Calgary Herald

Blue Sky City slogan right on the mark

Ignore the haters, moniker fits us, Steve Williams says.

- Steve Williams is the former chief creative officer of an Alberta-based national ad agency and a former marketing columnist.

Like some Calgarians, I was amazed at the city's new slogan: Blue Sky City. Unlike some of those expressing their views, I was amazed at how good it was.

In 25 years as an advertisin­g copywriter and creative director, I had seen how creative thinking degrades as it goes through layers of approval. And one thing is certain when you do marketing for the public sector: there will be layers of approval.

Much of the outcry about the new line was from people who thought Calgary had cadged Montana's motto. It didn't. They have one word in common and Montana's “Big Sky Country” isn't nearly as good. Big sky doesn't have anywhere near the positive connotatio­ns of blue sky.

When coming up with slogans and tag lines, my benchmarks were always authentici­ty and positivity. Calgary's new line meets both requiremen­ts. I have taken photos of our city's azure sky and sent them to friends in Eastern Canada. At times it is so blue it looks fake. I've lived all across the country, coast to coast, and never seen a sky so often bereft of clouds. It is a true hallmark of this beautiful place.

Blue sky is relentless­ly optimistic, and a widely used metaphor for innovation and free thinking. “Let's blue-sky something” can be heard in all kinds of creative organizati­ons, from engineerin­g firms to interior design practices.

I laughed out loud at the person who commented, “We spent five million dollars on a sentence?” No, we didn't. A tag line is like the hood ornament on a vehicle.

It's an emblem, with a lot of research, insight-gathering and creativity behind it. You never know what you're going to uncover and how it will influence the brand-building process.

One broad misconcept­ion is that these three words `rebrand' Calgary.

During my career, I was fortunate enough to work on the Travel Alberta account at three different ad agencies. In my perspectiv­e, as a product, Alberta is almost perfect. But I can remember being astounded by a focus group in Toronto in the early 1990s, when a businessma­n saw a photo of Calgary and said, “I didn't realize you had tall buildings out there.”

Crafting a brand is difficult work. Not brain surgery difficult, but you will know it when you've struck a nerve.

The most famous slogan of the past half-century is Nike's “Just do it.” I met two of the original six employees of the agency that created the line. It was almost never presented to Nike. Years after it became part of popular culture, the writer revealed that he was inspired by the last words of a notorious murderer about to be executed by firing squad: “You know, let's do it.”

If you're a boomer, you probably remember “Got milk?” and “Where's the beef?” Both were almost killed before being seen by the public. (Got milk for bad grammar.) But they became embedded in pop culture. Those two lines illustrate an important aspect of brand themes: the words count, but how you bring them to life counts more.

Calgary's new tag line obviously appeals to larger segments of the population than the old one. And the greater appeal your brand has, the better. Hitching your wagon to one industry only works if you're Hershey, Penn.

One broad misconcept­ion is that these three words “rebrand” Calgary. A brand is a personalit­y, and a personalit­y has many facets. Saying that a new slogan or logo is “rebranding” is like saying you can change your personalit­y by changing shirts.

Need proof? Think of your favourite company. Now try to remember their slogan. Odds are you can't, but you still have an impression of the company.

And finally, if you just can't get over your dislike for the new line, take comfort that you don't live in Niagara Falls. They settled on “Be NF” as their tag line, a double meaning of “Be Niagara Falls” and “Be enough.”

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