Like a hole in the head…

I received an invitation yesterday to attend a “round-table discussion on ‘Developing a Marketing Brand’ for Downtown Charlottetown.” I am told that “professional moderators from Cossette Atlantic will guide us through a discussion” and that the end product will be “positioning for the new Downtown Charlottetown Brand and subsequent marketing plan.”

Is it just me, or does Downtown Charlottetown (I prefer the more humble downtown Charlottetown myself) need a brand like it needs a hole in the head?

Sure, the brandocrats will tell us that a brand is all about “positioning your qualities in the consumer’s mind” and associated rubbish. But brands are really, at their core, about telling a Big Lie. Or a series of Big Lies.

Downtown Charlottetown is in the process of withering away. Why not concentrate efforts on stanching the wither, and working for real improvement instead of wasting time painting a coat of socially-engineered artifice on the problem?


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on May 28, 2004 - 14:51 Permalink

What does it mean that “[d]owntown Charlottetown is in the process of withering away.”?

I recently moved downtown with my half-dozen other co-workers. Most of us walk to work, we eat out all all kinds of great restaurants all the time.

For us, Charlottetown is a fine place to be. Instead of trying to “reinvigorate the waterfront”, we should just do the little things that will make it a better place for ourselves.

Alan's picture
Alan on May 28, 2004 - 14:59 Permalink

What a simple, plain and correct critique of branding, Peter. You are a fine person, to quote someone I would never vote for.

Robert  Paterson's picture
Robert Paterson on May 28, 2004 - 15:28 Permalink

The lie is at the heart of traditional branding. What would be refreshing is the truth — most important — setting out to do the right things to make C’Town a better place.

If I was the facilitator — would ask us what would be 3 things that we could do to make the city a better place to live and work — we could then make this real

The risk is to create a Potemkin Village — like a hollywood set — an appearance with no substance. It will be the substance of high density residence downtown that will make it feel better and attract business. It will be the substance of a public transportation system that will make living downtown work better. It is the substance of zoning that will permit high density downtown. It is the attraction of the type of developers that are doing this type of work in say Montreal or toronto who have taken run down warehouses and made them into the centers of vibrant downtown communities that can make it happen here. None of this has anything to do with branding

Johnny's picture
Johnny on May 28, 2004 - 15:30 Permalink

Will you attend the meeting to put your two cents in?

a charlottetown fan's picture
a charlottetown fan on May 28, 2004 - 21:39 Permalink

Recently at, design critic Michael Bierut wrote an interesting essay about the use of branding in the recent election in India (called “India Switches Brands”) and of place-branding in general. He asks the question “How many times have we designers been asked to reposition the image of a reality whose substance had proven impervious to change?” It’s a thoughtfully written article and the comments that follow draw out the topic quite a bit further.

While I don’t think Charlottetown — or anywhere for that matter — is beyond revitalization, I would agree with you that branding might not be the solution for reCharlottetowning Charlottetown. It’s kind of like putting up vinyl siding on a beautiful old house whose venerable sides are suffering from a bit of rot.

Charles's picture
Charles on May 30, 2004 - 04:04 Permalink

I’d say a better use of funds than advertising would be subsidizing the parkades. You’re not going to get a lot of new offices opening up in a place where parking is $80 a month, and most of the empty buildings downtown are too far away from the parkades to be successful shops (who wants to carry their purchases 3 or 4 blocks to where they had to park?)