Thursday, March 17, 2011

How (not) to be a creative city

I was recently walking down the sidewalk beside the Lynx light rail, and I spotted some colorful banners alongside the tracks. They added a festive touch, I thought. Then I read them.

They said: "Create" and "Splurge" and "Thrive" and my favorite, "Groove." I found this interesting. It had the flowery fragrance of promotional marketing. I checked. Yep, the banners are part of a rebranding effort for South End.

Now I am not against promotional marketing. In an advertising-based industry, how could I be?

But somehow, being ordered to "Thrive" reminded me of a time, years ago, when the walls of the Observer building sprouted posters ordering us all to "Work Smarter." As if we would all slap our heads in recognition of our heretofore obvious stupidity and decide to mend our ways.

The promotional effort, courtesy of Charlotte Center City Partners, the nonprofit uptown advocacy group that also serves South End, partnered with a South End design/branding firm. They want to highlight "the brand attributes of the district" which they believe to be shopping (hence, "splurge"), residential ("thrive"), art galleries and creative businesses ("create"), and hospitality and nightlife ("groove").

I called three creative types from around town, plus my college-aged daughter and asked if anyone ever says "groove" any more. "I don't think so," said commercial film producer Peggie Porter. "I hear people say 'groovy' in a sort of ironic way."

"No one I know says groove," said the text my daughter sent from Chapel Hill.

Filmmaker Dorne Pentes, though, said he still sometimes hears people say "groove."

What about the rest of the banners and being ordered to "create"?

"I think that would be the least likely thing to make me feel creative," Porter said. "It sounds like Chamber of Commerce stuff to me," Pentes said.

As one branding/marketing expert told me (no name because this person needs business and can't afford to tick people off), "In the brand world, what things ARE is most important, not what you say they are. That's what we focus on with clients. Get them away from slogans."

Colorful banners? Nice touch. Sloganeering in a supposedly "artsy" part of the city? Not so creative.

A note about spacing: For some reason today refuses to put spaces between the paragraphs. I tried deleting the old spaces, putting in new "enter" lines, the works. No luck. Does anyone have any solutions for this?


John said...

Makes sense to me. If you want to attract "creative" people, you must fit in, use their current commonly accepted language, conform.

Jack Dillard said...

The banners lack subtlety. I would almost prefer them to be cryptic in some way to engage those passing by.

Anonymous said...

Too bad that a city that wants to spur creativity also wants to ban live music. Stupid.

Jack Dillard said...

As I said before, I would prefer something subtle and cryptic. For example, a gold banner might read: Standard; a silver banner might read: Lining; a blue banner might read: Moon; a red banner might read: Carpet.

Anonymous said...


And the word "dream" placed on every single water line, gas line, sewer, and storm drain?

Anonymous said...

I hate being marketed to. But I also hate the mall. And this makes South End seem like South Park. I'll stick to neighborhoods that aren't run like Urban Outfitters, thank you.

Oh, another one is "funky". They use that word to talk about Noda. It's a horrible word that describes the way white people dance at weddings, or Marky Mark's friends.

Anonymous said...

How about "cutting down 100 year old trees down" on the groovy banners?

Anonymous said...

The real question is: Who piad fpr them, taxpayers?

Anonymous said...

Come on, groove/groovy is so out of date that it's come round the other side. Kind of like avocado colored appliances.