I’VE spent the past year working with the marketing consultancy, creativebrief, to map and profile the city brands of the UK’s leading urban centres, taking in regeneration success stories such as Liverpool and Newcastle, culture-rich Edinburgh and the enviable swagger of Manchester and Glasgow, who both rightly wear the crown for successful and globally-acclaimed city marketing.
In doing so, I have concluded that city branding ought not to be the jealously-guarded provenance of marketing firms working on behalf of local political paymasters, but a more collegiate exercise in managing identity, reputation and expectations. You only need to look at the derision that greeted an attempt last year to re-brand Edinburgh, including the proposed strapline, ‘Incredinburgh’.
Last week’s launch of PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW at least sounds less prone to parody.
Fans of the comic, Kevin Bridges, may be familiar with his ‘Wee Mental Davy’ poking fun at the now decade-old ‘Glasgow: Scotland with Style’ brand. The Glasgow City Marketing Bureau (GCMB) will at least hope that its £500,000 ‘PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW’ campaign has less potential for send-up.
The campaign was ‘crowd-sourced’, insofar as the general public was asked for its input. Personally, I saw it as too easy an option for an organisation that has, in the past, often ‘written the manual’ for successful branding.
Like a stand-up comic clambering into the audience for easy gags, crowd-sourced city branding campaigns tend to be associated with the likes of struggling or emerging destinations, rather than the leading-edge GCMB, who, like any organisation of its type, will like to occasionally boast of outpacing some of the best-known cities in the world for a slice of the business tourism market.
But, at the same time, I think the simplicity of the campaign works well and is likely to prove quite durable (the bureau has scooped industry gongs year on year since its inception in 2005 and will probably notch up a few more on the back of this).
Its reliance on Glaswegians themselves, rather than some laundry list of assets or emotive button-pushing, sets it apart from tired and abortive campaigns elsewhere in Scotland. You only need to look at other provincial cities to see how easily deployed it will be in campaigns – such as on the sides of buses or in an airport lounge – compared to, say ‘Be Birmingham’ or ‘Leeds, live it, love it’.
Not everyone is convinced, however. The Observer’s Scots columnist, Kevin McKenna, fired off a broadside days after the launch of the Glasgow campaign, which he described as “utterly vapid and empty”, adding: “Next, they’ll be telling us that bricks make buildings and that wheels go on cars.”
Like Bridges’ routine, I think such acerbic ripostes are exactly what makes Glasgow’s people, though; you’re almost on-brand there, Mr McKenna.
Slogans aside, Glasgow has been gifted an enviable set of brand assets which give it instant leverage and prominence over its rivals. But for all the talk of the music scene, art school, Charles Rennie Macintosh and the only underground rail system outside of London, stubborn challenges remain, not least in terms of external perceptions and external transport links.
In time-pressured and budget-stretched times, especially for local government, there’s a distinct tendency to seek easy answers and takeaway lessons for those at the bottom of the branding pile to crib from the best.
The truth is there’s no off-the-peg template for a better or more successful city brand other than patient realism and dedicated slog through an appropriate vehicle and workable campaigning (though both of those can be better calibrated by what’s already out there).
In fact, the only real takeaway that is that PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW goes for most other cities as well.
The only problem for those others, is that, well, Glasgow has already taken it.
Andrew Stevens is a writer and analyst, specialising in city governance and communications. A senior editor of CityMayors.com (since 2004) and Fellow of the City Mayors Foundation, he has written widely on cities, including for The Guardian, Time Out and others. His books include The Politico’s Guide to Local Government (several editions, in translation) and a chapter in City Branding – Theory and Cases (2010). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Member of the Regional Studies Association, Urban Economics Association and Urban Land Institute.