Cool Ways Cities Brand Themselves

space_needle002Tourism is one of the biggest industries worldwide, with the United States alone contributing almost $7.6 trillion globally during 2014. It’s no surprise that businesses ranging from hotels to retailers work hard to grab a slice of that revenue, and they’re willing to spend heavily to lure tourists. In addition, the municipal governments and commerce organizations that represent cities themselves do their own branding. They have a good reason: the more people they lure to their cities, the better off all their economies are. Cities are getting savvier about launching advertising campaigns, often with the help of agencies, and they’re getting more creative about building their local images. Here are a few examples:

Seattle’s Little Free Libraries

The “take a book, return a book” phenomenon offered an opportunity for Seattle to reach people across the country and encourage them to travel to the city. Little Free Libraries kiosks were set up in Austin, Texas, Boston and Chicago to handle the exchange of books, with a branding twist to raise awareness: the containers were themed on the outside, to resemble the ferries and kayaks many associate with Seattle.

Plus, all kiosks included books related to the city, including both fiction and nonfiction guides and resources. Each tome had a themed bookmark inserted, and the campaign encouraged users to post selfies with their favorite reads, using the #SeattleStory hashtag.

Mississauga’s Photo Competition

Do you know that Mississauga is Canada’s sixth largest city? Bet you didn’t. And that’s exactly the challenge Mississauga has been fighting to overcome through a branding campaign. Mississauga has plenty to offer to tourists, residents and businesses, but Mississauga lives in the shadow of nearby Toronto in many ways. So this hip, young city, with a booming urban center, has been using a branding campaign to change its perception as a sleepy suburb of Toronto.

On its website, Mississauga features a contest encouraging people to submit photos to compete for the cover of the annual tourist guide. Directions for submission require candidates to engage with the city’s Twitter page, post a photo of their favorite place, and tell the world why it’s a not-to-be-missed attraction. The campaign is intended to encourage visitors to see Mississauga as a destination rather than a day trip from Toronto.

El Raval District, Barcelona – Rebirth and Rebranding

Sometimes a city needs to change perceptions among its own residents.

The El Raval neighborhood in Barcelona has come a long way since its infamous era as a red-light district, but few of the city’s residents have known about its rebirth as an up-and-coming dining and entertainment mecca. So the Barcelona City Council has embarked on a movement to improve the perception of El Raval. As part of the effort, the organization has created a new verb for the Spanish language: ravalejar. The term conveys a sense of energy and way of life – similar to verve or elan. The council wants to project the edgy attitude of El Raval, defiantly overcoming its sordid past and establishing its new identity. To present the new word, the council commissioned a piece of public art to be created, which is now on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The art itself is the written word, as the piece conjugates the verb ravalejar to show its tenses and usages.

Branding cities is necessary in order to capture some of the dollars tourists invest in travel for work or fun every year, but it takes an unusual approach to gain their attention. What are some of the more creative examples you’ve seen of cities successful in raising awareness for themselves? Have you worked on an amazing campaign for municipal branding? Please share your experiences.

Image source: Public Domain,

We Love Live®. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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