It goes without saying that any high-profile rebrand project has to fend off its detractors. The mainstream media loves to bandy about lofty figures that show what a waste of money it was and happily quote derogatory comments from members of the general public in an attempt to rubbish the work: “My child could have done better!”, “That obviously took them about 5 minutes!”, “What a waste of money!”
Once the topic turns to city branding, things get even more emotional. And it’s clear why. People have such a close attachment to the place in which they live that any attempt to assign a visual identity to it immediately causes subjective emotions to rise to the surface.
In effect, it is easy to see all of a city’s inhabitants as stakeholders in its brand and so the challenge for a branding agency is not simply to achieve approval from a small group of marketing people but satisfy the interests of millions of citizens.
It’s a topic that has achieved a lot of coverage in recent weeks as Cape Town revealed its new visual identity to the world. And it quickly became an example of how sensitive a subject this is and how carefully managed it must be. Not only did the press leak the wrong version of the logo ahead of its launch but when the new logo was revealed, it came with accusations of corruption, criticism from the media and the ANC calling the whole project a waste of money.
So, is city branding needed at all? Is it really a waste of money? In a highly globalised world, where the best workers and investment capital move from country to country with ease, cities need to up their game to ensure that talent and money doesn’t high tail it to the competition at the first available opportunity. With more and more cities creating standalone organisations to maintain their profile on the world stage, it seems city branding will only continue to grow in importance.
But how does one satisfy those most critical of brand owners, namely a city’s inhabitants, who also happen to be its most dedicated global ambassadors?
Is it a question of not being able to please all of the people all of the time?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the best way to please all stakeholders in a city branding project in the comments below.