Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Strasbourg regional branding: the Europtimist

In the beginning of March 2011, the city of Strasbourg has proudly presented, in the frame of its strategy «Strasbourg-2020» (and without any doubt in the sake of some buzz at MIPIM-2011), a new brand.

Strasbourg is now The Europtimist. I don’t really know if it means that it was The Europessimist or The Eurorealist before, but according to the description available on the Strasbourg Urban Community website, this concept lets people (investors and visitors mostly) discover all the interesting aspects of this European capital.

With the price of its development estimated at around €25 000, the famous “Europtimism” is based on 5 values united by their first letter. As any such artificial valorisation, for me personally it seems very doubtful and not very consistent to try to invent values according to the logic of a certain “beauty of words and letters”. According to the values in question, Strasbourg is:

-       European. By its history, its institutions, its geography etc.
-       Entrepreneur. Place of creativity, of actions and risk-taking (sic) – which assures the conditions for the economic development
-       Experimenting. Research and development, innovation and valorization,
-       Ecologic. Taking in account the ecology with a rich pack of different measures, like climate plan, eco districts…
-       Ethical.  Free and open, solidary, symbol of the human rights with rich traditions of cooperation.

 It is very beautiful to observe, and easy to sell to a client. But for me, behind this exterior beauty there is a strange absence of any deeper link between the brand motto and the “Values”. For me, Optimism, as any emotion, is much stronger that the reason-based concept of “Europism”, and I believe that placing the key brand emotion into the core of any brand value would be a much more efficient solution. Instead of focusing on a – very – doubtful letter E, why not to promote “5 Optimisms”, like Optimist for Endeavors (in place of Strasbourg Entrepreneur) or Optimist in Ecology? Thus the vector of the urban community would be pointed in a more direct and evident manner, while the disappeared necessity to start all values with E would permit to cancel any limit in introducing new important non-E values (like Optimism in Trust, or whataver).

I could really start bringing it on with all the malicious joy of which I am capable, but I would not like to waste my – and your – time trying to destroy such a precious product as this europtimism. I will not say that the visual aspect of the new logo is horrible, the typographic aspect (like the all caps stuff of the EUROPTIMIST) would make professionals in font sciences cry. I won’t develop my theory that the so-called “5 values”, though nicely chosen and nicely explained, don’t have sufficient foundation to be communicated, neither. The absence of a universal sign in the logo (which only has horribly typed text with the worst kerning in the world), like the “trademark” sign in the Bretagne’s logo that you can find in James Berry’s last article in our blog, is also a big problem for the eventual flexibility of the visual aspect of the brand, but this particularity of the city’s new identity will also be left without our attention.

I will try to focus my attention on what is extremely good with this new brand that I personally like very much.

First of all, the very fact that the “europeanship” of Strasbourg is from now on clearly highlighted is good news. When ID-réel was participating, together with Brandflight, in a tender for creating a brand for the Strasbourg’s mother region Alsace, we were also proposing a Europe-focused marketing strategy. In the documentation that we’ve received from the Regional Council informing us that some other company won the tender, between the reasons for a negative answer was the most ridiculous one in the whole history of branding: “your team is too international”.

It is good that the city of Strasbourg seems to be much more open-minded on that issue. The fact that the European aspect of its existence was almost always forgotten or, at least, not brought to the front, was incredibly surprising. Strasbourg has, indeed, a large variety of EU institutions established in its urban area, starting with European Parliament and Human Rights Court and ending with universities and international research facilities. The historical fact – not presented in the brandcode for some obvious reasons – that the city belonged to different European nations and is today on the border between France and Germany is also of great importance. But in all external communication it was more or less ignored. In 2010, however, things began to change, when even the domain name for Strasbourg’s official resources has changed from “” to a much more comprehensible (and logical) “”, and this domain name became also a kind of city’s logo.

Then the branding was made, with the participation of more than 200 local actors and “city shareholders”, i.e. people who are really involved in what is happening in the place.

If you look at the video that the urban community has made to communicate the brand values, you’ll surely perceive a great message that is perfectly delivered – you will also see clearly that the logo was produced by an agency with a completely different level of execution than the video guys. 

The video for some incomprehensible reasons is not listed on YouTube (try searching there for “Strasbourg Europtimist”, you will find nothing but a suggestion to search for mysterious “Strasbourg Soroptimist”), but on French videohosting service Dalimotion, and fortunately exists in English – with the voices that differ from the French version which is quite funny, especially when the key idea to show different language accents persists.

The second great aspect of the new city brand – and here I would like to express my deepest respect to its creators – is the propulsion of the idea of a place full of Optimism. In the modern (or should I say post-modern?) world of uncertainty this Optimism is exactly what people are looking for. People want to believe that everything will be OK. With the Optimism, combined with a very important European uniting concept, Strasbourg automatically becomes a sort of a magnet for people from any industry: uniting, building hopes and establishing a new future. Viewed from the angle of all major problems that occupy the heads of European public, the new brand of Strasbourg – with its attention towards Ecology, Innovations etc., is a very good example of a successful concept.

Which is, unfortunately, executed in unforgivably low quality.

By Igor Lysenko 
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