At the heart of branding: The Golden City
Nearly every small talk conversation these days seems to broach the topic: “Isn’t it crazy how much SF has changed!?” The housing costs, the homeless, the tech vests, the traffic. Where has the heart and soul gone?
As a San Francisco based advertising agency with many people who have lived in the Bay Area for decades and many who have all their lives, we've collectively witnessed the transformation of our city by the bay. This inspired us to think about the brand of San Francisco. The heart and soul. The essence. Its history. Its roots. What has San Francisco represented since the Spanish built a mission and a presidio? Since becoming a gateway linking west and east. Since changing its name from Yerba Buena and raising its golden gates. Why have people come here? From hoping to strike gold, to finding a place to love freely, to hitting that big IPO, have its offerings, its differentiators changed, remained the same, or both? Is it the same brand with a different visual representation? Or has it in fact become something new? Rebranded.
Certainly a lot has changed. Cities change. Nothing remains the same. The world we live in is constantly in flux. Constantly adjusting. In this way, perhaps San Francisco is much like a lasting brand that simply adjusts its visual representation to accommodate an evolving consumer base. Our priorities and interests as San Franciscans surely have changed from the days of gold, war, and flower power. And so too have the offerings to accommodate its people. In this way we can look at San Francisco’s various personas over the decades as evolving archetypes.
Looking at Carl Jung’s 12 Personality Archetypes, “The Explorer,” for example, could well encapsulate San Francisco blazing its own trail during the gold rush era as well as during the digital innovation era. Revolutionary thinking and actions emerged out of the free speech and hippie movements denoting characteristics of “The Rebel” type. And providing safe harbor for those with very little and those who have dreams is a typical trait of “the Caregiver.” Such movements perhaps shift the city’s archetypes, and along with those shifts, its visual representation. But what about that essence that stays alive no matter how much we stare at screens rather than murals, hop in ride shares rather than cable cars, mine block chains rather than nuggets.
It seems the city has always offered opportunity. A place for misfits. Rebels. Beatniks. Hippies. Nerds. All those seeking a different way to bring their dreams to life. A place to be whoever. Love whoever.
A place to challenge the world and its ways. A place that seeks to reinvent how things are done.
But has that been corrupted? With all its challenging, innovating, welcoming of others, have we raised the price of those values to a point of no return? Has the buy-in sold San Francisco out? Have we priced out its heart and created a slag heap in the process?
As an agency these are the types of questions that interest us. Reflecting on San Francisco as a brand helps us ask questions about our brand as the agency grows. As your identity shifts, do you maintain the essence of your business or do you perform a full rebrand? Do you change your name to fit your personality as it evolves? Do you adjust your color palette, your tone, your voice to build new bridges?
As we grow, we are constantly open to the idea of what our brand evolution could look like. In looking at more obscured brands like cities, especially the one we exist in, we are presented with new perspectives and points of view to reflect on and help us expand. One thing is clear. We will change. It’s crazy how much we already have. But we will remain true to our heart as that expansion takes place.