Advertising today tends to focus on the new, the shiny, the improved. One thing becomes replaced by another, simply because we’re led to believe it needs to be replaced. But does it really?
I don’t mean to beat my readers over the head with my sentimentality, but – to me at least – sometimes people prefer the older things, even if the rest of my society runs past me, chasing the object shinier than the last. If it’s ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And heck, even if it is a little rusty, and had a missing or broken part…why not just repair the damn thing instead of buying a new one entirely? Why move onto something else? It’s something society steers away from, simply because it’s harder. It involves more work than simply finding a replacement.
With that said, being the older toy in the toy box – so to speak – can be interpreted as a problem. Or it can be made into a strength, one just as promotable as any “New ‘n Improved!!!” campaign.
This was the problem the English town of Shrewsbury faced.
Their only problem was being common, in fact, not common enough: the neighboring towns of Hay-on-Wye and Ludlow became better-known than they had, leaving them a forgotten-about middle child, without little means of standing out.
Now, England is a little different than our United States. History dating as far back as it does in Europe may not be a commonplace thing, here, but overseas? Everything is old. Everything – technically – has history, and is notable if – for nothing else – not yet falling down. The town needed an identity, and not only that, but one unique enough to stand out amongst equally-common neighbors.
This isn’t to say Shrewsbury is a town without anything interesting.
What is Shrewsbury?
It is the birthplace of Charles Darwin.
Home to a football team (That’s soccer, for you American folk) with a record-setting six Welsh Cup victories.
The namesake of a classic English dessert, Shrewsbury cakes.
The on-location setting for the 1984 film version of “A Christmas Carol,” with George C. Scott portraying Ebenezer Scrooge.
Where RAF helicopter pilots are trained.
And the World’s Largest Grecian Doric Column is…guess where? That’s right, Shrewsbury.
The problem isn’t that this town has nothing interesting about it. It has too many interesting things that lay a claim to fame. How can you possibly market so many unrelated things, impressive or not as they may be? There needs to be a common through-line, some unifying means of connecting all the seemingly unrelated dots. If a town like Branson can figure that one out, well, Shrewsbury should be able to as well.
Tourism is all about what looks attractive to the outside eye: what is welcoming enough about a location so as to appear inviting to visitors from near and afar. The problem is, when your surroundings become so familiar, so commonplace, so everyday…it’s hard to determine what is truly special and sets your town apart from the next. That when you hire someone else to do it for you. Shrewsbury hired both &Smith, a design firm, and We All Need Words, a branding agency. With their powers combined, they’ve formed a truly original marketing campaign for a place that seemed anything but, and given an old town a new face and a new voice.
How does the new campaign work?
For visual marketing, the design firm came up with a highly graphic, stylized series of boxes inspired by the wooden framing (called “vernacular half-timbering”) adorning the town’s Tudor-style architecture. Yes, boxes. If you’re wondering why they paid someone to draw boxes for them, here’s why: they’re freakin’ brilliant. They took a commonplace style of architecture, stripped it down, and used it to make this common town into something iconic. I’m a typeface nerd, I’ll unashamedly admit, and this is one of the smarter designs I’ve seen, period.
It subtly integrates with the branding, as seen on the full-page ad below. Replacing “I’s” and “O’s” with these graphic blocks grab’s ones attention, leading their eyes to the bottom of the page, where, under another block, reads: “Shrewsbury: The Original One-Off.” Even if someone doesn’t believe it by one claim alone…you have to admit, they probably are thinking, “Prove it.”
“One-Off” meaning one-of-a-kind, impossible to duplicate. They make a bold and committed stance to embracing their heritage and their character, without feeling need to change with the times. As someone who lives in a country where one ten-year-old restaurant is bulldozed to build another that won’t last half as long, I can respect that.
You can’t build a campaign solely with propaganda, however, and they’ve – in an equally smart way – found something every place in town can use, and more importantly, embrace: a stamp.
It’s no ordinary stamp. Inscribed inside a circle, and below the slogan “A Shrewsbury One Off” is a Mad Lib of sorts. A blank. It simply says, “Since ____ .” It can be filled in with a variety of times. It could proudly show how old a business is, and when it was established. It can show how new that hand-built violin is. It can be the time the fish were delivered in the morning. Draw it on the wall. Stamp it on an item’s price tag. Stuck into a fresh-baked muffin. The versatility of it is remarkable. The visual component itself is appealing, clever, and memorable.
I almost wish my town would implement such a campaign.
But then again, they couldn’t.
Shrewbury’s a one-off.
What do you think of Shrewsbury’s campaign to revitalize interest in their city? Are there towns near you, or town you’ve been to, that could use a similar approach? Do you think it’s better to change with the times, or to be true to one’s original identity? Leave your thoughts below.