By Andris Pone
President, Coin Branding
Earlier this year, deep in the tortuous tenure of Mayor Rob Ford, the Globe and Mail correctly observed that Toronto’s brand could use a makeover. For which I must give thanks, because their misapprehension of what “brand” means has formed the introduction to every presentation Coin has given since that moment.
As you may know, the Globe’s approach to rebranding Toronto was to run a logo contest. Their decision gave my team and I the most powerful educational tool we could ever hope for, because it is so obvious that a logo – which the Globe and others believe is synonymous with a brand – is not going to stop late night comedians and observers in every corner of the planet from making fun of Toronto.
(You might also recall that only one designer understood the absurdity of a logo contest):
The only thing that can stop people from making fun of Toronto is a new mayor of Toronto. (OK, the Rest of Canada will in all likelihood never stop making fun of Toronto, but at least they might return to making fun of Toronto in accordance with traditional themes, like there are too many people there, and all of them are rude. But the rest of the world will for the most part stop.)
A brand is what people think of you, and people around the world think Toronto is a joke. Important as it is that Toronto project a positive image to the world, there is something much more important at stake here: a brand is also what people think of themselves, and the self-perception in this city has, under Rob and Doug Ford, morphed from the rudeness imagined by the ROC and into a civic mood best described as frustrated, angry and depressed.
This anger is not just that which the downtown, supposed latté-sipping elites feel toward the people who inexplicably – inexplicably! we say, with crema-infused spittle flying from our lips – support the exclusion, ignorance and indecency for which the Ford brothers stand. It is also about the way that vast tracts of the GTA, epitomized by the very suburbanites of Ford Nation, are spiritually and geographically cut off from the economic and cultural centre – from what would seem like the basic privilege to commute to school, work, civic participation and back in a manner that does not dull the soul.
John Tory is the candidate who can lead these two dimensions – internal and external – of the Toronto brand out of the morass. As with any brand, this work can only be accomplished from the inside out. And as the man who would be at the centre of the brand restoration effort, it is inescapable that John Tory is inherently respectable, and thereby respected in all corners of the city.
To wit, while Rob Ford, mayor of the world’s most multicultural city, calls his high school football players “f—ing minorities,” John Tory was the first non-black recipient of the Harry Jerome Award, the African-Canadian community’s highest recognition.
And imagine a politician in the heat of an electoral campaign actually saying that something is the “moral” thing to do. Not the cheapest or easiest or for that matter the hardest thing to do, but simply the moral thing to do. That was John Tory promising that he would immediately invest $864-million to restore what the National Post calls the “vast, crumbling empire of social housing that belongs to the city of Toronto.”
Of course we cannot forget the candidacy of Olivia Chow. In the past three years, her husband has died very publicly and she was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which distorted her face and prevents her from showing more expression, and it would be fair if people demonstrated more compassion and appreciation for her circumstances and truly remarkable tenacity.
She has done an effective job in her campaign of speaking up for the people at the physical and economic margins of the city. She has gracefully endured what most of us could not, being direct catcalls from an idiot in the audience at a debate – the idiot shouting “She’s Chinese. She’s not Canadian.” And “Go home. Go back to China.” Proof, it would seem, that histrionics and appalling ignorance are not just the stuff, as we like to believe, of our American neighbours.
As Royson James of the Toronto Star puts it:
“In temperament and tone – exhibited through decades of volunteerism and civic advocacy – Tory is Toronto to the core. He is not a Johnny-come-lately; neither is he a shameless publicity seeker and self-promoter. His charitable forays are marked by a low-key brilliance that has lit up the lives of many of the city’s underclass. That Tory would come to the office of mayor at such a propitious moment in the evolution of the city is Toronto’s fortune.”
So there you have it. John Tory not merely for Mayor, but for Chief Brand Officer: for the leader who can change not just how the world sees Toronto, but more to the point, how the city sees itself.
Andris Pone is President of Coin, a leading branding firm with offices in Toronto and Montreal. Through naming, tagline and brand foundation services, Coin pursues its vision: a world in which every person can share their unique gifts in pursuit of their livelihood. Coin clients include Sun Life Financial, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, BMO Nesbitt Burns, RBC Wealth Management, Oaken Financial, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Canadian Tire, The National Ballet of Canada and many others.
Andris is co-author of the Globe and Mail #1 business bestseller, Brand: It Ain’t the Logo. He frequently provides expert comment on branding for media outlets including CBC Radio One and the National Post, has appeared on BNN and has written opinion pieces for Marketing magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org / 1 416 560 0928.