City Branding: A Brief History

By John Young

Branding is an essential way for cities to market their USPs to locals and visitors alike. But what does a city or place brand actually mean?

According to this description a place brand is:

“the totality of thoughts, feelings, and expectations that people hold about a location. It’s the reputation and the enduring essence of the place and represents its distinctive promise of value, providing it with a competitive edge.” (The Political Economy of City Branding by Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko)

So it is generally understood that a city with a strong brand is a far more attractive choice in an increasingly competitive market than a city with a weak brand identity. A city with a strong brand attracts tourism, businesses, investments and can also save a city from a crisis. This post will explore three well branded cities with some insight into how they achieved their brand goals:

I Love New York was the name of the famous campaign that saved this city from fiscal crisis and a broken spirit. It started as a way to spread love and empathy to the international community but New Yorkers also saw this campaign as an opportunity to appreciate their own city, and this communal sense of belonging managed to uplift people from their despair.  New York’s advertising campaign also succeeded in bringing in tourists as it began showcasing its shopping centres and theatres, including Broadway which is to this day a hugely unique point of attraction.

Before the “Be Berlin” campaign Germany was just picking itself up and had begun a process of reunification. The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 triggered a cultural, economic and social transformation. These were all needed if Berlin was going to shake off a negative image and attract visitors and investors. Berlin did this by identifying itself with new architecture as a way of showcasing its urban transformation.

Not only did Berlin use architecture to attract businesses and entrepreneurs but it also created an ongoing marketing campaign that emphasised creativity. This gained support from creative companies but also attracted visitors from around the world to experience a vibrant and diverse culture.  Berlin began promoting its club culture as well as its contemporary art to attract a range of different people, from teenagers to intellects, and to this day Berlin remains a thriving hub for creativity in both the business sphere and cultural sphere.

London is one of the most visited cities in the world, but its reputation pre-dates modern days due to its rich historical background. By the 18th century, it was already known as the centre of a world-famous empire, and by the turn of the 19th century and Queen Victoria’s reign, it had become the most populated city in Europe. It was known for some unfortunate events such as the plague, fire disasters and bloody battles, but the arrival of the industrial age began to transform London’s image. One example was the launch of The Great Exhibition in 1851, which showcased achievements of the industrial age, finally helping London re-brand as a progressive and enlightened city.

London has managed to create a diverse but strong branding image since then, from celebrating multiculturalism to showcasing its traditional heritage. Landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Big Ben from the Victorian age have been advertised as symbols of English success. Alongside these landmarks, London is also known for its unique culture of etiquette. These traditional English values are marketed through leisure spots such as Harrods and Fortnum and Masons, making London a hugely popular destination for tourists who also want to experience a whole different set of customs. 

So how much do you know about the branding of your favourite city? We have gathered some of the most famous cities in the world, so put your knowledge to the test with our branding quiz!