Here’s one definition of branding.
The process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers’ mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.
Below is an article by the estimable Aaron Renn, in which the author discusses branding, or in this case the marketing efforts undertaken by cities.
You can’t help but notice how few unique things about these cities manage to come through.
What about branding our town?
For the past eight years here in New Albany, what passes for a “brain trust” at City Hall (try not to cringe in disgust) surely has undertaken a branding campaign. It may or may not have been explicitly organized as a branding campaign, but the effect has been the same.
In essence, New Albany very much has been branded as New Gahania, which is to say that in terms of promotions, every aspect of the city has been tied to the mayor’s cult of personality: New Albany is Jeff Gahan, and vice versa.
Students of history will recognize this device from numerous totalitarian regimes, but let’s focus on just one: Italy under Benito Mussolini during the 1920s and 1930s.
Mussolini’s Italian “fascism” came along first, and was in many ways a precursor of Adolf Hitler’s organizational model for Nazi Germany. In fact, Mussolini’s chosen symbol became the word to describe his movement.
Fasces … a bound bundle of wooden rods, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging. The fasces had its origin in the Etruscan civilization and was passed on to ancient Rome, where it symbolized a magistrate’s power and jurisdiction.
A fasces looks like this.
Gahan’s chosen symbol emerged from the back rooms where appointed committees meet, utterly without the input or votes of any elected official, and as selected by then-redevelopment honcho and noted artistic design expert David Duggins because it looked “cute.”
Now it has become the anchor that adorns every city-owned object.
In Duggins’ own words, the anchor was chosen to be a “branding device” for the city. This points to the importance of knowing the meaning of words, for an anchor is something heavy that is used to keep a boat fixed in place, not moving.
Consequently New Albany’s second-most-important act of branding during the past eight years has been to slap the anchor logo on everything, which has the effect of announcing that we’ll be moving forward while remaining anchored right where we were.
It may not be the best branding for the world outside, but it actually jibes with Gahan’s self-aggrandizing governing philosophy, as when he claimed to radically change the street grid while doing almost nothing to … radically change the street grid.
But far more so than anchors, our foremost branding effort has been devoted to slapping Gahan’s cherubic chihuahua image on every last advertisement purchased with taxpayer dollars. An anchor keeps the boat from moving. Gahan keeps the city from moving, while grandly lubricating his own pockets with pay-to-play dollars from special interests.
Of course, Benito Mussolini already had been there and done that.
Allow me to direct this comment to those merchants and independent business owners who tend to accept what they’re told at gatherings without examining any of it too closely: if we work together as a collective bearing the weight of our combined investments, the city’s marketing and branding would reflect us.
As it stands, the city has indeed been branding — as New Gahania, not New Albany. This does much for the incumbent, and almost nothing for the rest of us. Worse still, he’s been using our money to pay for his own glorification.
One way to repair this profound malfunction is #FireGahan2019, and start the process of taking back our civic identity from the charlatan in chief.
Cities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap, by Aaron Renn (CityLab)
From Instagram stunts to Edison bulbs, why do so many cities’ marketing plans try to convince people that they’re exactly like somewhere else?
It’s curious that while every company tries its hardest to convince you of how much different and better it is than every other company in its industry, every city tries its hardest to convince you it’s exactly the same as every other city that’s conventionally considered cool.
Look at any piece of city marketing material, from promo videos to airline magazine ad inserts. It’s amazing how so many of them rely on the same basic ingredients: hipster coffee shops, microbreweries, bike lanes, creative-class members, startups, intimations of a fashion scene, farm-to-table restaurants, new downtown streetcars, etc.
These are all good things, mind you: things cities should be happy to have. Some of them may even be modern necessities. But you can’t help but notice how few unique things about these cities manage to come through …