Wear Your City on Your Sleeve

January 24, 2017 | by Tarah Kraft

It’s impossible to travel these days without seeing people proudly wearing apparel of their home town. Airports are filled with local pride in the form of hats, t-shirts, coffee mugs—you name it, a city name is on it. From more populous areas like NYC to local neighborhoods like The Gulch, in Nashville, city branding has become mainstream. Even big box stores like Target have jumped on board and carry city-specific branded décor.

How do we measure one city’s branding versus another? In this day and age, it seems impossible to compare. However, here are the most iconic examples of city branding that come to mind when discussing this topic.

I <3 NY

Perhaps the origin of city branding is the I <3 NY icon, which has stood the test of time and is a must-purchase souvenir when visiting the Big Apple. It began in the 1970s as a campaign cooked up by famous—and outspoken—ad man Milton Glaser to shift New York City’s image from crime-ridden to the ultimate tourist destination. It did just that and more. It birthed one of the most mimicked designs ever and generates an estimated $30 million a year alone. Not bad for one logo!

Chicago Flag

As a Chicagoan, I might be biased on this one, but you can’t deny that Chicago has taken its flag and turned it into much more than something that flies above City Hall. With both historical significance and nods to different areas in the city, the flag encompasses major events Chicago has gone through and what it can become. You can’t go a city block without seeing it in flag, t-shirt or even tattoo form, making it one of the most recognizable U.S. city flags and an awesome branding logo for the city of Chicago.


Music City’s branding is a true nod to strategists, because Nashville’s booming population is no coincidence. For the past couple of decades, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation has strategically placed Nashville as the ultimate destination for a unique experience where music is inspired, created, recorded and performed. This has drawn more than 13 million visitors per year and an unprecedented growth rate. There’s a lot of thought behind that guitar keychain you purchased on your last visit to Honky Tonk.


America isn’t the only country getting on board with branding its cities. Amsterdam, a city full of culture, uses its clever “i Amsterdam” slogan to full advantage, emphasizing that each individual that makes up its city is unique, yet equally valued.  This short and powerful statement packs a memorable punch—and its life-size letters make for a great photo op when visiting!

So what do all of these have in common? Many would say a clever logo and tagline can do all the talking for themselves. However, the strategic thought behind each movement and the way each individual city embraced their new branding made these campaigns into what they are today.

Do you have a favorite? If so, we’d love to know. Drop us a comment or write to us on Facebook with your top pick for best city branding.

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