On MBSB, I normally write about global consumer and B2B brands, but I had to make an exception to talk about a local situation in the Village where I live outside of Chicago. While the drama only really affects the people within the town limits, the lessons and story lines are nothing short of soap operatic. In fact, as the days go by it only gets better. I'd also like to share a line that I learned almost 20-years ago as I was breaking into the branding business as a warning about clients "There are three things that everyone believes they are experts on, Baseball, Sex and Advertising." Baseball is interchangeable, but you get the picture.
In a nutshell, my Village hired an agency to re-brand the town in order to attract more tourist visitors and thereby increase revenue for the Village's businesses. A great plan because our taxes would make Bill Gates blush and anything that can provide some relief is welcome. Cut to today:
The firm based in Nashville, TN (I guess there weren't any world-class destination/branding agencies in Chicago!?) recently unveiled their logo, tagline and corresponding ad campaign for the Village. And to use a Daniel Burnham reference, it has stirred some souls. In fact, in my professional opinion the work is 'sophomoric' (to use a word uttered by the person in charge of the campaign at the Village in response to people's reaction to the campaign). And to prove that I am not just bitter because I didn't work on it, I love the new Chicago Navy Pier tourism campaign "Go A Little Overboard" And, I pitched for that business and lost.
There are a few things very wrong with the work that was unveiled by the Village. And, to add, these are common branding mistakes that are made when a process is rushed, the client is difficult or the people conducting the work cut corners or are unqualified. First, the work is not big enough, meaning that they didn't get to the core benefit of why people visit Oak Park. They went the easy route and 'drafted' some famous people-brands like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Of course, people come to Oak Park to be closer to their heroes and see where they plied their crafts. But that isn't the only reason. People come to Oak Park for other reasons, too. They come to visit the Harrison St. Arts District, visit the various beautiful churches (inc. The Unity Temple), the cuisine, learn about Oak Park's role in mafia history, shop the cool local boutiques or enjoy our parks & trees. They didn't get to the core essence of what Oak Park is about and why people would want to visit - not why they would live there - while that is different, I do think they are related (more on that in a minute.)
In addition, the people responsible for the campaign are ignoring the feedback they are getting about the campaign and EVEN WORSE are bragging about how cheap it was to create. Incredible. I see this mistake all the time. Companies choose the lowest bid and it ends up costing more in the long run. Here is the article that contains his quote "It is ridiculously cheap for a study like this." I am happy that the Village is looking for the lowest bids, but being penny-wise and pound foolish is a mistake that many companies make.
Frankly, the logo is the least of my concerns with the campaign - whether or not you think it looks like a penis (that is the first time I have written that word in 3-years writing this blog).I take issue with the core benefit of why people would want to visit Oak Park and the tagline. Let's tackle the distillation of why someone would want to visit Oak Park:
I moved to Oak Park 2.5 years ago. I moved here because of the creative culture that pervades all aspects of the community. Creativity is a word that has many meanings. To me, it expresses individuality, vision, innovation, inspiration and a risk-taking community. This manifests in so many ways in Oak Park beyond the personalities that lived here, which is where the campaign is placing its bet on Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. I believe the 'Experience' of Oak Park rests squarely on the creative culture where independence and open-minds are valued. A place where people come to be inspired and to stretch their imaginations. That experience includes the FLL homes and studio, EH's birthplace, Harrison St Arts District, the newly renovated downtown OP, the cool restaurants, the welcoming melting pot community and more. And let's be honest, the fact it is 10-miles from Chicago helps. If Oak Park was way down in S. Illinois we wouldn't be having a conversation about tourism.
That leads me to the tagline: Oak Park "Step Out Of Line." When I filled out the branding survey that was done a while back in advance of this work, I answered this question "How would you describe Oak Park to someone that has never heard of it?" My answer: Far enough away to feel safe, close enough to get shot. I was being facetious of course, but we do have a bit of crime in Oak Park that is much rougher than let's say, Naperville. So, when I see a tagline that invites people to Step Out Of Line, I think that this is license for people to raise hell. Stepping out of line is not an invitation to be different or unique, it is well-known vernacular for being raucous. I wonder what Oak Park's finest think of that?
I don't envy the people in this position including the agency that worked on the business. I know how hard it can be and how personal people take their creative thinking. It is hard not to get defensive. But, because I really like Oak Park, I couldn't help myself and I am an expert in the previously aforementioned three things - I thought I'd offer a few taglines free of charge. However, I would appreciate a credit on my next tax bill if they choose to accept one. They play on the essence and attributes of the Oak Park brand I previously mentioned.
Oak Park: "Wright Down The Street"
Oak Park: "You Belong Here"
Oak Park: "Imagine Yourself Here"
Oak Park: "An Open Mind Is Mandatory"
Oak Park: "Bring Your Walking Shoes"
Oak Park: "Arrive Curious. Leave Inspired"