Positively Cleveland rolls out new destination brand at gala event

The view from the cheap seats.
  • The view from the cheap seats.

About two years ago, the folks at Positively Cleveland decided to embark on a rebranding campaign and tested the slogan “Cleveland rocks.” Tests showed that it didn’t appeal to millennials, the target demographic for the new destination brand. When we first heard about this, we feared the new branding strategy would forsake the city’s reputation as a rock ’n’ roll town. But rock ’n’ roll was still part of the program this afternoon as Positively Cleveland rolled out its new branding campaign for the city during a gala event at the Cleveland Convention Center. A crowd of about 1,000 showed up for the affair.

The local indie rock act Welshly Arms kicked off the event with a short set of blues-based indie rock before the new brand was unveiled. Then, Len Komoroski, a Positively Cleveland board chairman and the chief executive officer for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, talked about the “quiet Renaissance” that has taken place in the city thanks to nearly 3 billion dollars of investment in entertainment venues, museums and hotels. “We’ve been hard at work helping to lead the journey of Cleveland’s rebirth as a visitor destination," he said.

Komoroski then interviewed Positively Cleveland president and chief executive officer David Gilbert and mayor Frank Jackson in an informal question and answer session as he asked them about the city’s recent “Renaissance” and the prospects of landing a political convention in 2016.

Leaning heavily on statistics about travel and tourism, Gilbert then took to the podium and talked about the success that Positively Cleveland had last year in getting journalists to write travel articles about Cleveland; he also addressed the need for a new brand. “A brand is not a slogan,” said Gilbert. “We had not been using Cleveland Rocks as our theme. The tremendous Ian Hunter song was used in the Drew Carey TV show but it didn’t motivate travellers to want to come to Cleveland. It’s not that we can’t take pride in that slogan. A slogan isn’t going to fix our problem.” He spoke about the visceral negative reaction to the word “Cleveland.” He then played a video reel of people making fun of Cleveland. “We need to promote an attitude,” he said before handing the stage over to Stewart Colovin, the executive vice president of creative strategy for MMGY Global.

Colovin recalled coming to Cleveland for the Rock Hall inductions and eating at Greenhouse Tavern and drinking at the Velvet Tango Room. “We went home and told everybody about Cleveland,” he said. “Then, we got lucky and I got to spend a lot of time here.” Between dropping platitudes like “travel is the new cache” and quoting Oscar Wilde, he talked about discovering what it was that made Cleveland unique. He maintained that a two-and-a-half minute video featuring a Welshly Arms tune (the track sounds a lot like a Black Keys tune) designed to be shown at meetings helped changed perception about the town. “Never mainstream, never meant to be” was one of the taglines featured in the video.

Colovin then rolled out the new hand-drawn logo that he described as “progressive and classic at the same time.” He dropped the names of local “ambassadors” like Market Garden Brewery owner Sam McNulty, Beachland co-owner Cindy Barber and Happy Dog owner Sean Watterson. And he made a reference to Melt, saying, “People should come here just based on the size of the sandwiches alone.” It was hard not to like a guy who spoke so highly of witnessing DJ Kishka’s polka happy hour at the Happy Dog. “This is an end to those jokes who have lost their time anyway,” he said in conclusion.

Gilbert concluded the series of speeches by describing the new brand as a combination of sophistication and grit and talked about the new website, thisiscleveland.com. “It has a new voice,” he said, adding that 260 pages of text were rewritten in that “proud, unapologetic voice.” He added that Positively Cleveland will curate the new hash tag #thisiscle so “people can tweet about what they like about Cleveland.” And as far as all that Cleveland rocks stuff goes, we heard a Black Keys tune will be used in the advertising campaign to bring tourists to town. So, in the end, Cleveland still rocks. We thought so.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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