Gordon Young

Gordon Young, editor of The Drum, offers his insight and opinion on various matters relating to media and marketing.

6 November 2012 - 12:59pm | posted by | 7 comments

The Incredinburgh secret of city branding success

I Love New York has endured to this dayI Love New York has endured to this day

There are two main traits to city branding. It is always controversial. And after a brief 15 minutes of fame the new brand usually disappears into obscurity – normally only enduring in the form of rusty road signs or ragged street banners.

Edinburgh recently embarked on a rebranding type project, and certainly ticked the first box. The creative director of the agency involved and the deputy leader of the city council had a spectacular falling out over the chosen line. As we have reported on these pages… it was Incredinburgh.

Over the years I have reported on dozens of these initiatives who collectively cost the public purse God only knows how much. From Manchester’s ‘We’re up and Going’ to ‘There’s a lot Glasgowing on’ to Edinburgh ‘Inspiring Capital’ - few have even left a trace on Google never mind a mark on the collective consciousness of its residents, visitors and potential inward investors.

However, there are a couple of notable exceptions. ‘I Love New York’, for example, was launched in the mid-70s and is going strong to this day. It is hard to step outside in the Big Apple without coming across at least a dozen examples of the slogan within minutes. But perhaps more interesting is ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’. Launched in the early 80s, this campaign still exists in the collective consciousness of the citizenry despite the best efforts of the municipal authorities to kill it off.

In my view there are two key ingredients if a campaign stands any chance. First and foremost you must have a half decent product. And Glasgow and New York both came up trumps on that front.

And secondly, the local population must believe and buy into the message. It is their support and endorsement that will give a campaign its life. Them being prepared to put stickers on their bumpers, branded t-shirts on their backs and posters in their windows is always worth more than expensive TV commercials or spectacular 96 sheets.

It’s an argument social media aficionados will get. ‘I Love New York’ and ‘Glasgow Miles Better’ were effectively pre-internet memes. Both initially had tiny budgets and relied on their citizens to get the message out in the form of car stickers and word of mouth.

Glasgow’s current campaign, ‘Scotland with Style’, has never resonated in the same way. Perhaps it is just a bit too contrived for the car sticker brigade: after all the stylish do not normally have to say they have style. And I sense Edinburgh’s latest campaign also commits the cardinal sin of feeling a bit too top down.

At the end of the day what makes cities great is not buildings, shops or visitor attractions but people. And their buy-in is the secret ingredient in terms of city marketing campaigns that actually work.


6 Nov 2012 - 14:24
nathanlane's picture

Spot on Gordon. The brand has to resonate with people. A campaign is dead in the water if local people don't back it. Too often local people are ignored in the consultation or roll-out.

6 Nov 2012 - 14:32
jasonstone's picture

Wise words... an excellent piece.

Kirkintilloch in Scotland has signs that identify it as a "Walkers Are Welcome Town"... a choice of words that's not only awkward but could lead fans of US drama 'The Walking Dead' to conclude that it's ridden with Zombies.

7 Nov 2012 - 09:28
georgeshepherd's picture

Interesting Gordon and would agree with your analysis but also add something -

NYC and Glasgow campaigns were launched at a time when both cities (and citizens) were starting a "fightback" against years of decay and downward spiral

so there was a sense of perfect timing

7 Nov 2012 - 11:21

Interesting article Gordon. Perhaps it's also worthy of noting that many themes may not be designed by committee but certainly are approved by committee, and a political committee too.

I (Heart) NY is a really heartfelt acclaim by people or business and tourists. Glasgow's campaign was similar but both came from regeneration of these locations. They were firsts. Perhaps the issue facing creative's is that they have a yardstick based on unreal expectations, as the client wants a world beating campaign to follow up the last failed campaign.

These often unmemorable campaigns are remembered back home and each time the citizens see another come and go they become more cynical. These often unmemorable campaigns are remembered back home and each time the citizens see another come and go they become more cynical so buy-in is less likely.

7 Nov 2012 - 12:10
Rhysotto's picture

Sorry, Gordon but 'Incredinburgh' isn't top down at all. More like Prestwick's 'Pure Dead Brilliant'. Certainly not what I'd like to see for Edinburgh, with all due respect to Leith Agency, whose work I admire.

7 Nov 2012 - 17:11
petea14094's picture

You'll never beat ' Stoneybridge. It's got a Stoneybridge.' from Absolutely.

25 Feb 2013 - 12:04
ianth75495's picture

Great article Gordon. There is a question though. Is a strapline the best way to brand a city anyway? It's such a hit and miss idea and it's rare, if ever, that a strapline can be embraced by all of the audiences it needs to reach. 'I love New York' was a tourism campaign and it did exactly that. It isn't, however, what's used to attract inward investment. Personally, I'm not convinced that place branding works in the same way it does for a product or service.


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