Two instructors and an alum weigh in on the city's branding efforts
If you’re not a champion anymore, what are you?
That’s an issue Edmonton has wrestled with since abandoning its “City of Champions” slogan in 2015 and, more recently, after voting down a motion (by a 7-5 margin) to remobilize it.
It’s unclear what success will look like in the current struggle to define ourselves. Will it lie in a slogan that – even if the former was a well-meaning response to the city’s devastating 1987 tornado – will seem less boastful? Or could it involve being cooler about how we’re perceived, and leaving the welcome signs at city limits uncluttered?
We explored the alternatives with 2 NAIT Marketing instructors and an alum currently in the industry. The result: consensus on leaving the past behind, disagreement on what to do next, and 7 ideas for new slogans to argue about.
Alternative 1: Adopt a new slogan
Proponent: Ray Bilodeau, Marketing instructor
Coining a new slogan is a marketing and branding exercise that could influence Edmonton’s economic well-being, says Ray Bilodeau.
“If you've never heard of Edmonton, you have nothing to associate with that,” says the Marketing instructor.
“We should strategize. We should have some kind of message that we want the greater international community to associate with the name Edmonton.”
City of Champions isn’t it, says Bilodeau – especially in light of disasters endured by communities including Slave Lake, High River, Calgary and Fort McMurray. Instead, he borrows JR Shaw School of Business applied research chair Geoff Gregson’s suggestion of “Inspiring Capital.”
Bilodeau sees the city’s mandate reflected in that statement.
“We're the capital of Alberta. That in and of itself suggests that we should probably be a leader.” That leadership involves supporting traditional industries but also encompasses investment in diversification.
“Let’s embrace that brand and demonstrate diversity,” says Bilodeau. “Why not let that enterprising spirit guide us forward – and let’s be accountable to that.”
Responding with nothing isn’t an option, he adds. "A generic brand leaves its relevancy and competitive distinctiveness up to chance."
Alternative 2: Live the brand
Proponent: Jordan Mair (Marketing ’06), ZGM, account director
“You don’t really own your brand,” says Jordan Mair. It’s owned by those who interact with it, whether through advertising, customer service, or experience with a product – or with a place.
“You can put out a slogan all you want but if the interaction at the store, or when you come to a city, isn’t [aligned with] that, then it was all for nought.”
In fact, some of the biggest brands – Apple comes to mind for Mair – don’t have slogans, enjoying close connections with customers that make slogans superfluous.
He believes that’s the direction of modern marketing: for companies to ignore their anxieties over perception and instead invest in actions that build a positive public image.
“It’s all about the emotion and the feeling that the brand gives you as opposed to one line that is supposed to answer all of your questions.”
Edmonton, Mair knows, lacks Apple’s brand recognition – which, at the beginning of our conversation, made him suggest a slogan may be in order. He sees some need to contribute to crafting a reputation, even if only to make a hard break with City of Champions, a tagline for which Mair, now 30, has more nostalgia than patience.
In the end, however, he backs off from a slogan refresh, and focuses on what he sees as Edmonton’s strengths: a humble authenticity, fondness for grassroots organizing and hard work, and an entrepreneurial spirit. “Just live that message,” Mair recommends. Let others draw conclusions.
Drawing our own would be too “insular,” he fears. “I feel like that exercise would be more for the people who live in Edmonton than for anyone else.” City of Champions may be a case in point. While it meant much to residents, what did it say to the world?
Alternative 3: Just don’t do it
Proponent: Teresa Sturgess (Marketing ’83), Marketing instructor
There’s no denying that City of Champions had its day as a slogan, says Marketing instructor Teresa Sturgess.
In addition to the tornado response in 1987, both the Oilers and the Eskimos were at the top of their games, winning the Stanley and Grey cups.
“We had all this evidence to support it. You need to be able to do that with brands and their slogans. You need to be able to prove that you are what you say you are.”
Once that day passed, however, she feels the irrelevance of the slogan became embarrassing. It was the city backing itself into a corner, demanding that it deliver on a promise almost impossible to keep.
“City of champions? Have we kept that promise? I don’t know,” says Sturgess.
She doesn’t take that lightly, using United Airlines as an illustration. After recent serious lapses in customer service, including dragging a passenger from a flight, the U.S.-based carrier gave critics and social media near-limitless fodder thanks to its slogan, “Fly the friendly skies.”
“It's an awesome tagline – if you're delivering on that,” says Sturgess. “So be careful what you choose.”
So, why make a promise – and commit to its marketing costs – at all? she asks. “I think there are much better uses of our tax-payer dollars, to be honest. Just don’t do it,” Sturgess concludes.
“It’s certainly something we could try life without and see what happens.”
In her Marketing courses, instructor Teresa Sturgess takes students through the development of brand slogans. It’s multi-stepped and consultative, mirroring industry processes. For fun, she plugged variables into a simpler program online to generate slogan possibilities for Edmonton. Problem solved? Here’s a sample of the more than 1,000 it created. “These are all free,” says Sturgess, as if in warning.
- Edmonton for everybody
- Edmonton, the original
- Edmonton – fun for the whole family
- Edmonton has what it takes
- Edmonton – when there’s nothing else
- Edmonton gets the job done