Heck no, I’m not from New Jersey: Locations and brands

June 10, 2014

I’ve been a New Yorker for 21 years. I think I was a New Yorker before I ever technically lived on the island. I live and breathe the energy, the convenience, the culture, the opportunity, the pace, the everything–even the occasional rat.

And yet, my family is now contemplating moving to Jersey City. In New Jersey. While I’m excited about the up-and-coming nature of the city, the continued urban environment and the comparatively huge amount of space we’ll have, I’m still left with one unanswerable question:

What do I tell people when they ask where I’m from? I can’t possibly say New Jersey.

Mind you, I grew up in New Jersey. There is a lot to like about New Jersey. There are beautiful beaches. And some really nice rural farm areas. And even a few growing urban pockets that rival the progressiveness of Brooklyn (namely Jersey City)

But that’s not what anyone thinks of when they think New Jersey. That is not the Jersey “brand,” which has unfortunately become inextricably linked to the Jersey Shore TV series, the Sopranos, the Housewives, the pollution, the distinctive accent, the big hair, the corrupt government, the “What exit?” comments and the provincialism. With a brand like that, who would want to tell people they are moving to New Jersey?

This leads me to another question, “What is the relationship between locations and brands?” Many places, namely big cities, have inherent brands.

New York: Take a bite out of the big apple, any time of the day or night. It’s the center of the world. (Yes, I’m biased, but not nearly the first to make the claim).

Paris: The city of lights filled with romance, culture, fashion and emblematic architecture. For many, Paris is the epitome of love.

Las Vegas: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is a nod to the debauchery of Sin City. Is there anything more to say about the city’s brand? It’s focused, it’s descriptive and it’s accurate.

London: See the world. Visit London. It’s the city’s tagline and successfully expresses its rich cultural diversity. But does the tagline represent the true London brand of storied history, polished modernity, royalty, ceremony and formality?

Let’s go back to Jersey City, which is simultaneously undergoing an urban renaissance and a multi-million dollar new branding effort. I wonder to what end. To date, the city has commissioned crowd-sourced logo and tagline options (viewable here). Residents were encouraged to vote for their preferences and are awaiting the final selection, behind which an expansive marketing campaign will be built.

The presented options are as varied as the city. I would hope more methodical analysis would be given to the city’s unique character, inimitable benefits, growth strategy and ultimately, how it wants to be perceived. Is it New York City’s less expensive neighbor? A hub of economic growth? A cultural stronghold? Given the competitive logos, any and all of these positions are possible.

Before moving forward with expensive outreach, Jersey City – and cities in general – need to evaluate whether a city’s brand merely a reflection of its heritage and the people that live there – or if it presents a proactive way to take the reigns and create or change perceptions?

I’m not certain. I’ll let you know as soon as I decided where I’m from.

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