City slickers

As the British Tourist Authority launches a new identity to promote Britain abroad, Tom Bawden looks at the increasingly sophisticated branding of our cities.

With the growth of commercialism, it was only a matter of time before cities came to be treated as commodities. A good marketing strategy has worked wonders with a whole range of goods and services, so why not with a city? Or so the argument runs.

Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Cardiff, Bristol, Dundee, Sheffield and Merseyside have all undertaken branding initiatives in recent years. Not that the idea is totally new, rather that the projects are becoming grander. And with 11 new county councils effectively to be formed in April 1998, when some local authorities are restructured, designers can expect more branding work, carrying out research and creating a solution.

“A lot of branding exercises in the past have been window dressing, with a nice logo and nothing much else,” says Simon Mottram, director of brand and identity strategy at Interbrand.

As such, while many cities have “jumped on the branding bandwagon”, it is often with very little impact, says Landor managing director Adrian Day, who worked on a logo for Birmingham when at Siegal & Gale.

By improving its brand, a city council hopes to attract tourists and businesses in an increasingly competitive environment, says Michael Wolff, who worked for Wolff Olins on one of the first branding schemes of its kind in the world – in the London Borough of Camden, in 1966.

Since the Sixties the branding, of cities, goods and services alike, has become far more sophisticated, although a good number still merely skim the surface. This is often because the money simply isn’t there to do any more.

“There is sometimes a feeling that if a city has lost its identity it can use design to get things back. But I don’t think you can do it with graphic design alone. It must point up some believable aspects of the place. And local authorities are learning there is much more to it than that,” says Wolff.

Cities such as Venice and Paris do not really need to put much effort into their branding since they already have a clear and positive identity. While Barcelona has achieved almost equal billing, in large part by the famous logo by Javier Mariscal, others must work much harder.

Birmingham was one of the first British cities to dig deeper, integrating its marketing and promotional needs to cover both private and public organisations based in the city. The resulting logo, unveiled in 1992, had the strapline “the meeting place of Europe”.

“We looked at Birmingham like we would any other brand, to find what differentiated it from its competitors. The process is obviously more complex for a city, but we came up with a number of points. It is accessible, has good communications and conference facilities. It also has a good labour force and a much nicer centre than I’d imagined,” says Adrian Day, who worked on the promotion, with The Birmingham Marketing Partnership.

However, Day says that, while he feels the logo was effective in itself, the brand has not been managed particularly successfully since. He is uncertain of the overall effectiveness of the campaign. This tallies with the majority of city branding projects to date, which have not tended to concentrate on the measurement of success after their original implementation. This, however, is beginning to change.

Manchester is another of the new wave of cities which has taken to rebranding with gusto, with organiser Marketing Manchester conducting extensive research and drawing up clear goals. The logo, designed by local consultancy The Chase and unveiled last June, aims to “reflect the spirit of Manchester and its people,” said Marketing Manchester chairman Sir David Trippier at the time. But it has been criticised by a composite design group called the McEnroe Group, which dismissed it as “little more than dull” (DW 18 July 1997) and suggested “Made in Manchester” as an alternative to the existing strapline “We’re up and running”.

“People have focused too much on the logo since it is only a part of a much wider campaign,” says Marie Mohan, director of communications at Marketing Manchester, the body set up in 1996 to promote the city.

The effectiveness of the design content, in such a wide-ranging marketing strategy, is inextricable from the success of the campaign as a whole. As such, Marketing Manchester will measure its success in terms of the campaign as a whole. Targets for its first year include getting 100 organisations to adopt the new identity, a 15 per cent increase in positive features on the region and a 40 per cent increase in quality enquiries from international tour operators.

To help achieve these goals Marketing Manchester is liaising with a host of local organisations, including Manchester Airport, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, Greater Manchester Police, the Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Training and Enterprise Councils and Business Links of Greater Manchester.

Marketing Manchester has helped attract a major millennium project, through a cultural centre which will include The Lowry Centre art gallery and a northern branch of London’s Imperial War Museum. The project, which will cost more than 30m, will be ready for the year 2000.

Mohan says she is aware of the need for sustained brand management, and is establishing a working party to look at and reform the research process. Three seats have been offered to the members of the McEnroe Group.

Hull has also given over significant resources to its branding campaign, involving a large number of local organisations in the public and private sectors.

“We did a large benchmarking survey which said that on the whole, we didn’t have a bad image so much as no image at all. What we have to do is to create an image out of almost nothing,” says Ian Mills, chairman of the image group of City Vision. The group is working closely with Wolff Olins.

The Hull project is two years into the “regeneration programme” with a logo not expected for around another year, when the rest of the programme has been put in place.

“The integral part of the programme is the reality of living in, working in, or visiting the city. Does it have high unemployment? Does it have a good infrastructure? Cultural events? Sporting events? and so on. The broader strategy aims to address issues such as why we don’t have an airport or a cathedral and what we can do about it. If we go at it from this level, the rest will follow. The logo must try to encapsulate the new reality,” says Mills.

Glasgow and New York are often cited as logos which successfully bridge the gap between perception and reality.

“New York’s Big Apple logo is great because it is memorable, it makes sense and it relates to the city, while the ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ strapline seemed to tally with my perception of Glasgow, that it was a place that had improved greatly in the preceding decade,” says Landor’s Adrian Day.

The city’s current logo, with the strapline “Glasgow – the friendly city”, was successfully piloted at a major international Rotary Club conference in June this year. This is the latest incarnation of a campaign which began in the mid-Eighties, with the incorporation of the popular cartoon character Mr Happy into the logo, and the strapline, “Glasgow’s miles better”.

This tapped into a previously overlooked aspect of the general perception of Glasgow, while the strapline reinforced the idea of change. The character of Mr Happy can no longer be used due to copyright restrictions.

“Before the campaign began Glasgow had the reputation of being a hard, depressed city, but with a certain spirit. It now has the reputation of being a buoyant commercial and culture centre with a sense of fun,” says Glasgow City Council’s chief marketing officer Carol Matthews. She says Glasgow is now the UK’s third most visited city by foreign tourists.

In terms of the branding work itself, a city is more complex than a corporate brand and harder to control.

“A business is more internal and the brand simpler. It has narrower values and a more specific audience. A city logo, on the other hand, must appeal to tourists, businesses and the local population”, says John McHugh of Glasgow consultancy Wright Design which designed the current logo for the city.

Michael Wolff thinks designers and marketing departments alike still have a lot to learn in this area.

“It is difficult to create something that is recognisably of the city, but which doesn’t reinforce the image people already have too much. I don’t think designers have yet demonstrated what they can really do here,” continues Wolff.

Like any brand, the success of a city logo can be assessed both quantitatively, through such factors as financial statistics and tourist numbers, and qualitatively, by gauging the target groups’ perceptions of the city over time, says Aidan Kirby, a consultant at Wolff Olins. And as branding projects continue to increase in complexity, so does their measurement. Which has to be good news for research departments.

Latest articles