Our debatably “boring” city of Toronto is a hot topic of discussion lately. The focus is on “Toronto Unlimited” - a brand strategy to re-position Toronto as a premier global tourist and business destination. An article in The Toronto Star, “Toronto needs a vision, not a new ad campaign” by David Dunne, a marketing professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, articulates some important issues about brand communications. Dunne criticizes the “Toronto Unlimited” brand identity for being “too vague” and therefore ineffectual. He says, “Great brands must be clear, distinctive and stand for something,” not to mention, inspire great advertising to incite action. I would say the opposite in this case, that the branding is on the mark, but the communication, specifically the advertising, is struggling. While, Dunne sums it up to a lack of vision, I disagree. With “Toronto Unlimited” as the overall strategy, “Live With Culture” is an initiative of the City of Toronto’s Culture Division. The uncertainty and controversy surrounds these ads in particular, which suggestively state that Toronto is nothing like Paris, Italy, Hollywood or New York, except for the art, opera, film or theatre. But, what exactly are these ads suggesting in relation to Toronto’s competitive appeal as a destination?
This may be an issue of internal branding. If “Toronto Unlimited” is the brand, then all strategies should come back to that vision. Dunne writes about Australia’s tourism campaign and its success at reaching the two target markets of residents and potential visitors. I think this is the key; one brand identity that both residents and tourists buy into. In this way, the residents become ambassadors of the brand image, which will succinctly translate into the attraction of tourists. If each division of the City of Toronto is left to develop its own marketing communications, does that leave “Toronto Unlimited,” unlimited in images and thus, identities? Dunne suggests Toronto’s image is “…clean, safe, easy to live in ... and boring,” which isn’t tempting to tourists and not even representative to most residents. So, maybe the recent ads were on the right track, attempting to shake things up, but creating a debate about what the city has to offer does not get at the end goal of increased tourism. It only works against the branding strategy that has already been developed and, with greater alignment of the goals of each of the city’s divisions, from which creative and appealing communications ought to flow. As was noted in Australia, Toronto is experiencing a new energy, but how can “Toronto Unlimited” capture and cultivate it?