Once voted one of the worst places to live in the UK, Hull was not a city immediately associated with the word ‘culture’, so how – armed with the ambition of “be colourful, reckless and transformative” – did we go about branding “Hull 2017 UK City of Culture”?
From a brand strategy, through to the personality and identity; Hull 2017 needed a brand universe that represented the new life and vigour injected by the accolade. Critically, this framework needed to evolve over the course of the year to encompass and bring to life of the visual assets of the year as it gathered momentum – at the start of the project there were none.
Hull 2017 was built from the ground up through consultation and engagement with over 400 facets of the community, from schools and businesses, to arts and social welfare groups and Saturday morning shoppers.
Protective of their identity, the people of Hull would need to be on board from the start to share the vision and beliefs for the brand and the City’s transformative year. Equally so, a place brand has to be a true and honest reflection of, and a proud speaker for, its people. Bringing to life the personality, identity and voice of Hull - without creating a brand solely for its inhabitants - was critical to avoid coming across as insular to everyone else, whether that’s the rest of the UK or increasingly more important, an international audience.
There was also the challenge of engaging arts audiences and influencers as well as general public to establish the project as a serious cultural quadrennial, a nationally significant event. To challenge perceptions, and especially as Hull were only the second city to hold the title.
During the journey to uncover that beating heart of what the brand would come to represent, we unearthed something really special and interesting. An uncompromising sense of fierce civic pride of people who were unashamedly Hull. A naturally mischievous streak, personality and distinctive tone of voice that we directly translated into the brand with spikiness, wit, warmth and independence. The brand’s tone of voice and personality feels ‘of’ Hull and its inhabitants, whilst capable of engaging and exciting the whole of the UK, and which went on to become one of the strongest elements of the brand.
The brand builds around the sentiment of there being ‘more to the story’ of Hull – its people, places, and most importantly, its art and culture. It’s an invitation for people to reconsider and reappraise the City. “Think you know Hull? Think again.” The tagline “Everyone back to ours” was the launch slogan, fuelling the sense of community that underpins the brand and capturing the no bullshit ‘take us as you find us’ spirit of the original stakeholder groups.
Often a little uncomfortable, people could love it or hate it, but they couldn’t ignore it. Apathy was not an option. Amplifying and allowing Hull to take on – not reinvent – the very best of the personality of the people of Hull enabled the whole project to be brought to the life with boldness and clarity, and to talk and behave in a way that is true to itself. One that had not voiced itself in cultural events and brands of this nature before.
It was imperative to create a brand that meets the needs of the city after the event. A big investment both emotionally and financially, but the brand needed to leave a legacy.
Across 365 days of transformative culture, more than 2,800 events, cultural activities, installations and exhibitions, 300+ venue spaces and 465 new commissions, it was also imperative to ensure all communications and its large assets portfolio was foolproof to be used by a wealth of stakeholders and third parties throughout the year. Our design remit included the brand guidelines to accommodate this, whilst being flexible enough to allow the brand to evolve throughout the year with the City’s changing image.
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