Credibility gap

Regional bodies love to use logos and straplines, but they also risk being accused of artificiality when these branding devices fail to reflect the realities of local cultures. As Manchester opts to drop them entirely, David Benady examines their relevanc

With Manchester International Festival opening its doors from last week through until next with the aim of boosting the city’s worldwide profile, other resurgent towns and regions of northern England are promoting themselves through catchy straplines and alluring identities.

Leeds uses the slogan ‘Leeds. Live it. Love it’, while North East England has adopted the line ‘Passionate People. Passionate Places’ to promote the region. Liverpool is heavily marketing its tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2008 and Durham has hired top-flight consultant Wally Olins to develop a brand.

Manchester, however, has rejected such methods and eschews the use of logos, slogans and identities in the battle to build its brand and attract investment and tourism. It has opted to become a no-logo city.

This decision was taken by Peter Saville, the former Pentagram partner and graphic designer for music label Factory Records, who has been ‘creative director of Manchester’ since 2004.

He is seeking to make the city famous through events rather than slogans and logos. To this end, he has helped create the Manchester International Festival, which he thinks embodies the city’s underlying brand proposition of being ‘the original modern city’ – the world’s first industrial centre.

The festival will help reinforce this image to the outside world, he believes, as it features world premieres of modern, original works involving artists and musicians such as Damon Albarn and William Orbit. But, he is scathing about the use of logos and slogans by towns and regions looking to boost residents’ morale and attract investment and tourism.

‘Leeds. Live it. Love it – Oh please. It is just not credible,’ he says. ‘Communication and design can articulate a message, but they can’t be the message. There has to be something to talk about. If a place, city or region needs a strapline to sell itself, it has got an insecurity or handicap. We already know about places that are important, and if we don’t know about them, they are no longer important,’ he adds.

Rather than designing a logo, Saville has created what he calls a ‘signifier’ using the ‘M’ of Manchester in stranded colours. But he forbids its widescale use. ‘It is intended as a symbol of the original modern city. It is not a logo for the city or for everybody to use,’ he says.

As it represents the whole city, it cannot be used by any single organisation, such as the city council or tourist office. ‘If you put a vast balloon above Manchester, you could put it there,’ he adds.

At least Manchester has avoided some of the controversy that often surrounds the launch of new logos, such as the furore over the London 2012 Olympic identity. The current Leeds slogan, developed by local consultancy An Agency Called England, also stirred controversy when it was launched in 2005 after it emerged that Hong Kong had already been using the line ‘Hong Kong, Live it, Love it’ since 2003.

But Tony Stanton, chief executive of An Agency Called England who worked free on developing the line, says Hong Kong is no rival to Leeds. And he adds, ‘A consistent communications campaign over a period of time certainly works. There are strong indicators that this sort of messaging works and pays dividends.

‘Peter [Saville] is abdicating responsibility for managing Manchester’s profile. It is a cop out from getting a hold on the difficult marketing communications issue, which is how do we unite disparate groups and offer something meaningful?’

Other consultants concur that branding has a critical role to play in preparing cities and regions for fierce global competition to attract investment.

Graham Hales, communications chief at Interbrand, also questions Saville’s criticisms of place branding, and says, ‘That’s like saying the brand should be constructed by telepathy and expect popular perceptions to evolve via osmosis. It isn’t seizing the opportunity you have. What these projects look for is how we put ourselves on the map. It is about having pride in your region and articulating what’s unique about your position in the world.’

He says this is what lay behind Interbrand’s work on the branding it created for Edinburgh three years ago, using the line ‘The city of inspiration’.

Meanwhile, Olins, chairman of Saffron Brand Consultants, thinks that the logos and slogans are merely the representation of the place, and what is important is the work that goes into creating the identity. He adds, ‘Where the cynics may have a point is where you are trying to create a brand for an artificial construction. I don’t think a lot of so-called regional brands are meaningful in the UK because the UK’s regions are quite traditional.’

Regional development bodies have launched various logos in the UK. North East England’s ‘Passionate People. Passionate Places’ logo was created by Newcastle branding group Different, which also devised East of England Development Agency’s ‘Space for Ideas’ logo.

Alistair Sim, managing director of Manchester branding group Love – which worked on the MIF until it split with the organisation a few weeks ago – says place branding is ‘a huge waste of public money’ and adds, ‘It is a mistaken belief that somehow a line or logo is going to improve perceptions of a location overnight.’

However, Olins retorts, ‘If the end result is a strapline or logo, you are not going to get very far. If it is a symbol of the place and there’s a great deal to talk about, then yes, the process is very important.’

Manchester International Festival runs until 15 July at various venues across the city

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