Monday, April 20, 2009


Nothing says Providence like a big orange P.
At least that’s the view of the city’s movers and shakers. In an effort to brand Providence as a hotbed of creativity, cultural buzz and 21st-century business, the city has been redesigned as “Providence: The Creative Capital.” As part of the extreme marketing makeover, a stylized P will adorn new signs, statewide publications and city letterhead.
Say goodbye to Renaissance City, Beehive of Industry and Costume Jewelry Capital of the World. Say hello to The Creative Capital.
Only one thing: With all of these artsy, innovative people living and working in America’s only city-state, how is it that “The Creative Capital” had to hire a Nashville-based marketing firm to come up with its motto? North Star Destination Strategies, located just a stone’s throw beyond the Pawcatuck in Tennessee’s country music heartland, specializes in community branding. Here’s what the company had to say about sloganeering Providence:

Founded as a place for religious freedom, Providence was first referred to as a lively experiment…The city’s very essence is openness…to experimentation, improvisation, self-expression and independence. In fact, original thinking is the mantra of Providence.

Except when it comes to slogans. When you need to say something in four words or less, apparently all of the original thinkers are in Nashville. (Here’s the company’s brand for Yarmouth, Mass.: “Cape Cod. Within Reach.” No kidding. And these people are actually making money in this economy.)
North Star CEO Don McEachern, stumping for the Jabberwocky Prize of 2009, said: “We wanted the brand to be absolutely defining but infinitely flexible.”
For that, he was paid 75 grand.
Another $30 thousand went to Providence designer, Laura Mullen, working in conjunction with Pawtucket-based design firm Schwadesign, to invent the P. In the words of Schwa’s owner, Josh Silverman, the P-design has an inherent, resonant meaning:

The foot or the serif at the bottom of the ‘P’ and the serif at the top of it suggest both looking back and going forward. You won’t find that combination of serifs on any typography. It’s a distinct accent.

It’s also a distinct orange, a color that has no real association with Rhode Island except on Styrofoam Dunkin Donuts cups and on certain deciduous trees during foliage season. Not only that, but Serif Orange P is already competing with two other fonts representing the 16th letter of the alphabet – the gothic red Pawtucket P worn by the AAA Red Sox and the spoked P worn by the Providence Bruins.
The Romans developed the prototype of the P that ended up in our alphabet, but it was derived from a Phoenician symbol representing a talking mouth. Perfect, in other words, for promoting Providence, where talk is for cheap and comes in big portions.
So in the spirit of our talking mouth logo, we’ll leave the final words to Providence Mayor David Cicilline, providing perspective as quoted in The Providence Journal: “If all people remember is the orange P, then it’s a failure.”

This week’s question: How would you re-brand places in New England?

Some possibilities:

Bridgeport: “Affordable New York Parking.”
Springfield: “Beyond Springfield. Within Reach.”
Lawrence: “You Must Be Lost.”
Plymouth: “Rock, Stocks and Two Smoking Pilgrims.”
Maine: “The Way Life Should Be, Except in the Dead of Winter When Life Bites.”