Good economic news keeps coming, with the European Investment Bank’s recent loan to develop the Opera Centre and a positive outlook for jobs. But Limerick City and County Council is determined not to be complacent about the region’s future. That’s why next year the Council will undertake a major branding effort – attempting to attract tourists, investment and third level students, among others. City branding (and re-branding) can be a tricky thing. Limerick should learn from the successes and failures of others.
The Council draft budget, presented at a meeting last Friday, contained a few paragraphs about ‘Brand Limerick’ and gave a glimpse of what the campaign might look like. “Limerick City and County Council’s Marketing and Communications unit is engaging international bloggers and social media influencers to create content to tell authentic stories about Limerick,” the document said. “The Strategy identifies four key themes of energy unleashed, into the blue, medieval strongholds and kicking which seek to exploit Limerick’s waterways, activity base, heritage and arts and culture.”
So ‘Brand Limerick’ will rely on the cultural aspects of the region, as observers might expect from an Irish town with as much history as this one. Limerick has a lot to work with, but worldwide examples show just how difficult a task lies ahead. According to a 2014 study by a consulting firm called k629, 86 percent of all city re-branding efforts fail.
Just this year, the city of Edmonton, Canada spent $2 million (about €1.3 million) on a rebrand. It dropped its long-time slogan ‘City of Champions’ and branded itself as ‘Edmonton.’ The move instantly garnered criticism and ridicule on social media. Was this branding effort a waste of money? The city’s elected officials haven’t backed down.
Limerick.ie currently says ‘This is Limerick’ very prominently on its website, while ‘Riverside City’ is a slogan familiar to most residents. The new branding effort could see a major overhaul in how Limerick sells itself. There are always risks in trying to change an area’s image.
“City branding is the accumulation of identity, reputation and the promise that any individual city can become known for certain characteristics,” urbanist Greg Clark, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year.
In 2013, the Australian city of Adelaide spent more than $1 million (€639,000) on a new logo that one comedian called ‘a particularly crap origami Pope hat.’ There is currently no information on how much the Council will spend on the branding next year.
“The typical failure is to think that cities need a logo, a slogan and an iconic image,” Clark said in his WSJ interview. “Stuff like that can be useful, but they aren’t solutions unless they are the culmination of other events.”
“City positioning is a long, slow process that doesn’t need to involve much money or ad agencies. It does involve leaders bringing together different representatives of the city.”
Next year will be a test of Limerick’s ability to successfully brand itself. Learning from past attempts may be key to the region’s future.