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Brummy Delight

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Birmingham Global City Local HeartOn BBC television yesterday (2011-05-16) there was another Business Nightmares programme about marketing failures. I suppose the Hoover free flights debacle is now long enough ago, for some people (business undergraduates?) not to know about it. A bit like when the intro to “Just Like Starting Over” was played on University Challenge, and neither team had any idea what it was.

Even though Business Nightmares wasn’t much more than an excuse to air some old tapes, it did – at least in the section about Sunny Delight – serve as a reminder of the limits of branding. After the British public woke up to the realities of the delightful drink, sales went into a freefall that no amount of rebranding could reverse.

About the time Sunny Delight was growing its market share, more of Britain’s local authorities were becoming interested in marketing. In the 1980s, Glasgow’s Miles Better was one of the first attempts to rebrand a British city. But no matter how many times this null comparison was printed on public relations brochures, it made no difference to daily life.

In 2005 Centro, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, commenced rebranding of public transport using the ‘Network West Midlands’ moniker on vehicles, bus stops, stations, printed material, advertising, and internet. Unsurprisingly, the rebrand failed to have any effect on usage of bus, rail and tram services. The idea of fostering the belief that there was a public transport ‘network’ – rather than a number of customer-averse companies, in competition with each other – was bound to fail.

Under council leader Mike Whitby, the phrase ‘Global City, Local Heart‘ has been added to Birmingham council’s website, amongst other things. The city wants to market itself as an international business city. But the buzzphrase had not stopped the implosion of the city’s private sector, which has seen Metro-Cammell, Serck, Denso (Lucas), Rover (Austin), and the Sherpa van factory (Leyland Daf) all passing into history, oblivious to sloganeering.

Hype is no substitute for substance. Any attempt at (re-)branding a city is destined to fail, unless there is some underlying truth on which to build. In Birmingham, the back story is years of industrial decline, bad air quality, poor transport, overcrowding, antisocial behaviour, lamentable architecture, and dysfunctional transparency. So I don’t think Sion Simon‘s talking up the importance of branding offers a way forward. There has to be a semblance of progress on real issues, before calling in the yah men.

Written by beleben

May 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm

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