‘If your place needs a slogan, it has a problem.’ These are the words of Peter Saville in an interview with Atlantic Cities (now CityLab) in 2012. Saville is of course the artist responsible for many of the iconic record sleeves for Manchester-based Factory Records and also the City’s creative director responsible for its rebranding. It’s the kind of soundbite that should generate a healthy amount of anxiety in all city makers and branding agencies — a polite reminder that great places and great brands both rely on quality content. While we’re unsure of the specific examples Saville is referring to, The Simpsons kindly provides a universal example that we can all relate to with its Springfield — A City on the Grow sketch (which you can see here).
Watching this we see how economic ambitions can lead to a great clutching of straws and, while its enthusiasm, fabrications and ill-fated innovations are hilarious, there are some eerie similarities with the lifestyle promises made in lofty place and property branding campaigns. It is inevitable that these projects will under deliver and sadly for the buyer or end user, they won’t find it quite as funny.
With Right Angle in the process of setting up its own Creative Department complete with brand strategy, brand identity, signage/wayfinding and content services, it’s these sorts of thoughts that are keeping us up at night. To keep the boogieman at bay and inspire our onward journey we’ve gathered together just a few exemplars of place branding from Australia and overseas. While the aesthetics of the following case studies vary greatly (a good thing in our opinion) they all value content and connection over catchphrases.
As a result they have created something truly authentic. Unfortunately, this a misused word in communications, but an incredibly useful one when the agreed definition is: a coincidence between what people think something is and what it actually is.
Coal Drops Yard. London
Coal Drops Yard is a great example of an umbrella brand that takes a backseat and prioritises a community of retailers and shoppers. In contrast, many developers hero the building brand instead of letting what’s actually interesting rise to the surface. The visual identity developed by Droga5, “aims to reflect the journey of exploring this idiosyncratic district.” The system allows people to enter the identity from any point and move through the content much like they would the space in Kings Cross. It’s a 2D visual journey that heightens the 3D spatial one. There’s a feeling that a lot of different things fit together, and the system (or building) that’s holding them isn’t the point. It’s the people that make the place.
Walker Tower, New York
While Pandiscio Green pride themselves on “selling something that doesn’t exist” they’re also pretty good at selling things that do exist. Their Walker Tower campaign rekindled interest and awareness in the architect and created a buying climate that was more like the sale of fine art than residential architecture. The branding strategy brings an archival quality into a polished modern expression. It’s like peering into the past to live in an updated version of a New York that’s long gone. Mostly, the win here is that it doesn’t feel like a theme park, as much as you wouldn’t be surprised by either gatekeeper or keymaster. This isn’t a scrappy pull from the past tugging at nostalgia, it’s celebrating a classic and theatrical art-deco life of a much-loved city. We’re not the only ones that think so, the top floor penthouse sold for nearly $55 million USD.
Dairy Road, Canberra
At face value, Dairy Road isn’t the most desirable location or the most glamourous development. If it were a person on tinder, there’s a chance you’d swipe left and if you did, you’d be missing out on quite a catch. The branding and place activation campaign by Melbourne studio U—P presents Molonglo’s Dairy Road as a development that is honest, smart and a good listener. The design is loose, the photography is poetic and the copy matter of fact. The result is a place that you want to get to know more and that gets better over time.
West Coast Tasmania
Okay, so this campaign doesn’t just have one slogan, it has dozens, and while we’re not sure what Peter Saville would say about that, he does say that a brand is a set of values reenforced by actions. The slogans in the West Coast Tas campaign by For The People are all a sort of call to action and they were all extracted from a deep dive community engagement process. Tasked with creating a transformative narrative that could stimulate a dwindling local economy, For The People realised that if they were going to tell the stories of Tasmania’s West Coast they’d need to hear them from the horse’s mouth. The Sydney agency packed their bags and headed south, setting up a pop-up studio in the heart of the place they were branding, where they hosted a series of community input sessions, met with locals one on one and traversed the 9,500 sq km council area by night (despite the warnings from the locals). They shared their findings via local radio each morning, at branding exhibitions, on Facebook, in newspapers and even empty shopfronts, and the result was a visual identity that represented the wants and needs of a diverse and passionate community.
City of Helsinki
Some of the challenges of place branding live in the tension behind making identifiable and original visual systems that are flexible enough that everyone can find meaning. Move up the scale from place to city, region or nation and this challenge gets more complex. Representing the people, services and places that make Helsinki gave Scandnavian design studio Werklig an opportunity to build something unique. Bridging tradition and history with an eye to the future led to an updated crest, custom typeface, colour palette and photography style that serve to frame everything that makes Helsinki great. It’s a subtle touch and requires a fine-tuned scope. A graphic identity can’t represent everything within a city, but it can nod to values and invite people find what they do identify with. In Helsinki, that’s the history, environment, people and naked butts running into the freezing ocean. Now we know we’re in Scandinavia.
London, UK; New York City, USA; West Coast, Tasmania; Helsinki, Finland.
Chris Barton is Cultural Director at Right Angle Studio and partner in Paramount Recreation Club and Golden Age Cinema & Bar. Based in Melbourne, he oversees the company’s local and global research activities and ensures its strategic and creative work has both style and substance. In past lives, Chris co-founded The Thousands city guides and published Condiment, an independent magazine exploring the intersection between food and creativity, and food and community.
Nick Jumara is an Editor and Researcher at Right Angle Studio. His background is in publishing, writing, performance and design, primarily in New York and Asia. He has worked in both academia and industry often intersecting research and production. Recently, a combination of independent magazine publishing along with venue and event management in Asia have led Nick to a practice of urban research and placemaking that is inclusive, connected and human.