by Irina Shafranskaya
Russian cities have caught the virus of city branding. The competition of cities that can be branded is extremely wide among more than one thousand of Russian ones. Every city proclaims its brand as a tool of socio-economic development but surprisingly (or not) the branding process does not start from the city improvement or economy boost. It starts from the logo. Who, when and how taught the city mayors (who are the main decision makers of branding in most cases) that the logo is the most appropriate start – we do not know. It seems like an epidemic disease with quite clear symptoms. Moreover, the mainstream is city logo development is ‘alphabetical’ branding. The brand sign (official or unofficial but well-known) is to be the first letter of the city’s name. As a result we now have a lot of logos (of course, not brands) which contain no message. For me, the objective of the logo (as the complimentary part of city brand strategy) should be the communication of place-related associations, especially when the brand is targeted on the external place consumers. But what’s the sense of using letters (especially Cyrillic ones), colouring them just because it looks bright?
Let’s proceed to the examples. The first one is my city logo – Perm. A red first letter as a brand sign was developed by a well-known Russian designer, and just at the moment it appeared – it became the point of aggressive discussion. At the very beginning the whole branding process became the quarrel which involved a lot of people, and most citizens still estimate it negatively. How could we create a strong positive association in such a negative context? – I have no idea.
Another example of discussion is the logo of the Siberian city Omsk and Omsk Region (see main picture). This logo didn’t win in the official contest, but gained popularity among Internet-user – at the unofficial web-site. Again we see the first letter which adds nothing to our knowledge – what is this city about? A “lovemark” is a good idea when a product or a company (even a city) is well-known, but I doubt whether it is a good way in city branding. Omsk is a large Russian city but I have no idea what is that special thing which makes it multi-coloured, for example, or so emotional.
Let’s go further: The next letter is N with “NEVINOMYSK City – Innovation” as the tagline. Do you see innovation in the logo? Maybe it is hidden inside the black boxes which surround the letter ‘N’ in Cyrillic? I am not quite sure that the logo is official and I even can’t imagine what souvenirs could be produced in such a ‘black-n-white’ manner. It looks unattractive and again creates no positive idea about the city. What will be the brand strategy, I even can’t imagine.
To make a long story short let’s go to Moscow. Moscow is well-known all around the world and being the capital it should be the brand automatically. The discussion about Moscow’s positioning and brand strategy is currently quite lively. Fortunately, they do not start with the logo, they are going to start from a master plan for the city and so on. But while urban development issues are just spoken at different forums and congresses, the logo aspect is in process. The contest among leading design agencies shows us the same symptoms – some of them again use the first letter. It’s another funkier version of something familiar to metro users: voila, it’s the letter M! Nothing to add.
The problem of Russian city branding is quite predictable: we start from the logo, we develop a brand book, we design the souvenirs and official sites but we forget that a brand (even a visual one) is the symbol of quality. And by the end we have a huge number of angry tax-payers who ask: “But what have you done besides the logo? Where are those improvements which brand reflects, where are those tourists and investors who are attracted here by this brand?” And the whole branding process becomes the useless wasting of money. And this destroys the reputation of city branding both as a professional sphere and the way of city development. So, should we start here from the alphabet?