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BOM’s rebranding: a storm in a teacup or something to take seriously?

The Bureau of Meteorology suddenly demanded last week we stop calling it the BOM. What was that all about? asks Robert MacDonald.

Oct 24, 2022, updated Oct 24, 2022

Why did the Bureau of Meteorology suddenly decree last week, without as much as a by  your leave that we in the media should henceforth use its full name in our reporting?

It did concede, rather graciously, that after the first mention, we could refer to it as “the Bureau”.

But still, nothing as casual as “the BOM”, or, God forbid, “the weather bureau”.

The (well, alright then) Bureau claims – using language straight from the marketing department – “this refresh of our name and visual identity” is all about avoiding confusion.

The problem, which none of us was aware of except the marketing department apparently, was that the Bureau’s “name and visual identity were expressed differently across content and channels”.

“Feedback from a wide range of customers, partners, stakeholders and staff has been that this variability can sometimes impact negatively on the effectiveness of our messaging,” the Bureau insists.

Really?

I think it’s all about the Bureau’s self-image.

BOM might be the Bureau of Meteorology’s initials but there’s just something inherently jokey about them – the start of a musical refrain perhaps.

They lack gravitas – certainly nothing as determinedly serious as say, the ATO or the CSIRO or that US government agency with perhaps the famous initials of them all – the FBI, also known as the Bureau.

And so, glamour by association perhaps?

The Bureau (US version): “we track criminals and terrorists and villains”. The Bureau (Australian version): “We track cyclones”.

Nonsense of course. There’s no comparison. For a start, the (Australian) Bureau doesn’t have guns.

But if you didn’t think of the FBI when you heard the phrase “the Bureau”, perhaps you thought of that excellent French TV series “The Bureau”, about the French secret service, the DGSE.

You can still find it on SBS on Demand and it’s full of all the things you’d hope from a French spy thriller – glamour, stylishness, elan – all the things you may or may not immediately associate with weather forecasters.

It’s even got a story line that involves earth scientists – a young French spy has to infiltrate Iran’s Institute of Earth Sciences to monitor the country’s nuclear industry. It’s suspenseful.

And so, the Bureau. Take us seriously… please.

So, seriously then, is this just another bit of branding consultancy nonsense or should we indeed take it seriously?

As the Bureau says:

“With an ever-increasing number of severe weather events, it is more crucial than ever that the Bureau of Meteorology’s data, information, knowledge and insights are received, understood and acted upon by members of the Australian community.”

Yes, of course.

But wasn’t that happening already, despite the Bureau’s claims that the “variability” in its “name and visual identity” could “impact negatively on the effectiveness of our messaging?”

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Were people truly choosing to, say, ignore a cyclone warning because they weren’t sure it was coming from Australia’s one and only true source of weather information – the Bureau of Meteorology?

There are indeed plenty of other private monitoring services around these days. But most if not all of them draw their data from the, the Bureau.

To take just one example, how many people are going to think a private weather service called WillyWeather is really a government agency?

Another issue arises calling an agency the Bureau. Doesn’t it potentially lead to other new confusions?

There are other Australian government agencies with bureau in their title, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences among them.

But that’s probably not a big problem. The Australian Bureau of Statistics will always be the ABS, because who can ever say statistics with perfect confidence.

And ABARES trips far more easily than particular agency’s full name, unlike ATSB, the initials for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

But I’m sure those who deal with ATSB are used to acronyms.

And so, if BOM wants us to call it the Bureau, so be it I suppose.

At least it’s a recognised word. Just imagine the options the branding gurus might have come up with if they’d been given free rein – something invented such as OzMet, AusMet, or something punning such as BOMBORA.

Or, now that what used to known as weather, having morphed into weather events and  have now become weather bombs, what about that for a name, the WeatherBOM?

Which is why, after all these years, I remain in journalism, not marketing.

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