Friday, August 19, 2011

When Your City Rebrands (like Ames, IA), Don't Take Umbrage. Take Advantage.

I wouldn't have paid attention to the Ames Patch post by Jessica Miller if I hadn't stopped in this Iowa college city on Monday for supper . (Sure enough, we pulled into a parking spot opposite Olde Main Brewing Company to see Michelle Bachmann for President 2012 campaign posters in the storefront windows.)

It turns out that the City of Ames hired Des Moines's PUSH Branding & Design to revamp the existing multi-green-colored logo. The experienced agency appears to have executed its usual job of creating a completely new look and approach for the city of 60,000....that's the red version on the left.

The City Council has asked the citizens for their opinions in a posting to the Ames municipal website, where you can see other versions of the new brand, as well as a proposed theme line: Heartland's Leading Edge.

These variations present Ames's biggest challenge – change. Asking citizens to comment, well, I realize it's right out of the “Big Book of City Council Things To Do.” But perhaps they shouldn't have.

Example: one commenter to Miller's blog post notes:

It's the old “If it ain't broke don't fix it!” The current logo has more impact, straight forward, bold, and fully understandable. Why spend thousands of whose money?? [sic] on something abstract that only a few understand. I used to design logos for local small businesses and never charged a dime. The same designers may be found here in Ames that would just take pride and not laugh all the way to the bank. Also, not appreciative of the costs involved in changing letter heads and other signage. What a waste for Ames.

I do not quote “Jo” in full to be patronizing. Having reviewed a couple of dozen city-rebrand stories over the past several years, though, I suggest that these posted comments encompass most of the complaints I've seen in other civic branding challenges – nothing wrong with the existing logo; new logo costs “thousands” of taxpayers' money; design too abstract/obscure/doesn't fit the civic persona; why go out of town for a design firm...and so on.

Yet whether the new brand proposed by PUSH is awful or awesome, look back a couple of paragraphs for that magic word, “change.” Properly, the City Council of Ames has decided that the 15-year-old green logo (on the right) is...dated. It is broken. It's the Council's job to fix that problem – without even reading the city charter, I am as certain as the Straw Poll it's charged with promoting economic and cultural growth. A new brand of any flavor ought to push in that direction.

It's also the City Council's job to spend money. Not foolishly, not wastefully...but productively. Generally, we pay taxes so that our governments can get on with the job of providing for life, liberty and the pursuit of spending that tax revenue on a wide variety of projects and services.

It's a recurring fallacy that governments should not spend our money...or refuse to make decisions that cause change. Transforming the Ames logo mark to RED from GREEN is, I suspect, a really big one.

I leave aside the observation that someone might design logos for businesses and never charge a dime. Any good worker is worthy of his hire. Without knowing the parameters of the RFP, maybe PUSH Design could fulfill the terms and Ames agencies could not. Or PUSH brought a level of branding experience to this project that local outfits couldn't match.

So take another look at the Des Moines design firm and decide for yourself if it has the chops for the Ames rebrand project.

Feel free to weigh in on the Ames City Council request for feedback by emailing – today's the last day the Council will accept your thoughts; or comment at the bottom of the Miller blog post.

I'll say this: the proposed Heartland's Leading Edge line (leave out the article, please) makes good sense when I read how much research and development, agricultural and otherwise, goes on around this 60,000-people city. And as with every brand change, the more you promote it, advertise it and take advantage of it, the better off you'll be.

First, though – go with it!


Jessica Miller said...

Actually it's the chamber and cvb who hired the designer the city hasn't paid for anything yet.

Richard Laurence Baron said...

Indeed, Jessica. I also noted, "The city joined in a logo design process that the Ames Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Ames Chamber of Commerce already had under way with PUSH Branding and Design of Des Moines." -Laura Millsaps, Ames Tribune.

S Reeves said...

Dear City of Ames,

Congratulations on your new brand. The old one would not inspire me to look further, explore the city, or consider Ames a place of contemporary work or living. The new one - does just that.

Regards from Houston,
Susan Reeves

Joe Waltson said...

Regardless of the reason for rebranding, there are right and wrong ways to go about it. The first step is determining the extent of the rebrand, which will typically be determined by the reason for wanting to change market perception.