ve made to the community, we need to re-brand the venue,” the VP explained. “And to do that, we need to give it a new name.”
“What’s wrong with The Brick?” the executive asked. “It’s short. It’s solid. We paid for it. And it’s got the one quality I admire above all others: it doesn’t mean anything.”
A VP of marketing standing along the wall piped up. “Unfortunately, since the Jane’s Addiction incident, the name ‘The Brick’ has become associated with things that are hard: places that are hard to get into and out of, things that are hard to see and hear, concert experiences that are hard to enjoy, and marketing decisions that are hard to understand. We are afraid that if we keep the name ‘The Brick,’ people will start throwing actual bricks at us.”
“Then pray tell, what are we going to call it?” the executive sighed. “And remember, it has to reflect AEG’s core values. Any new name you choose has to be bold and hip and easy to spell.”
“Yes, sir. We’ve focus-grouped several names and run them all through the Unintentional Association Spectrometer. One that we’re particularly proud of keeps rising to the surface. Pete, will you do the honors?”
In the corner of the room was an easel draped with a black cloth. Pete removed the cloth with a David Copperfield flourish. The words “Mill City Nights” appeared in a handsome gold-and-black logo. Above the words, which were rendered in a sturdy Helvetica typeface, was the purple and blue skyline of Minneapolis depicted in clip art of the highest quality. A round of applause rippled around the table, accompanied by a few cheers and wolf whistles.
“Yes, we think we’ve hit this one out of the park,” the VP said, stepping up to the easel, laser pointer in hand. “You see, research has told us that one of Minneapolis’s nicknames is “The Mill City,” and there is already a popular museum across town called “The Mill City Museum,” so there’s practically a built-in audience right there. The “Nights” resonates because it is nighttime in Minneapolis more than half the time, especially in winter, when the nights go on forever. Also, the name “Mill City Nights” references the popular but recently canceled TV show “Friday Night Lights,” which had a viewership in the tens of millions (again, think audience appeal) and starred Minka Kelly, the daughter of Aerosmith guitarist Rick Dufay, who, lucky for us, happens to be the subject of a recent sex-tape scandal.”
“Minka has the sex tape, not Rick,” someone clarified.
“So you see, the name Mill City Nights has it all: a vague sense of history, pop-culture hipness, community-savvy friendliness, and a little sex appeal. A lot, actually. If you watch that tape, you’ll know what I mean.”
“Another good thing about it is that it doesn’t sound at all like the Bay City Rollers,” an excited manager added.
“Or Talladega Nights.”
“Or Saturday Night Fever.”
“And no other concert venue in town celebrates the Twin Cities’ great milling heritage. Except Mill City Live, which kind of does.”
“Best of all, Mill City Nights doesn’t even sound like a place. It’s more of a statement—specifically about the time of day—and that’s a big differentiator.”
“And, of course, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. The silver-haired executive scanned the room with his steely blue eyes and said, “I can’t say I get it. It sounds like a stupid name to me. But you guys are the best in the business, so you must know what you’re doing. So, get out there and show that little cow town what AEG can do! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to pee.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” croaked an intern at the door. “There’s a bit of a line at the moment. Shouldn’t be more than five or ten minutes.”