When I was growing up in Seattle, it was branded "The Emerald City." It was a lovely place to live, and the slogan represented that, evoking the city's evergreen trees and parks and sparkling lakes. It equated Seattle with the merry old land of Oz. It was a simple and pretty slogan.
Then this morning, I got a press release from the Seattle Convention and Visitor's Bureau. It's scrapped The Emerald City in favor of—wait for it—"Seattle: Metronatural." Say what? The idea is to "highlight Seattle's rare and uniquely marketable combination of urban and outdoor experiences." The goal of the branding campaign is on target, as the mix of city and outdoor life does set Seattle apart, but really—metronatural? If it's meant to sound hip, it doesn't; the kids stopped using "metrosexual" sometime in 2005. Beyond that, it's bewildering and meaningless. I shudder at the thought of billboards bearing that slogan popping up all over Seattle.
Of all the slow-moving mammoths that fumble branding, cities seem to be among the worst. I'm thinking of chilly Edmonton, Alberta, which probably didn't want to tout its bad weather: "Edmonton. It's Cooler Here." The confusing "Baltimore: Get In On It" and "Atlanta: Every Day Is an Opening Day" are two more flops. My vote for worst city slogan ever, though, goes to Philadelphia's in the late 1970s: "Philadelphia Isn't As Bad As Philadelphians Say It Is." Sweet, I'll plan a visit immediately.
The cities seem to trust focus groups and branding consultants far too much, rather than understanding their customers and using common sense as most entrepreneurs would. That said, some cities have come up with great slogans. New York's "The City That Never Sleeps" calls up New York's energy (and Broadway life, as it's a line from a song). And, more recently, "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" is a standout. If only what happened in the mind of Seattle's rebranding committee had stayed there as well.