Branding Salinas. Cover the graffiti.
December, 2010

At this festive, beautifully branded time of year, my thoughts turn to Mr. E. Scrooge. I always thought old Eb got a bad rap. Just a guy trying to make a buck until all those creeps showed up one night and leaned on him to be more liberal. But the Scrooge brand stuck and nobody remembers the goose re-distributing humanitarian, only the evil capitalist.

That’s how branding works.

Now, I see Salinas is going all out with a new branding campaign of its own. The brilliance is blinding. Branding is what companies do when they’re either new, or when they want people to think they aren’t what they are – that Scrooge isn’t Scrooge. Usually it’s because some confused CEO wants to confuse his customers as much as he is.

Remember when Las Vegas tried to rebrand itself from “Sin City” to “family friendly?” What happened in Vegas was a joke. Bah!
Here’s why a new brand for our little borough by the bay won’t make a bit of difference, either. It’s a basic marketing idea called “Positioning.” How do you feel about shopping at Star Market, say, vs. Safeway or Walmart? Each one occupies a little position in your brain. It’s what you think about when you think about them.

What do you think about BP when you see their pretty, green logo after what happened in the Gulf? See, even great branding becomes an outrage in the face of harsh, oily reality.

Mac users are cool and PC users are square because Apple positions them that way and we believe it.

Ask any politician to describe his opponent and you’ll see how viciously positioning can be wielded.

What do outsiders think when they think about Salinas? You got it.

We have impressions about everything, every place and every one. They’ve all carved out little positions in our minds that make us associate their names with oil spills, cool computers, friendly stores or dangerous, crime-ridden cities.

These things take years to develop and are always based on fact, or at least a perception of fact. They take even longer to undo, pretty logos or not.
So why bother?

Indeed. This sort of thing makes politicians, and a few awe-struck reporters, feel really good about themselves and how our money is being spent.

The problem is, of course, that the people we hope will quit creating such a bad image for us don’t notice and don’t care. The reality is the always the same. Bang. Nevertheless, in the interest of fostering community self-delusion, I’ve wrapped a few branding ideas of my own to place under the City tree, at absolutely no charge.

To wit:
“Salinas, The City That Crime Forgot.” We promise you won’t get hurt. Bah!
“Salinas, where Monterey goes to dinner.” Bring Carmel with you. Bah!
“Salinas, Where the Sun Don’t Shine.” Santa Cruz will wrinkle your skin. We’ll restore your natural pallor. Bah!
“Salinas, Steinbeck slept here.” But you’ll have to visit a book store in another city to find out what a Steinbeck is. Bah!

Hey, Salinas, tell you what. I’ll do you up a new logo, and a bunch of slogans and posters, for half of what any big, smooth-talking agency will charge. I’m pretty good at it, I’ll save you a ton of money, and I’ll guarantee exactly the same results.

There you go, a little half-price gift to the City at this charitable time of year.

Now, everybody have a nice, undeserved Christmas, if you must,

Just be at work all the earlier the next morning.