Philadelphia: Straining for a slogan

Posted: May 01, 2014

Seemingly immune to simplicity, Philadelphia has perfected the art of duplication. For almost two decades, the city has been home to two marketing agencies, each fielding two websites, two sets of handsomely compensated executives, and now two branding campaigns to woo potential visitors.

It would be all rather comical - if it were not that a hotel tax was funding both enterprises, each with $12 million annual operating budgets. As reported by The Inquirer's Chris Hepp, the organizations get along about as well as any two groups charged with overlapping missions.

That is, they don't.

The latest tussle is over the competing branding campaigns. "The notion of two different branding themes running concurrently is a travesty," said Wharton School marketing professor David Reibstein, an authority on branding. "In any branding, you need to be as consistent as possible. It's antithetical to brand-building to have two separate campaigns. To a very large degree, they defeat each other's purpose."

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau unveiled a campaign to lure convention business. The organization is known as PHLCVB for short, which, it should be noted, is neither short nor memorable. "PHLCVB" doesn't so much roll off the tongue as tie it up into knots, while hinting at the group's challenges to brand itself, the region, and the troubled Convention Center.

The new slogan is "PHL: Here for the Making."

Yes, rival organization VisitPhiladelphia doesn't like it, either.

Said CEO Meryl Levitz: "People don't understand what it means."

"PHL" means only one thing to everyone, and that is the airport. Airports long defined luxury, freedom, adventure, and Mad Man-esque style. Today, airports represent hassles, headaches, delays, lines, and lost luggage. By comparison, bus stations seem models of efficiency. You don't see New York branding itself as LGA, or Chicago as ORD.

As for "Here for the Making," Reibstein said, "It's hard to imagine what is being communicated." Perhaps it was a late-night gambit where the exhausted branding experts, having jettisoned a thousand previous ideas, threw it up against the wall to see if it would stick. Alas, the thing did. This reminds me of when Rochester, N.Y., adopted the marketing slogan "Rochester: It's Got It." I can assure you that, after enduring one 10-month winter, Rochester's got many things, but it is not one of them.

VisitPhiladelphia used to be the Greater Philadelphia Marketing Tourism Corp. - or GPTMC for short, which, again, is not short. The nonprofit was launched in 1996 to drum up nonconvention tourism. The old campaign was "The Place That Loves You Back," news to many of us, and suggests that the branding folks never spent time with visiting fans at the Vet or dealing with frustrated drivers anywhere.

But the current five-year-old campaign, "With Love, Philadelphia, xoxo," is not without issues, seemingly borrowing from the absurdly simple "I Love New York," launched in 1977. "It looks like we're so noncreative that we end up trying to ride on the coattails of some other campaign that clearly New York owns," Reibstein said. "It makes us look like a weak sister city."

Also, the "xoxo" was the tag line of Gossip Girl, a show about spoiled, rich Manhattan teenagers, the very antithesis of Philadelphia. Our regional character tends toward gruff and hardscrabble, and might be best characterized by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which, granted, does not make for the best tourism campaign.

This year, VisitPhiladelphia began touting "Phillyosophy," a reminder that puns and creative orthography are not ideal for extended marketing campaigns. Phil-osophy, but not PHLosophy, would have worked quite nicely.

To recap, the city has two branding campaigns when one would be so much better, one lousy and the other meh, and hotel guests pay for it all. Get the slogan right, as opposed to Washington state's "SayWA" or Panama's disastrous "It Will Never Leave You," and you never have to try again. "Virginia Is for Lovers" dates from 1969.

Something tells us that Philadelphia, not to be confused with PHL, will be trying soon again.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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