PORTLAND – City and business leaders introduced Portland’s new slogan Tuesday, saying its simplicity and versatility open up many marketing opportunities.
The new slogan got less favorable reviews from a local marketing firm. And the upbeat line about Portland’s quality of life got skewered by droves of Facebook users.
The slogan – “Portland, Maine. Yes. Life’s good here.” – was inspired by a writer who lived in Portland, and is part of a branding effort the city expects to roll out over this summer. That effort includes a promotional video, which also debuted Tuesday, and other yet-to-be-developed strategies for promoting the city.
The Portland Regional Chamber, Portland’s Downtown District, the Convention + Visitors Bureau and Creative Portland Corp. volunteered to help the city with the effort. The city provided staff support but did not allocate any funding, officials say.
Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp., said the strength of the slogan is its versatility and a simple message that can be embraced by the three groups targeted by the effort: businesses, visitors and residents.
“Let’s face it, we’re a small city in a big world and the best thing we can do is to combine our limited marketing dollars and raise one voice to the rest of the world,” Hutchins said.
Creative Portland Corp. is a nonprofit established by the city to seek and administer grants to promote Portland as a destination for young professionals and people involved in the creative economy. The group has a goal of attracting 10,000 creative professionals to Portland over the next decade.
A handful of local businesses turned out for Tuesday’s event at City Hall to show how they could capitalize on the slogan.
For example, Coffee By Design might say, “Portland, Maine. (Insert logo) Roasting’s good here.”
The Portland Sea Dogs could say, “Portland, Maine. (Insert logo) Baseball’s good here.”
Mayor Michael Brennan said the slogan is a “key part” of the economic development plan the city adopted in 2011.
He gave an example of the importance of branding, involving an email from someone who was very upset with the way parking laws were enforced. At the end of the email, Brennan realized the writer was addressing an issue in Portland, Ore., not Maine.
Brennan said he responded to the author, and it turns out, he was rather fond of Portland, Maine.
“That illustrates in some small way the importance of branding,” Brennan said. “We want (people) to know when they look at Portland, they’re looking at Portland, Maine.”
David Puelle, a Yarmouth-based designer who organized a group of creative professionals to help guide the process, said they combed through Portland’s history to find something authentic.
They looked through the work of Portland poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but found nothing suitable. The search continued until they came across an essay by John Preston, a gay activist and author of erotic novels who moved to Portland in the late 1970s.
Preston was an outspoken advocate for equal rights. He was born in Massachusetts and lived in major U.S. cities, including New York before choosing to settle down in Portland to concentrate on his writing.
He became a leading gay-rights advocate here and inspired the city to enact its Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 1992. He died here in 1994 of AIDs-related causes.
Portland, more recently, was at the forefront of efforts to legalize gay marriage, and was among the first communities to perform gay marriage ceremonies, at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 29, 2012 — the minute the new state law took effect.
Preston wrote an essay titled, “Portland, Maine. Life’s Good Here.” In it, he explained why he chose to settle in Portland. His friends would often ask if he was coming back to the city, and he would often reply, “No. Life’s good here.”
Puelle said the branding group changed the “no” to a “yes” to send a more positive message.
“It had the right understatement for what is a phenomenal city,” Puelle said.
Puelle said the group considered about a dozen slogans before choosing one. He would not elaborate on other contenders, except to say the group got a good laugh out of one suggestion: Portland, Maine. The Florida of Canada.
While officials say the new slogan is uniquely Portland, it comes close to copying the names of two businesses: the Boston-based apparel-maker Life is Good, and the appliance maker LG (Life’s Good).
A call to the corporate offices of Life is Good was not returned Tuesday.
City attorney Danielle West-Chuhta said the city worked with the University of Maine School of Law to vet the slogan. She said both companies were informed throughout the process, but she did not rule out a potential legal complaint about the slogan.
“I can never guarantee that,” said West-Chuhta. “People sue Portland for a variety of reasons. But I’m confident (in) the legal work we had and the legal minds we had reviewing this.”
The local business people at Tuesday’s press conference were enthusiastic about the slogan.
Alan Spear, co-owner of Coffee By Design, said he believes his business will be able to capitalize on the slogan, which can be used with “any word, any image that relates to Portland, that’s sexy about Portland and is fun about Portland.”
The slogan will greet passengers at the Portland International Jetport, and it is beginning to appear on city vehicles.
A parking division vehicle bears the slogan “Transportation is good here,” a forestry truck says “Cultivation is good here,” and a street sweeper says “Water’s good here.”
Leah Sommer, a media specialist at Portland-based Kemp Goldberg, worked for the firm that developed Las Vegas’ “What happens here stays here” campaign. Sommer said Portland’s slogan is authentic, but it could be stronger and more focused.
“It’s a little bit watered down,” Sommer said. “I think they’re trying to be too many things to too many people, and it’s not exactly clear if they’re speaking to residents or tourists.”
Facebook users were less gentle. The Portland Old Port Facebook page asked its fans what they thought.
“Seriously lacks pizazz or charm,” one user wrote.
“Worst slogan ever,” another chimed in.
There was some confusion after the announcement about whether the slogan was “Portland, Maine. Yes. Life’s good here” or “Portland. Yes. Life’s good here.”
City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the former phrase is the one trademarked by the city, but local businesses and residents should feel free to drop “Maine” when they use it.
At least one marketing firm expressed caution about being too flexible too early.
David Goldberg, a partner in Kemp Goldberg, said he understands the desire to have a flexible slogan, but the No. 1 rule of branding is “consistency, consistency, consistency.”
“Over time, as it builds equity, you can begin to use it differently, perhaps,” Goldberg said.
Hutchins, of Creative Portland, brushed off the criticism late Tuesday. She said she hopes people will take the time to read Preston’s essay and see the potential in the branding effort.
“It’s great to see so many people engaged,” she said. “If it sparks a vigorous discussion about what’s good and bad in Portland, it’s working.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: [email protected]