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Glasgow New York

How to create a miles better original modern city marketing campaign: Five vital ingredients

By Gordon Young, Editor

November 17, 2011 | 4 min read

The Original Modern strategy in Manchester is back in the news, after a speech by chairman Nick Johnson. Gordon Young reviews the hundreds of city campaigns he has reported on over the years, to distill what he believes are the vital ingredients required for success.

Over the last 25 years I have written about dozens of city marketing campaigns. They have ranged from dead ducks such as Manchester’s ‘We’re Up And Going’ to triumphs such as ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ which along with ‘I Love New York’ is seen as one of the world’s most successful city campaigns.

But campaigns like ‘I Love New York’ are few and far between. Our archives are littered with the wreckage of badly conceived campaigns, or drives that rapidly fizzled out. The storage cupboards of councils everywhere must be full of mugs, key fobs and stickers emblazoned with the slogans of long-forgotten campaigns.

It proves that city branding is always a tough brief to crack. The main issue is that the same city can mean so many different things to different people and groups. Distilling that into a single proposition is a minefield.

Very often, for example, how a cultural elite see their city is at odds with how the general population perceive it – a dynamic that despatched many campaigns to oblivion.

So with all that in mind what are the key ingredients required to ensure a campaign takes off?

1) Keep it Simple Stupid; hardly an original point, but absolutely key in this context. People have to be able to get the key message quickly, even if there is a more sophisticated subtext . That way you can keep the cultural elite as well as the punters happy. Glasgow's Miles Better; or was that Smiles Better, ticks this box. But Original Modern is a far more complex concept.

2) Make it emotive; citizens need to connect with it on an emotional level. I Love New York is a great example. Manchester's Urban Modern falls down on this front too. People are passionate about their cities, good campaigns exploit this.

3) Make it Populist; The campaign need to be popular, an obvious sounding point but you’d be amazed how often drives fall down on this front. City campaigns usually don’t have the financial firepower to buy their way to fame. They need to motivate the population to do the work for them. In other word the message has to be something people will want to put on the back on their cars. Again Glasgow's Miles Better worked on this front. People loved having it on their boot lids, particularly when driving to Edinburgh. Will Original Modern pass the boot lid test?

4) Become a sub-editors dream; Slogan work particularly well when they become part of the lexicon. A good test for this is if they get adopted by newspaper headline writers. This was certainly the case for Glasgow Miles Better. The term was used almost every time a London national did a story on Glasgow for example. In fact, 20 years after the end of the campaign it can still crop up. How easy will it be to work Original Modern into headlines?

5) Position it as a grassroots thing; Campaigns work best when they seem to emerge from the population as a whole. The council or city should position itself as working more of a facilitator than a dictator. This can be easier said than done, but on this front appearances are everything – so if it is not grass root, at least make sure it as an astro-turf approach. And on this front sometime slightly under-designed can seem more authentic than over-designed.

And of course once you have mixed all these ingredients, make sure you leave it in the oven for a long-time. On that front ‘I Love New York’ proved what can be achieved if you are prepared to stick with a campaign for decades. Glasgow’s decision to kill off ‘Miles Better’ after a year or two must go down as one of the big city marketing missed opportunities ever. It was replaced with the line ‘There’s a lot Glasgowing on’. Remember that? No? Point made.

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