Category Archives: branding

A sad day for branding, a sadder day for brandy – Osborne gets a makeover.

The Osborne group has announced that it will stop using the black bull as its corporate logo. The Sevilla-based group wants to signal its shift from being mostly a brandy and sherry producer to its current emphasis on products such as water, fruit juices and Iberico ham. It has commissioned a new corporate logo from a Madrid design studio, which is still under wraps and will be launched later this year.

While the fearsome 14-meter high bulls will remain dotted around the Spanish countryside, they will be even further divested from meaning. One more nail in the coffin for this iconic piece of Spanish advertising design, created in 1956 by Manuel Prieto of the Azor agency. The first bull, 7 meters high and made of wood, went up near Madrid in November of 1957. From the early 1960s the bulls were made of metal sheet and were 14 meters high. By the 1970s there were more than 500 bulls across Spanish territories, not just on the Iberian Peninsula but also in the Canary Islands, the Balearics and North Africa.

In 1988, new national transport legislation makes publicity billboards that are visible from the roads illegal, and the word Osborne that was written in red across the existing bulls is removed. By 1994 the Spanish government wants to bring them all down, but many autonomous communities, municipalities and pressure groups fight to save them. In 1998, the Supreme Court grants them mercy, stating that the Osborne bulls have moved beyond their original advertising meaning, having become part of the landscape and a Spanish cultural icon.

The Osborne bull has also left an interesting trail of political associations. As an icon of Spanishness it has been taken over by the conservative right, and prompted the design of  an alternative animal national icon by Catalan nationalists, in the shape of the Catalan donkey. No Heritage listing in sight for that one!

It was also used by Spanish soldiers posted in Irak, both on the national flag and to decorate the barracks.

There are currently 97 bulls left. And now that they are one of the great stories of Spanish graphic design, declared objects of National Heritage, film icons (in Bigas Luna’s 1992 Jamón, Jamón, the bull shares screen time with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz),  Osborne wants to give them up, because they link the group too closely to its past as a sherry wine producer. Would Nike give up the swoosh? Would Macintosh give up the Apple? And all for the sake of branding bottled water and fruit juice?

Batman joins The Wheelman in Barcelona

It can’t be the weather. I don’t think it’s the nightlife, either. The food? I doubt that Batman and The Wheelman will be able to spare any time for tapas while they chase the bad guys down the dark alleys of the Gothic Quarter. But come March, they’ll both be in Barcelona doing their stuff, joining Vicky and Cristina in the latest trend of celebrity tourism: that of film, comic book and video game characters.

This recent spate as a leading city of pop-cultural narrative imagination marks a turning point in Barcelona’s steady climb towards global recognition. In the case of Batman and The Wheelman, these latest representations of Barcelona will reach an audience that might not care much about architecture, design and molecular gastronomy. And as the image of the city slips away from the tight controlling grip of its institutional and high-cultural minders, we might all be able to reclaim a more open, more complex version of our city – or drown in the endless rehash of half-baked Barcelonese stereotypes.

Barcelona, fast and furious

I told you about the video game The Wheelman in an earlier post. It’s the one where Vin Diesel trashes everything and everyone in sight in “exotic” Barcelona. It’s due out anytime soon, we’re being told, and while we wait with bated breath we’re being teased with a new trailer. What I’m really liking about this game, is that for once a global product that commercialises the “Barcelona Brand” shows us something other than the usual suspects. There are plenty of those (Sagrada Familia, Plaza Real, waterfront and palm trees), but thanks to the exacting requirements of the script, bursting with car chases and criminal behaviour, we are paradoxically offered a more realistic version of the city, which includes nail-biting ring-road action, dreary mass-housing neighbourhoods, dusty parking lots and abandoned construction sites. Now there’s a Barcelona I can recognise!

Much more than a book for Christmas

To celebrate both its 25th anniversary and the festive season, 4th estate publishers (a division of HarperCollins) has commisioned a short stop-motion animation film produced by Apt, a London-based design and marketing consultancy.

This Is Where We Live, is the wonderful combination of a love for books, a love for urban life, and the work of  ‘an insane bunch of animators’ – their words, not mine. Created entirely with actual, physical books published by 4thEstate, the film projects a charming, somewhat romantic vision of the city, and a great sense of humour in its linking of the titles, and sometimes the narratives, to London. The Greenwich Observatory, for instance, is made out of Dava Sobel’s Longitude, while the West End Cinema is made of books that have been turned into films.

This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

The subtle politics of internet domains – .cat or .bcn?

The Barcelona City Council has recently announced that it will request the establishment of the .bcn domain for the city. Earlier this year,  the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)  voted to approve lifting restrictions on the classification of domain names, allowing for new customized Web addresses.

In 2006, ICANN approved the .cat domain, which was subsequently launched by the Catalan Regional Government (Generalitat de Catalunya) as a new domain for websites in the Catalan language. This domain therefore was not intended to represent a specific politically defined region or nation, but a cultural and linguistic group, and had therefore from the outset a strong ideological and national-linguistic component. As explained in the .cat domain charter:

The .cat TLD is intended to serve the needs of the Catalan Linguistic and Cultural Community on the Internet (the “Community”).

