The Incredinburgh secret of city branding success

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

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.