Shrewsbury, [Literally] Stamped with History: How Branding and Image Revitalize a Sleepy British Town

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.

You may not know Shrewsbury, but you know Tudor architecture.

You may not know Shrewsbury, but you know Tudor architecture.

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.”

Want to know more? Then get your butt to Shrewsbury and find out for yourself!

Want to know more? Then get your butt to Shrewsbury and find out for yourself!

“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 wish they had these for the fridge. Hmm. Pad Thai, “Since Last Tuesday?”

I wish they had these for the fridge. Hmm. Pad Thai, “Since Last Tuesday?” (tosses into trash)

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.

Image credit to We All Need Words. All rights reserved.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Cybernetic SAM

    Wow! Great Post! I am fascinated by this article! I think that this this type of innovation IS ONE OFF! You wouldn’t expect this here in the states, typically historical places are the first to breakdown and fade away. We here don’t have a very good track record with preserving what little culture we have. It is kind of sad when you drive through old places and you see the deterioration of what could have been preserved and admired instead all the remains is the bare bones of something that once was beautiful and booming. Any way great job with this I knew you would do it justice! 🙂 I want to go there so bad! I guess what they did is working!

    • Eric

      Thanks for pointing out this little newsworthy ditty, Sam. I’m all for towns taking the same approach they have, and celebrating who they are, as opposed to who they could be. Back here, my favorite places in the state are the ones along Route 66, looking the way they did back when they were built in the 50’s and 60’s. I know we’ve the Nat’l Trust for Historic Preservation, and while deeming a building a landmark does mean saving it from demolition, it doesn’t mean it’ll automatically and magically receive the funds needed for restoration. If anything good is to come out of our current economy, it would be my hope for people to begin using the buildings they’ve already. Thanks for reading!

  2. Rachel

    I agree — the brand design for Shrewsbury, with all that boxy architecture and that neat stamp, is really striking. And who knew so many cool things happened in this little town! Now I want to go. 🙂 Thanks for the interesting article, Eric!

    • Eric

      The stamp’s – without a doubt – my single most favorite element of this campaign. It’s simple, I mean…you see it, you get what it’s all about it. It’s incredibly inexpensive, and doesn’t alienate any business out of the campaign. And it’s memorable. Heck, if I visited Shrewsbury, I’d probably keep all the things that came with hang-tags or stamps, and cherish them as souvenirs. Hope one of you QLP Angrophiles gets to visit at some point! 🙂 Thanks for reading, Rachel!

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    With the very limited amount of time I’ve spent in the UK, I didn’t get to visit Shrewsbury. But after this campaign and all the buzz this campaign has generated, I definitely want to visit it next time I find myself across the pond! 🙂

    • Eric

      At the end of the day, I find articles like this funny. I’ve never been outside of the US. Canada? Nope. Mexico? Not there, either. Shrewsbury, simply because it’s a new place in a new country, inherently, becomes interesting to me. Do the folks who live there feel that way? Lord, no. Like I mentioned above, I love the stops along Rt. 66, andmeeting people from all over the world as they come to the middle of rural Illinois for a drive-in cheeseburger. To them, it’s just as fascinating. I think every town could afford to look within itself a little more often. Sure, there’re great things far across the world, but there’re some right in the backyard, too.

  4. Jill Tooley

    I want to go to Shrewsbury! Let’s take a QLP-sponsored field trip! How’s next week for you?

    Really, though, this is a brilliant ad campaign. London isn’t the only city worth visiting, as we can see here. I’ve never been out of the country, but I’d love to go someday, and this little town seems much less overwhelming than a huge city. It’d probably be more fun if you went with friends, too!

    • Eric

      You make a really good point, Jill. Small towns may not be the same size as the main, metropolis hubs, but they contain just as much culture, if not more. With that said, I think it’d be a welcome alternative to a traffic-and-pedestrian-congested London. Think I’ll actually take this hint and apply it to my own travel. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  5. Ula Marija

    Oh I’m so glad to come across this as I chose tudor architecture as an inspiration for my university design project that takes place in Shrewsbury. This puts it into wider context than I thought. Great article!

  6. Paul

    I live in London but hail from Shropshire (the county within which Shrewsbury resides). To say that the town has history is something of an understatement.

    We’re talking Roman ruins people…

    This is a lovely campaign and is typically understated as most Salopians are. Thanks for sharing Eric.


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