The Community consists of those who use the Catalan language for their online communications, and/or promote the different aspects of Catalan culture online, and/or want to specifically address their online communications to that Community.

The success of the .cat domain has encouraged numerous applications for other top level domains centered on creating an independent internet identity for linguistic and cultural communities.

Given the weight of local identity politics contained in the .cat domain, it is no surprise that the Generalitat has reacted angrily and is firmly opposed to Barcelona’s application to have its own domain. The Regional Government’s position is that .bcn will weaken the .cat domain, and will strengthen Barcelona’s approach to presenting itself as a ‘city-state’ with the rest of Catalunya as ‘part of the Barcelona metropolitan area’, rather than as being the capital of the Catalan nation.

In the words of Jordi Bosch, the Generalitat’s Secretary of Telecommunications and Information Society:

Barcelona perdrà l’oportunitat d’exercir com a capital del país i optarà de nou pel paper de ciutat estat que no beneficia el conjunt de Catalunya […] i es donarà un concepte erroni de la resta de Catalunya com a àrea metropolitana de Barcelona.

The Generalitat has further accused the City Council of trying to carry out a branding and marketing operation at the expense of Catalan national identity.

And so it goes.

Barcelona, third most attractive European city

Only London and Paris beat Barcelona in the tourist seduction game, according to a recent report by Saffron, branding guru Wally Olin’s and Jacon Benbunan’s consultancy. The three cities are also ahead of the pack in constructing and maintaining a strong and attractive ‘brand’ in the minds of tourists, visitors and investors.

Paris emerges as Europe’s number one city brand, followed by London, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam. The study, entitled ‘The City Brand Barometer’ and created by London-based Saffron Consultants, ranks 72 of Europe’s largest cities based on a comparison of their assets and attractions against the strength of their brands.

The study highlights

the contrasting fortunes of Barcelona and Naples – two potentially comparable cities in terms of regional significance, yet the Catalan capital has trounced its Italian rival in projecting a distinctive idea of what it stands for and who it’s appealing to. The southern Italian city is rich in good climate, history, culture and gastronomy but it has devoted little time to creating a reputation among Europe’s cities.

To rate the cities, Saffron established a series of pointers that measure what they call ‘City Assets strength’, based on the most desirable attributes. These are:

● Pride and personality
● Distinctive environment – landmark buildings, facilities, public transport
● Ambitious vision, with good leadership and buoyant economy
● Worth going out of the way to see
● Easy access and good public transport
● Conversational value – it is fun to talk about Paris but not Bradford
● Location – it is somewhere special or a centre for an interesting area

One of the most interesting aspects of the study, however, is the distinction between ‘real’ assets and brand strength. Some cities have a brand visibility that is greater than their real assets would suggest. Berlin comes out as a strong example of that, but it is also the case with Barcelona:

Berlin has a 137% Brand Utilisation rate; Stockholm 118%; Prague, Liverpool and Amsterdam 115%; Barcelona 112%; andParis 111%. For all of these cities, their brand is better than their assets would predict (even if the Assets are strong), meaning they are selling a story above and beyond an urban experience.  What does this mean? If you are a city with an over 100% Utilisation rate, it means you are successfully selling your image as well as a reality. It means that through your history and culture you have fostered an aura about you.

Fear and Loathing in Barcelona

…or, after watching the video above, one might be tempted to swap famous titles and go for ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Barcelona’.

The video is part of an online campaign for the promotion of the book Odio Barcelona (‘I Hate Barcelona’), published by Editorial Melusina. It’s a compilation of pieces by twelve Barcelona-based authors, whose essays address aspects of the city that they dislike, in most cases related to the housing boom speculation and the negative effect of commercial interests on the fabric and spirit of the city, as well as to the growing pressure of Catalan nationalism on everyday life and urban politics.

Authors include Javier Calvo, Agustín Fernández Mallo, Philipp Engel, Robert-Juan Cantavella, Hernán Migoya, Llúcia Ramis, Matías Néspolo, Carol Paris, Oscar Gual, Lucía Lijtmaer, Javier Blánquez and Efrén Álvarez.

There can be no doubt that the extended honeymoon of the Barcelonese with their city is long over, a disenchantment that was probably sealed in the collective urban mind by José Luis Guerín’s 2001 film En Construcción, the understated but moving documentary of the construction of a new building in the inner-city neighbourhood of El Raval.

Another recent addition to the chorus of critical voices is Manuel Delgado’s book La ciudad mentirosa. Fraude y miseria del modelo Barcelona (‘The Liar City. Fraud and Misery of the Barcelona Model’), published by Catarata in 2007. This is an impassioned rant, described by the author as the cry from the heart of a disabused lover. Although the author is an academic at Barcelona University, the work is journalistic in tone (but with useful bibliography in the footnotes). It offers a fairly generic serving of urban studies and public space theories as background to a virulent critique of the evolution and implementation of the Barcelona model of urban regeneration, particularly the wholesale commercialisation of the city both as a ‘brand’ and as a building site.