• Transform magazine
  • January 18, 2020

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US: Chicago, a diamond in the rough

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Chicago is all about gangsters, hoodlums and Al Capone. It’s about major league sports, hustling and making a quick buck. Or so it used to be, back in what some might say were its good old days.

Back in its heyday, Chicago could even give New York a run for its money. But even though times have moved on, these potent images of Chicago still combine to give America’s ‘Windy City’ an epic reputation and one of the country's strongest city identities.

Today’s Chicago may be in the throes of an identity crisis. In a bid to compete with other similar cities, Chicago’s city planners are running the risk of making the city too generic. Chicago has always had to contend with that common fear of fading into the background. But Chicago has always been pretty good at making itself stand out.

In keeping with the ‘epic’ reputation of Chicago, its tourism board has recently launched a new promotional campaign based around this theme. The campaign has the catchphrase ‘Chicago Epic’ and highlights the city’s best and most adventurous attractions, including its arts, blues, food and sports scenes. Choose Chicago, the organisation running the campaign, hopes that its work will help the city achieve the mayor’s goal of 55m visitors by 2020.

Tourism campaigns should certainly not be used as a substitute for long-term place reputation management strategy. But this ‘Chicago Epic’ idea has promise. It attempts to draw on deeply embedded themes that link to Chicago’s unique narrative. If it can express this in a compelling manner, the campaign stands a good chance of success. While the campaign alone probably can’t reactivate the city’s brand, it will hopefully remind people of the epic Chicago story that’s been there all along.