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Snappy slogan not enough to put a city on the map

23 October 2008

Rotterdam is a fast-paced, international city and Amsterdam is mainly known for its creativity. At least, that’s the image they want to portray. And they spend a lot of time and money on it. More and more cities worldwide are seeing themselves as a brand, and one that needs to be positioned on the international market. But what’s the best way to do this? In the opinion of Mihalis Kavaratzis, by taking many more aspects into consideration than is currently the case. Kavaratzis will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 23 October.

Regarding a city as a brand is nothing new. Kavaratzis: ‘In the 1970s, badges appeared reading “I love New York”. In that sense there’s nothing new about promoting a city.’ Nevertheless, it’s only been a few years since ‘city branding’ has been defined properly, and even more importantly, what exactly it can mean for a city. ‘But there’s more to creating a strong city brand than designing a logo and thinking up a slogan’, according to Kavaratzis. ‘That’s only a very small part of it.’

Several dimensions

Creating a good image for a city tends to be underestimated, Kavaratzis discovered. In practice branding is often confused with marketing. A brand is a construct with several dimensions and mental, emotional and psychological aspects. City branding is rooted in the general, physical and social environment of the city, and reflects that. In order to create such a brand, it needs both to offer support to and receive support from a wide range of measures.

Inhabitants are an important target group

‘It’s important to first think about exactly what the city wants to achieve’, says Kavaratzis. ‘What do we want to portray, what do we want to work towards? Only once that is clear can you continue with the actual development of that brand. One important target group for such a marketing campaign is the inhabitants of the city itself. According to Kavaratzis, this is often a missed chance: ‘Of course the aim is to attract tourists and investors, but the inhabitants can best express a city’s image. One example is the ‘I Amsterdam’ campaign. The message was designed to appeal directly to the inhabitants, but by choosing a slogan in English they may have achieved the exact opposite.’

Resolving problems

The marketing of a city can play a vital role in attempts to tackle problems confronting the city council. In the case of Amsterdam, for example, there’s the competition from other cities for the position of international centre for business, culture and tourism. In order to succeed, marketeers, according to Kavaratzis, should bear seven themes in mind, ranging from broad cooperation and clear role divisions for all involved parties to the necessity of viewing marketing as a total process instead of random, incidental activities.  

Curriculum vitae

Mihalis Kavaratzis (Athens, 1973) studied Business Administration in Greece and Marketing in Scotland. Kavaratzis will be awarded his PhD by the Faculty of Spatial Sciences. His thesis is entitled ‘From city marketing to city branding: an interdisciplinary analysis with reference to Amsterdam, Budapest and Athens.’ Kavaratzis is currently working as a lecturer in Marketing and Tourism in Budapest and gives talks and lectures in the field of marketing and place branding. 

More information

M. Kavaratzis, tel. 0036 2024 97432, e-mail:

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.27 p.m.

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