What happened to the new city slogan?

With several comprehensive city plans and initiatives being announced recently, Chicago is adding another item to the long list of expensive campaigns: branding tourism.

Chicago has always been a global destination for tourists. The recent reinvestment in a global marketing campaign sets an ambitious financial goal measured by nine digit numbers. Mayor Emanuel’s plan is to attract 50 million visitors per year by 2020 with a result of at least $4 billion in revenue from the tourism industry.

So far this campaign has been received with widespread skepticism. Besides the doubled tax on cab and bus drives used for investment capital, the slogan, “Chicago: Second to None,” is criticized for being suggestive of self-defeated inferiority, instead of unbridled confidence. An article in the Chicago Reader also pointed out the lack of originality of this slogan. The city of Aurora, the second most populous city in Illinois, adapted the slogan "A City Second to None" six years ago.

What would a successful campaign slogan look like for Chicago? What words would best encapsulate the momentum of Chicago like “A city that never sleeps” does for New York? Taglineguru.com did a survey among advertising professionals, ranking 350 city slogans by their “attributes, message, differentiation and ambassadorship.” Winning slogans are nonetheless catchphrases that are positive, as in “The Sweetest Place on Earth” for Hershey; inviting, as in “What Happens Here, Stays here” for Las Vegas; and humorous, as in “Always Turned On” for Atlantic City.

In comparison, “Chicago: Second to None” sounds like an empty promise that has no association with what the city has to offer. Whoever came up with this slogan may be a proud Chicagoan, eager to defend Chicago of its greatness, but there is danger in exaggerating. What’s at stake is the fine balance between humility and confidence. Maybe what we need as an appropriate slogan is an honest acknowledgement of Chicago’s assets that draw us here, instead of a self-delusional image of dominance.


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