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Community / Public space

How to sell your city: the birth of the urban tagline

Modern developers may chase the rising “creative class”, but how we write the story of places has long been big business. Milton Glazer’s I Love New York logo from 1976 was offset by a grim backdrop; at the time, the city had recorded its worst crime figures for 45 years, and had been declared bankrupt. The logo sold a dream.

In the UK we are good at dreams; Northamptonshire will “Let Yourself Grow”, Kent is a “Garden of England”, County Durham is “Land of the Prince Bishops” and Warwickshire is “Shakespeare’s Country”.

We can also do grit. Destination branding has become big business. It creates a narrative of renewal. “Glasgow’s Miles Better”, “It’s Happening in Liverpool”. The slogans simultaneously acknowledge pre-conceived ideas while also pointing to the future. Think again, they say.

“It’s Happening in Liverpool” was coined in 2008, when Liverpool was named European Capital of Culture. It pushed the story of the unforgettable night in Liverpool, a huge part of the city’s national and international brand. A previous tagline is “The World in One City”, which caught onto its 1990s ambition of multiculturalism and diversity.

Those taglines spoke to the people inside the city as well as outside of it, and were a vital part of the city’s communications.

It’s very different from the city’s tagline in the 60s, “A City of Change and Challenge”. It was hardly surprising Liverpool attracted a generation of radicals, ambitious urban planners and political firebrands.

Along the M62 you learn there can be a thing as too much honesty. In Calderdale, when the population adopted the strapline “Pretty Gritty” the council director told the local paper at least they weren’t being “vanilla”. You couldn’t, he argued, pretend this was a happy valley with no issues to be solved.


Who is your tagline talking to? Let’s rewind back to the 60s and the postmark slogan. The postmark slogans were written by local authority publicity teams and evolved into a way of telling people what was happening, and creating a sense of destination and local identity. The postmark was, in many ways, the forerunner to the urban strapline.

Before the 1960s these slogans were a national text messaging service via post – “Buy War Bonds”, “Post Early for Christmas”. There is more than a whiff of Scarfolk, the fictional North West England town that didn’t progress beyond 1979. “Trade Follows the Phone”, “Help to Win on the Kitchen Front”, “Grow More Food, Dig for Victory”.

After the war, these local postmarks became a marketing tool for municipalities. “1207 – 1957 Liverpool’s 750 years of progress”, “Bangor Abbey 1400 years exhibition June 1958”, “Cardiff Shopping Festival Oct 31st – Nov 9th” in 1963.

Local and regional identity postmarks grew up with a period of urban regeneration, post-war town planning and civic zeal. Urban identity mattered to cities and towns attempting to regenerate and rebuild.

Culture and destination became intertwined. Cleethorpes “East Coast Jazz Festival”, Buxton sells it “Festival of Music”, Shrewsbury promotes its “Musical and Floral Fete”. This particular advert ran from June to August and over a million items were postmarked with it. That’s a bigger reach than most council Twitter feeds. During the Blackpool Illuminations in 1964, over seven million items were postmarked with the Blackpool illuminations slogan.

Like the best marketing slogans, the strapline is all about drafting a quick and easy narrative for people to understand, with an obvious thematic. Hastings, for example, is “ready for your invasion”. Newquay sells itself as having “Europe’s finest beaches”. Many of these were pioneered during the 60s, a period of new towns, industrial expansion and influxes of workers and investors. So it’s “Teeside for Industrial Expansion” (1964), “Hartlepool’s for Factory Sites” (1963) and “Scunthorpe for Steel” (1963/64).

There are also, of course, the places that sell themselves with a joyous simplicity. “Oh Look Cleethorpes”, or “Yes, Crawley New Town” were delightful discoveries on the horizon to families arriving by car. The finest of all of the urban straplines was perhaps “It’s Called Cumbernauld”. The name of the place is all what’s needed to sell it.

Self-determination is as important for places as it is for people. We may fret about whether Richard Florida still believes in gentrification, but how we talk about our places matters, both to the visitors we’d like to attract, and to those who have already set up home.
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