April 30, 2013

Portland crafts slogan to put city 'on the map'

Officials think a catchy phrase will help with marketing, but a bad one could do the opposite.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

"What happens here, stays here" works for Vegas. And visitors have been enthusiastically buying "I love New York" souvenirs for years.

Today's poll: Portland slogan

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Portland plans to introduce a branding campaign soon that Mayor Michael Brennan promises "will put Portland on the map."

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Got an idea for a new Portland city slogan? Send your idea to online@pressherald.com.

Now Portland is trying to find a way to make itself just as memorable. The city plans to introduce a branding campaign soon that Mayor Michael Brennan promises "will put Portland on the map."

The challenge is to come up with a few words that capture everything great and iconic about Portland, from lobster to lighthouses, cafes to cruise ships.

It's tough to encapsulate a city in a single catch phrase. Atlanta, for example, spent more than $8 million in the late 2000s to market itself as a place where "Every Day is an Opening Day." The campaign flopped.

Portland could fall back on tradition and co-opt a phrase created by hometown poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who called Portland "A Jewel by the Sea." But that could apply to almost any coastal town.

And "Resurgam," the city's Latin motto, meaning "I will rise again," doesn't exactly paint Portland in the most modern light.

The concept of a brand campaign can be powerful for a city -- especially if the city does it badly.

"Marketing efforts from cities and states all sound pretty much the same. You have to tap into what makes a city unique and special. Great brands -- from sodas to toothpaste to cities -- are distinctive," said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

"It's incredibly important for a city to develop a brand. It really does have an impact on attracting business and tourism," Calkins said. "The challenge is that so many things can shape a city that it's difficult to sum it up in a few words. There's a real tendency to come up with a slogan that's broadly appealing, but broadly appealing often becomes watered down and difficult to distinguish."

Portland's campaign, which was developed through donated and volunteered services, will be used for tourism and economic development. City officials won't reveal the planned slogan while their lawyers vet it for conflicts with any other slogans or brand names, said Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for the city. (Getting the lawyers involved surely will make the slogan catchier.)

Portland first must tackle the Portland, Maine-or-Oregon, problem, say marketing experts.

"When you say Portland around the country, people think Portland, Oregon," said Ben Muldrow, a partner with Arnett Muldrow & Associates, an urban planning firm that develops community branding campaigns. "Portland, Maine, has a task of creating an awareness of itself. Portland has such a progressive and creative vibe going on. Take that creative spirit and blend it with the dynamic characteristics that Maine has to offer -- few have to offer what Portland has."

Muldrow -- who was behind the recent "Biddeford + Saco, Saco + Biddeford: No matter how you say it" campaign -- said Portland must market the slogan to its residents first, then build on that.

"The most important person you're trying to reach is that person who is currently a resident," he said. "You can't get too cutesy. If the concept is not accepted by the locals, it won't work. It has to excite the people who live there and create buzz that can be built on."

So far, the idea of a slogan has yet to generate much excitement among locals, who don't oppose the concept but don't have any ideas for what it should be.

"It couldn't hurt. Branding is almost always a good thing," said Jordan Lovell, 23, of Portland.

Allison Strausberg, 24, assistant manager at Bard Coffee, said the new campaign could help drive more visitors to the area.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Portland slogan

Do you believe a catchy slogan would help Portland attract more visitors?

Yes

No

View Results