Famous last words? Is this the beginning of the end for city slogans?

How do you sum up a city in a slogan? The simple answer is that you can’t. But that hasn’t stopped towns and cities around the world trying to encapsulate their essence in a few well-chosen (or sometimes ill-chosen) words.

For some, a slogan is a fun way to show that a town or city is a great place to live, work and visit. American municipalities that proclaim themselves to be “The Best Town on Earth” (Madisonville, Kentucky), or “The Toothpick Capital of the World (Strong, Maine) are doing so with their civic tongues firmly in cheek.

But for many towns and cities, slogan making is a serious business that requires considerable amounts of time, money and brainpower to come up with something that highlights communities as worth visiting and investing in.

And for some cities, a slogan can mean the difference between success and failure.

How a slogan saved a city

New York City today is a lively, attractive place that’s proud to trumpet its cultural, architectural, retail and culinary attractions to residents and tourists alike. Things were very different in the 1970s. Years of financial mismanagement and neglect had given New York a reputation for grime, crime, drugs and disrepair. By the mid-70s, the city’s image was in tatters.

The turning point came with a campaign promoting one of New York’s enduring strong points – its theatre district. A television advert featuring Broadway stars launched the campaign on Valentine’s Day 1978. Its message was short and sweet: I ❤ NY.

As Newsweek reported, the campaign was an overnight success:

“There were some 93,800 requests for the tourism brochure after the commercials aired. Hotel occupancy in New York City hit 90%, year-on-year earnings from travel activity shot up nearly 20 percent.”

Forty years later, I ❤ NY still has pulling power:

Walk around Manhattan today and you’ll find pretty much every store that caters to tourists is packed with T-shirts, mugs, keychains and more, all emblazoned with the iconic slogan. A 2011 report said the city still earns some $30 million a year through licensing the logo.”

Glasgow’s Miles Better

The New York campaign had a profound influence on another city whose image required a makeover. In 1984, Glasgow was making efforts to recover from industrial decline, and to regenerate its city centre as a retail and cultural hub. The city’s Lord Provost, Michael Kelly, wanted to promote Glasgow’s progress, and to show that the city was miles better than it used to be.

The Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign was one of the first of its kind in the UK, and – like its New York inspiration – the brand had important after-effects. The message was carried across the UK, appeared on London buses and was used to promote the city internationally. Arguably, the campaign boosted Glasgow’s success in becoming European City of Culture in 1990 and UK City of Architecture and Design in 1999.  Michael Kelly later summed up the impact of the campaign:

“The legacy was a permanent change in attitude towards Glasgow, exposing the reality rather than the rather distorted image people had outside. People began to look at it in a proper light and were able to make economic decisions based on that, so we got investment, we got employment. We turned the economy round, and that legacy is still being felt today.”

The slogan was finally dropped in 1997, but subsequent campaigns – Glasgow’s Alive, Glasgow: Scotland with Style – never enjoyed the commercial success of the Miles Better brand, nor did they win the hearts of the people.  Today, the city has another slogan – People Make Glasgow – which puts Glaswegians firmly at the heart of the city’s identity. The change recognised that in a city which still has significant social, health and housing problems, a slogan focusing on the strengths of its citizens is more likely to have credibility.

Slogan-free cities

But while numerous towns and cities around the world have embraced the power of a slogan, there are signs that city slogans may be reaching the end of the road.

In 2015, the city council of Edmonton, capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, voted to drop the “City of Champions” slogan. The Mayor of Edmonton contended that a city’s brand can never be expressed in a meaningful way by a single tagline. Other North American cities, including Moncton in New Brunswick, Mississauga in Ontario, and Cleveland, Ohio, have also been phasing out their city slogans.

Slogans with a smile

“The challenge of finding a slogan is handling the plurality of images and identities that the residents possess. The multiple and distinct identities supported by populations within a city should be included and coincide within the urban brand as much as possible in order to accommodate the resi­dents’ diversity.”
Championing the City

Faced with such a daunting challenge, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some cities and towns have given up on the idea of a civic slogan. But most are sticking with the concept, and some are hoping that even if they don’t greatly raise the profile of their municipality, they might at least raise a smile:

  • The Odds Are With You (Peculiar, Missouri)
  • It’s All Right Here (Dunedin, New Zealand)
  • It’s a Location, Not a Vocation (Hooker, Oklahoma)
  • Aha! (Suncheon, South Korea)
  • It’s Not Our Fault (San Andreas, California)

Reputation is everything … the potential of city branding

iloveny instagram

Image: iloveny official instagram

“A brand, an idea, an identity, synonymous with New York as a city, its infrastructure, businesses, tourist hotspots, residents and tourists alike…..” The I Love New York logo dates back to 1977 and needs no introduction.

Meanwhile, a newer city logo I AMsterdam has also captured the public’s imagination. “The essence of a city encapsulated not only in a tag line or a logo but a concept, a thought process.”

Amsterdam 1

Getting to grips with place branding

These two examples aren’t just logos – they are examples of place branding. In an increasingly competitive global market, selling a town or city as the place to be is key not only to ensuring external and internal investment but also to retaining people, skills and talent within the local economy.

Place branding, may be seen as a step on from place marketing. It seeks not only to advertise and market a place to drive tourism. Instead it seeks to capture the essence of a place (whether real or aspirational). This brand is then embedded as part of a wider strategy and communicated to both residents and those outside, through business and commerce, transport, infrastructure, and events. If done effectively, the brand is a holistic channel for the desired message.

city branding collage

Place branding often seeks to influence the external perception that people and businesses have of a place – to either change preconceived ideas or stereotypes, or to use these as a way to advance the brand and promote its values.

Place branding is the “who” of a place, while marketing is “how” you go about communicating the ideas and values which make up the brand.”- Tom Buncle Destination Scotland.

Benefits for local authorities

However it is not just global cities that can benefit from place branding. Local authorities can use place branding as a strategic tool to advance investment and retain a talent pool within their local communities. Developing a brand strategy can also be a useful way to engage members of the community, and build partnerships and social value between residents and businesses.

Although often used to encourage tourism, place branding strategies can also help promote regeneration and community resilience. Such strategies can also help with asset-based strategies, as towns assess what they have and how they can maximise its potential. Place branding also gives members of the community and local stakeholders an input into the future vision for the place in which they live. This might include property development and regeneration, or events.Community concept word cloud background

However place branding is not always a universally popular approach. It can easily be misunderstood, especially at a time of budget and service cuts. The long term vision and investment required to successfully deliver place branding can also deter local authorities.

Keys to success

A key factor in a successful place branding strategy, according to the place branding manifesto, is making it inclusive, ensuring that as far as possible everyone within the community feels they can relate in some way to the brand and that it is truly reflective of the best elements of a community. This helps with both the adoption and maintenance of the brand in terms of everyday use, and can also help promote the brand internationally.

In 2014, The Guardian asked readers to contribute their own tag lines for city brands where they live. The results were interesting, but they also highlighted another core element to branding, rather than marketing. While a strapline and a logo are important (they are the most public face of a brand) they contribute very little if the wider brand values and promotion are lacking. Engagement, planning and long term strategy is key.

Successful place branding strategies like those seen in New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Glasgow are characterised by a synthesis of long term development, strategic vision, and branding strategy. They include a visual identity and a strap line which people see as inclusive and representative of the values of the place.

This allows them to promote their own unique qualities to an international audience, while engaging local people, businesses and government in the value of their project and the potential benefits of a common strategy and approach.

Our most recent Information Service member briefing explored the potential of place branding.

To find out more on how to become a member of the Idox Information Service, please get in touch.

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