Many of metro Atlanta’s corporate giants, from Coca-Cola to UPS, attract customers with instantly recognizable brand logos. In turn, cities marketing themselves as hometowns for such businesses are trying to stand out with their own brands, with new city logos popping up everywhere from Perimeter Center to Peachtree City.
Dunwoody and Sandy Springs are among the local cities that have recently created new city logos at considerable cost in time and money that they figure will pay off with economic development.
“A city is a business,” said Sharon Kraun, communications director at the city of Sandy Springs, which recently spent more than $175,000 on a package of six logos and related illustrations for its government and its City Springs downtown redevelopment. “We are a business. We are attracting other businesses to come.”
The city of Atlanta is the old-school holdout, its post-Civil War emblem of a phoenix reborn from ashes remaining essentially unchanged from its adoption in 1887. That logo appears everywhere, including on the city’s economic development handbook that tries to sweet-talk businesses into moving to Atlanta and staying. But the city also built a distinct economic development authority, Invest Atlanta, that has a modern logo of a stylized “A” in the blue-and-green color scheme that is popular in recent city logos.
Atlanta also had a “New Coke” moment of a branding change gone wrong, according to former Mayor Sam Massell, who now heads the Buckhead Coalition. During his administration in the early 1970s, he said, the city introduced a redesigned phoenix intended to look modern and cosmopolitan, as Hartsfield-Jackson airport began running its first non-stop international flights.
The logo didn’t fly, he said.
“We weren’t really international,” Massell said. “We were talking bigger than we deserved.”
Getting a city’s brand spot-on is “just a hard, hard job,” Kraun said. Indeed, the new Dunwoody and Sandy Springs brands are in part replacements for previous logos that didn’t work so well.
In Dunwoody in 2010, the city and the Convention and Visitors Bureau paid a branding company $105,000 for a logo that was immediately derided as a confusing copycat. It featured a star that looked like an asterisk and became known as the “Walmart logo” for its similarity to the discount retailer’s symbol.
As much as the City Council wanted to change the logo, it was even more eager to avoid spending more money on another one.
This year, three Dunwoody residents who head marketing and branding firms — Jay Kapp of Kapp Koncepts, Mike Martin of Jackson Spalding, and Heyward Wescott of Custom Signs Today — did pro bono work to produce a new logo.
Their final design is the city’s name in blue with a curving green brushstroke beneath it.
“We went with a very safe design,” Wescott said, while Kapp added, “We didn’t want to see the city go through another round of a logo that people didn’t like.”
A big difference city logos have from corporate counterparts is that they must try to represent an entire diverse community and their costs must be justified politically to city residents. Dunwoody was able to say its new logo was free, but the design team said their volunteer effort had a market value of around $30,000.
Sandy Springs took some heat for spending nearly $100,000 on its new city logo, the primary version of which is three blue-and-green brushstrokes. That was on top of $77,000 spent on branding its new “City Springs” downtown area anchored by a $220-million public-private development — a name that private developers are already imitating.
Kraun said it’s true that various websites will design a custom logo for $500. But, she said, cities get what they pay for, including market research, vetting of designs and creation of alternatives and spin-off logos to use in other formats. Sandy Springs got six separate designs and a branding guide to using them.
“If it was just to draw that one icon, yes, a hundred thousand dollars would be a lot,” Kraun said. “The cost for us was not just that icon. … It’s not just something you put on a T-shirt.”
Sandy Springs presented its branding companies with complex challenges. Its previous city logo, depicting a river and trees in shaded colors, was popular, but it was a nightmare to use in different sizes, colors and applications. The replacement had to be not only more flexible, but also had to match well with the new City Springs brand — an abstract, fountain-like image — that, in turn, has a more specialized goal of drawing residents and customers to downtown.
The $100,000 included several designs integrating the new city logo with other images for such special uses as the parks department and the city’s new performing arts center, which is set to open next year. One of the new illustrations is specifically for economic development marketing materials. It shows the city logo wrapped around the Concourse Center’s King and Queen skyscrapers, the icons of the city’s Perimeter Center big-business hub. That is not an official logo, but an image that may be used in marketing materials as well as serving as an inspiration for other versions later.
The cost included “how we were able to take something so iconic and wrap it with the brand,” Kraun said. “From an economic development perspective, we’re tying all the pieces together.”
Businesses ultimately base their location decisions on measurable factors such as demographics, community amenities and tax incentives. Does a city logo really matter? Are cities creating them mostly because everyone else is?
Kraun likened the value of a city brand to a basic rule in the public relations business: “‘No comment’ is a comment. No logo is also a logo. … It’s a calling card.”
Kapp said the logo serves as a foundation for a city to build its brand value upon.
“A logo is what you make of it, how you use it,” he said. “Of course you don’t want a logo with [the cartoon typeface] Comic Sans. But what’s in a brand? The reason Coca-Cola is as well-known as it is, is not because of a logo.”
–John Ruch, Dyana Babgy and Evelyn Andrews