Within the past year or so, the city of Merriam, Kansas, unveiled a new “brand identity” for the small southwestern suburb of Kansas City. Branding a municipality is not necessarily a new idea or trend; everyone and everything, it seems, has a brand image, from a company’s products or services to athletes and celebrities (think Michael Jordan or Paris Hilton). A brand should be unique, memorable, and immediately convey the core attributes of a product, service, organization or individual. In this manner a brand is much like a calling card, and giving an appropriate first impression is paramount.
The first impression that this critic gets from the Merriam identity is not a good one. While brands should be simply executed for maximum effectiveness, this mark is very childish looking, as if a high school student with a computer and Microsoft® Paint® put it together: a sun (that resembles more of a paint splat) rises above a blocky sans serif typeface. Further reinforcing the juvenile qualities of the brand is a squiggle mark used for rollover links on the city web site, as well as the overly bright colors of each different section.
If a municipality is to undertake so bold a design challenge as develop a new brand, then something more unique than a rising sun and the tagline “just right” is necessary. The Merriam mark falls far short of communicating the uniqueness of the city—is it sunnier there than anywhere else in the greater Kansas City area? And how, exactly, is Merriam “just right?” Even the logo for Overland Park (another suburb of the KC metro area), although slightly dated, communicates one of the core qualities of the city—that of shady treed neighborhoods.For truly inspirational city brands, one need only look to the work of Milton Glaser, and his identity for the city of New York. His “I Love New York” mark has achieved iconic status—adorning everything from apparel to posters to souvenirs. Berlin, Germany, has a mark that is clearly distinguished by its use of a highly stylized Altes Museum building, a monumental landmark within the city.
Merriam doesn’t have any highly recognizable landmarks to use as part of its identity, but even having one wouldn’t necessarily make it more successful. A case in point is the new Kansas City logo in use by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (see Re:marks Critique, August 2005 issue).
Creating a brand for a city is a very difficult challenge. Granted, there were probably many people involved in the decision making process during the Merriam branding campaign. Chances are that the mark was the result of design by committee. One thing for certain is that if a city is going to undertake such an initiative, it should really try to get more for its money.
By: Ryan Hembree