Branding a place – will ‘Northbank’ catch on?

What’s in a name? A lot, it seems, when it’s the name of a city district – especially a recently created one.

Northbank Logo
Northbank Logo

Take, for instance, London’s ‘Northbank’ – which could be the new name fort the area covering Trafalgar Square, The Strand and Aldwych –if more than half of the businesses and rate payers in the area vote for it in a ballot running from next month.

Unsurprisingly – like the now-scrapped plans to term London’s Fitzrovia ‘Noho’ –  the naming proposal has been met with some opposition.

Northbank website
Northbank website

The Northbank name and branding was devised by consultancy Earth, forming part of the bid to create a new business improvement district and in doing so, allow a levy of ratepayers to release money for public realm use.

As such, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not necessarily an evil plan to ‘rebrand’ an area, stripping it of its history, but to create a branded umbrella term that looks to assist businesses and make public realm improvements more feasible.

The proposed Northbank area, which runs across the busy Victoria Embankment and Strand routes, includes The National Gallery, Somerset House, The Savoy and the Royal Courts of Justice.

The Northbank concept came about around two-and-a-half years ago when Earth was brought in to create a new website for trade association SATSA (The Strand Aldwych & Trafalgar Square Association).

Martin Johnston, Earth founder, says, ‘We thought the best way forward would be to create a destination brand that can unify the businesses in the district to create a cohesive, social brand and bring prosperity to the region.’

He adds, ‘A place identity is very different – a product identity requires a human interaction, but a place doesn’t need “permission”, people are already in it. You have to create an authentic platform that people can understand.’

The Northbank branding uses a blue colour palette and a graphic based on the curve of the river Thames at the area. Johnston says, ‘It’s about amplifying the geographical location and the natural assets to create a sustainable identity that will last.

‘We used a vivid blue to show the royal elements, as the area is part of the royal procession route. We wanted to represent the heritage but the clean blue represents the modern and the new.’

The Northbank concept arrives not long after the creation of Midtown, which covers around 560 businesses in Bloomsbury, Holborn and St Giles in central London.

The area was named Midtown in 2010, taking a term only previously used by property industry types and trying to make it an umbrella term for the Bloomsbury, Holborn and St Giles areas.

Inmidtown campaign
Inmidtown campaign

Tass Mavrogordato, chief executive of InMidtown, which represents the area, says, ‘We undertook extensive consultation about whether this area of central London would benefit from having an umbrella term similar to “West End” and “City” and the majority thought this was advantageous.’ 

Consultancy D.Vision Create designed the Midtown visual identity, which uses a grey, white and orange colour palette and a bee graphic.

Inmidtown logo
Inmidtown logo

Mavrogordato says, ‘Orange stood out as a productive brand colour for us ­ not too corporate, not overused, and vibrant and strong but also inviting.  In 2010 [we] added BuzzBee as a symbol of activity and industry and in recognition of our urban bee-keeping project. People comment on “something orange going on in the Holborn area” so we know it works.’

Inmidtown banner
Inmidtown banner

But while people may have noticed the orange flags over the past three years, it’s certainly not common to hear people speak of the ‘Midtown’ area – a term widely derided for its Americanised connotations.

Jonathan Davies creative director at D.Vision Create, says, ‘The initial brief was very much to create a B2B identity. We then developed it to be more consumer-facing and formalise an existing estate agents’ term. It had to be more reflective of the kind of place we wanted Midtown to come across as – a fun and vibrant area to visit, shop in and spend your leisure time’.

‘People don’t like change, but we tried to counter that by explaining that you say “West End”, and that doesn’t detract from areas such as Mayfair or Piccadilly retaining their identity.’

It’s not just the capital that has seen new district names crop up in recent years. In 2011 Landor branded Noma – a large mixed-use development in Manchester city centre led by The Co-operative Group.

Noma logo
Noma logo

The name – which is an abbreviation of North Manchester – aimed to ‘create the same sort of resonance as other well-known districts such as [New York’s] Soho and Tribeca’, according to Peter Knapp, Landor executive creative director for Europe and the Middle East.

He says, ‘The branding had to work in two ways. It had to resonate with the corporate audience but also feel appropriate for people already living and working in the area. It’s a balancing act.’

Knapp says that the visual identity was created to be modular, meaning it can easily be adapted for applications serving both audiences. The name, he says, was rigorously tested to see how it could work in everyday conversation.

‘You have to look at other precedents that have worked in the public realm’, he says. ‘There’s no point doing something avant garde because it’s a great creative idea that will then be rejected by the public.’

Avant garde or not, it’s unlikely people will ever unanimously react well to seeing places they live in, work in and love given a flashy new name – one likely created initially for developers, businesses or estate agents.

Northbank brochure
Northbank brochure

And it remains to be seen whether these names, while created for a purpose – to help local businesses and residents reap greater social and financial gain – will ever displace the more well-established colloquial names.

North Manchester or Noma? Midtown or Holborn? Northbank or…?

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  • Mark Astle November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Oh dear. Rebrand all you want but you can’t force people to use the name. And inevitably, they won’t. The South Bank is an area that’s based, well, on the South bank of the Thames. Trafalgar Square isn’t really on the North bank. And the logo looks like a bit of an ‘O’, which is also a bit confusing.

    As for ‘Noma’, why would you name an area of Manchester after one of the World’s best restaurants, based in Denmark?

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