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Not So Easy: City Seeks New Slogan

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Don't call it a slogan.

The people behind a new effort to brand Richmond as a creative capital say the city needs a “rallying cry,” not another marketing tag line.

Hence the launch of RVA Creates, a campaign led by Venture Richmond and a consortium of creative organizations that's intended to help shape the way Richmonders think about themselves. The idea: We're not a stuffy old city. We are hip, young, weird, fun.

Richmond, like many cities, has long had a hard time with branding itself. The governmental approach tends to be “let's find something that everybody in the community can get comfortable and agree on,” says Kelly O'Keefe, a guiding force of RVA Creates and former managing director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. That's how you get “One City, Our City,” the pre-2001 slogan that sounded like the title of a 1980s civics textbook.

The other big mistake governments and booster groups often make, O'Keefe says, is thinking that a slogan is going to change everything. One of Richmond's northern neighbors ended up with “Baltimore: the Greatest City in America,” a line that pole-vaults right over irony and lands in the sandbox of delusion. 

In 2001, Richmond launched “Easy to Love,” a creation of David Martin, the adman who coined home-run tag line “Virginia is for Lovers.” The “Easy” slogan provoked some head scratching, and was derided by Burford Co. Advertising President Doug Burford as “great if you're promoting syphilis.”

Richmond doesn't need another slogan, but does need a more cohesive identity as a creative capital, “an identity Richmond can rally around,” says Matt Williams, a partner at the Martin Agency who works with RVA Creates.

Richmond has long been known for innovation, they say. Religious freedom was invented here, and electric trolleys. Don't forget Gwar. And the sailor sandwich. We have the nation's best graduate school for advertising and one of the best advertising agencies, the Martin Agency. We've got neat architecture, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and lots of tattoos.

Venture Richmond challenged a group of Brandcenter students to come up with a concept that reflected the city's creative identity. The result was an invitation for city residents to take a template — “RVA [blank]” — and fill in their own images and words. Riffs on this logo are expected to appear on residents' Facebook pages, street banners, a traditional advertising campaign and city garbage trucks.

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