Friday 15 February 2019

"Be Different" works for consumer brands - it'll work for cities too

Aaron Renn comments:
In a much-discussed New York magazine essay, Oriana Schwindt dubbed this “the unbearable sameness of cities.” Traveling to the city nearest the geographic center of each state, she described how she constantly kept seeing the same Ikea lights in coffee shops she’d visit. “And it wasn’t just the coffee shops—bars, restaurants, even the architecture of all the new housing going up in these cities looked and felt eerily familiar. Every time I walked into one of these places, my body would give an involuntary shudder. I would read over my notes for a city I’d visited months prior and find that several of my observations could apply easily to the one I was currently in."
We all want to be Shoreditch or Brooklyn (or indeed a load of other successful places - it used to be Barcelona or Montpelier), to capture that hipster vibe that transformed these places from declining slums into funky suburbs. But we never ask about the fundamentals and we never set out to be different.

The fundamentals are about jobs, investment, levels of consumer disposable income. And if you're (like Shoreditch and Brooklyn) right next to a place - New York or the City of London - that hoses out that money, your chances of success are a lot higher than is the case for the place 250 miles from those centres.

And being different means just that - if you're Bradford you focus on your Pakistani heritage population and their culture, if you're Blackpool you funk up "kiss me quick". We don't do this because we think that these cultures (loud brash British Pakistani bling and working class holidays) are negative, that the people with money will reject them for the comfy edginess of hipsterish irony. The problem is that trying to be like everywhere else doesn't work.

One of the fundamental mantras of brand marketing is 'differentiation', making your brand stand alone, unique and distinct. It's odd that, when it comes to branding cities, we do the opposite focusing on sameness, on being like another place (but not really as good). But surely is "Be Different" works for consumer brands it'll work for cities too?



Anonymous said...

And King Canute succeeded in reversing the tide too . . . .

When I first visited Paris in the 1960s it was a unique place in every way - 25 years later with McDonald's on the Champs Elysees and all the rest of the global chains also represented, you would struggle to name where you were.

That 'tide' of national and global influence means that it is impossible now for a city to present any unique face to the world, so we'd better get over it, while we all cry into our Starbucks skinny latte, wherever we happen to be on the planet at the time.

Etu said...

Absolutely, anon. You can't blame the EU, for the parades of Starbucks, McDs, Dunkin' Donuts, Frankie and Benny's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and the multiplexes showing the same Hollywood tat in every town and city across Europe, can you?

But at least, for a few weeks more, a Melton Mowbray pork pie actually has to come from there.