From Amsterdam to Agra…

25 Mar,2015


By Jeroen van Erp


Do you remember that scene from the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding where Julia Roberts is running across the garden, chasing after Dermot Mulroney and a group of women at the wedding turn to look at them wondering what’s wrong? Just then one of the women says, “Oh! She is from New York” and the other women respond with a collecting “Oh…” of understanding and go right back to their previous conversation.


This is an excellent example of how city branding works. New York City is known for its seemingly neurotic, hyperactive people who are always in a hurry. It is a city that is always on the move and everyone always appears impatient. But we love it! This characteristic of its people has become a part of the city’s identity and is therefore an inalienable part of its brand. This is true of other cities and places as well.


Paris has been imprinted in our minds as the city of love. As a brand, Goa is all about the easy charm of a destination ideal for a lazy vacation. Similarly, Mumbai is a thriving metropolis where dreams of hardworking people come true. These characteristics are strong and they are a part of the brand. We tend to associate the city with these assets.


This is why the niche field of location branding is becoming increasingly relevant, especially for places that would like to change or influence the perception or are reaching out for new ambitions. For instance, cities that want to attract more and new travelers or states and provinces that want to attract business or investments.


Some of the members of our group were fortunate to be a part of the renowned city branding of Amsterdam. In the ‘I Amsterdam’ campaign, our objective was to leverage the image of Amsterdam as a commercial center and an oasis for creative talent. It united citizens with the idea that the city embodies and reflected their pride in being residents of Amsterdam.


When we started work on branding for the City of Agra, we did extensive research. The goal of the city was to put it on the world map as more than just the home of the Taj Mahal. We came to the conclusion that there was a lot more to explore in Agra but we couldn’t do away with the Taj because it is the beating heart of Agra. We wanted to showcase everything else that makes Agra special. The new branding strategy would involve everything that supports the rich story of the city, from both, a cultural as well as an economic perspective. We needed a more holistic approach to branding than just a peppy tagline, a cool song, an emotional ad or a bright logo. A brand is an experience, more so, in case of location.


We came to the conclusion that we needed an open system that would provide room for a variety of applications. We started with the city’s name and significantly highlighted its first and last letter, ‘A’. The A is symmetrical like a lot of cultural heritage in Agra. Agra is a romantic, mysterious and a futuristic city with the Taj being the symbol of its existence. Agra is simple by nature and strong in its appearance. That is what we want to express with this visual language for the brand Agra. That’s why we decided to shape the visual brand of Agra as the outline of the letter ‘A’ with the contour of the Taj Mahal’s dome in it. This was an apparently simple idea that conveyed a lot and it allowed us to relay multiple aspects of the city’s identity by playing around with the colour palette, pictures and words that could be filled into this image. It gave us the opportunity to come up with a dynamic identity that can be applied by all stakeholders. As a matter of fact we designed a framework that, in theory, can result in a zillion logos, using all the relevant colours and images  of Agra! Like Agra it’s an example of unity in diversity.


For instance, placing a picture of a couple kissing in front of the Taj into the new logo and adding the word ‘romance’ under it conveyed that Agra stood for timeless love. We replaced the image with that of a classical dance troupe, added the word ‘celebration’ under the image and changed the background colour to showcase how Agra celebrated performing arts. In another instance we just replaced the background colour and added the name of the city in three different languages to showcase the multicultural identity of Agra’s citizens.


This one symbol can be used in multiple ways. It can be used as signage. It can be used in tourist books and travel brochures. It can be applied as installations in parks and other public places and, as a logo on buses and trains and out on the street! This one image was about one letter of the alphabet generating multiple conversations. It is adept at capturing the imagination of visitors. It is equally capable of communicating the aspirations of citizens.


Jeroen van Erp is CCO & Partner, Fabrique. The project is being undertaken by Dutch multidisciplinary agency Fabrique, that is a part of the Brand Dialogue group in India. The Design Factory is the Indian partner on the project. The design proposals were presented on Valentine’s Day during a special event in Agra organised by the UP government for Meragra branding in the presence of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. Work on the project has only just begun. We will be busy with this project for at least another six months. But our partner in this project, the Design Factory, will monitor the project for probably the next 3 years. 


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