Rebrand the name, change the way we eat, and save (at least part of) the ecology: the story of copi

Rebranding programs have been asked to do a lot of things. But this Kat had never, until now, encountered a rebranding program whose goal is no less than to bring about fundamental culinary and ecological changes.

The feline species is not known for its aversion to enjoying fish at a meal. But even Kats may have their limits. Take the carp. There are few piscine varieties less liked at the dinner table than the carp. Compared with other types of fish that are bottom feeders, i.e., fish that tend to feed at the bottom of body of water (such as halibut, flounder, sole, cod, haddock, bass, and snapper), the carp's approval rating lies at the lowest trenches of popularity. Indeed, the carp has its own pejorative verb ("to carp", as in "to complain, often incessantly").

But what happens when the carp's low approval ratings run up against the reality of a variety that is considered nutritious, mild in taste, and delicate in texture, itself running up against ecologcal concerns fueled by the threat that the variety poses as an invasive species in important waterways in the US? The answer: rebrand the carp.

You may not like Norma Jeane Mortenson, but you love Marilyn Monroe. You may not like Archibald Alec Leach, but will love Cary Grant. You may not like Bernie Schwartz, but you will love Tony Curtis. You may not love Asian carp, but you will hopefully love copi (and will give the fish a try at your favorite restaurant, thereby preventing ecological disaster). There may be a lot to this change of name.

As for Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, and Tony Curtis, the rebranding resulted from the machinations of image-obsessed Hollywood. But for the Asian carp, the story, see The Economist here, was an ecological version of unintended consequences, good intentions gone awry. It turns out that there are several varieties of carp. The maligned variety is referred to as European carp, but there is also an Asian carp.

The latter found its way to the US in the 1970's as part of a plan to help clean acquafarms in the state of Arkansas, located in the south-central part of the US. The Asian carp has a prodigious talent for removing plankton and algae from the water. Score 1 for the Asian carp, even earning it the nickname –"filter feeders". All seemed well and good, until it wasn't.

The Asian carp was a resourceful creature, and took to traveling, reaching the Mississippi River. For anyone who has read Mark Twain (himself rebranded from Samuel Langhorne Clemens ), and even one who has not, it takes little imagination what happens when a fish makes its way to the Mississippi River (see map above) namely—it propagates and spreads the length of the waterway. In this case, the movement was northward reaching the State of Illinois and a tributary of the Mississippi River, the Illinois River.

The Asian carp also is a voracious eater, and it outcompeted other types of fish for food, leading to a reduction of fish ecological diversity. The score was now 1-1, with some dubious help from Charles Darwin, accompanied by the threat that the Asian carp would circumvent the waterways around Chicago and find its way into the Great Lakes, the greatest fresh water system in the world.

Dealing with the unwanted results of an invasive species is always a challenge. In the Asian carp situation , the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) came up in 2018 with a Hollywood solution—in the words of The Economist, it would "recast" the Asian carp. This recasting was done by a Chicago marketing company, Span Studio, which came up with a new name for the fish—"copi".

For Kat readers wondering whence the new name, it derives from "copious" (apparently referring to the fact that the Asian carp was over-thriving in the inland Illinois waterways—and then shortened and refashioned to convey a positive meaning). The Economist continued—
…the goal was to shed the fish's reputation as one only for adventurous eaters. Focus groups described copi as 'cute' and 'manageable'.
With the new name having been selected, the underlying goal of the State of Illinois was stated, here, namely—
…to make the fish sound more appealing, so people will eat it and stop the invasive species from further damaging Lake Michigan and other waterways.
Nothing modest about this: the rebranding is viewed as the linchpin to bringing about a fundamental ecological change. Thus--
'Enjoying Copi in a restaurant or at home is one of the easiest things people can do to help protect our waterways and Lake Michigan,' John Goss, former White House invasive carp adviser, said in a statement. 'As home to the largest continuous link between Lake Michigan and the Copi-filled Mississippi River system, Illinois has a unique responsibility in the battle to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. I’m proud of Illinois, its partners and other states for rising to this challenge'.
See also

Apparently the idea is that by increasing consumption of copi-based food products (as the Director of the IDNR observed—"What diner won’t be intrigued when they read Copi tacos or Copi burgers on a menu?”), the number of copi fish in the river will decrease, resulting in a smaller population in the waterways, leading to more food for other fish, leading to greater fish diversity, and diminishing the likelihood that copi fish will enter the Great Lakes.

                                                                 Yummy, but will it save the ecology?

The story of the rebranded copi is notable for two reasons. First is the adoption of the new name that would fall under the category of fanciful within trademark parlance. More typical is the renaming of Patagonian toothfish as Chilean sea bass, although it is neither a bass (which is a fellow piscine bottom feeder) nor native to Chile. Deceptively misdescriptive, anyone?

Even the renaming of the slimehead fish to orange roughy was more a change of description and image that a fanciful remake of nomenclature. See here. To the contrary was the rebranding of the Asian carp to copi.

Second, this Kat does not remember a rebranding program that has ever been tasked with such ambitious goals—changing eating patterns and altering the ecological balance, at least of waterways in Illinois and the environs.

But let's start modestly—are there any Kat readers who have tasted the copi in whatever form? If so, is it, as claimed, a fish with a "mild, with a clean, light taste"?

Picture in center top is by Shannon 1 and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Picture in center bottom is by Miyuki Meinaka and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Rebrand the name, change the way we eat, and save (at least part of) the ecology: the story of copi  Rebrand the name, change the way we eat, and save (at least part of) the ecology: the story of copi Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Friday, November 11, 2022 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. In mediaeval Europe, "farmed" artificially-constructed carp ponds were a common feature of monasteries and larger towns, to provide a reliable source of protein, especially with dietary rules on permissible Friday and Lenten foodstuffs. In the UK, the switch to saltwater fish (for those living away from the coast) came in the 1800s, when railways and refrigeration allowed cod and other saltwater fish to be transported inland to the cities before it went off.

    My experience of central Europe is that carp and other freshwater fish are still very popular - so I would recommend that the "copi" team seek advice from Czech chefs, for example. (They should maybe talk more to Czech brewers too, while they are at it... )

    I would add the rebrand of the Chinese gooseberry to the Kiwifruit in the early 1980s to the history of rebranding food names, and the UK has long used the term "rock salmon" when serving up various small sharks, such as dogfish.

    The other interesting thing for me about this item is that this is a rebranding exercise that is actually trying to make the new brand generic, rather than create a new protectable mark. A radical change from the usual mindset of the trade mark attorney!



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