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Baltimore’s New Bait: The City is About to Unveil a New Slogan, ‘Get In On It,’ Meant to Intrigue Visitors

May 20, 2006

By Doug Donovan, The Baltimore Sun

May 20–Nine months and half a million dollars later, Baltimore has a new slogan.

Drumroll, please: “Baltimore – Get In On It.”

The preposition-rich slogan is set to be announced next week as the centerpiece of Charm City’s new effort to sell itself to tourists and visitors, according to sources familiar with the lengthy and secretive process.

“Get in on what?” asked Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, after repeating it aloud three times.

“I’ve seen some dumb ones in the past, but this is the dumbest,” said former Mayor/former Gov./Comptroller William Donald Schaefer through his spokesman.

(As mayor, Schaefer once presided over “Pink Positive Day” when curbs were painted pink, television anchors were encouraged to wear pink, and the city’s collective spirit was supposed to be improved through color after losing the Colts.)

Filmmaker John Waters said, “It’s not catchy. I keep having to ask what it is again because I forget. That’s OK. I don’t hate it.

“I get what they’re saying,” Waters said. “What they’re saying is, come celebrate real estate porn. You know, when people talk about how much their house cost at parties.”

One branding expert, Eric Swartz, founder of TaglineGuru.com, said Baltimore has come up with a winning slogan.

“Get In On It sounds provocative, inviting, sounds like there’s something to discover” in Baltimore, Swartz said. “It’s vague enough to have an appeal to people who are not familiar with Baltimore. It’s an invitation.”

City officials refused yesterday to confirm the winning motto. But the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association has submitted four applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to secure use of the phrase.

Luckily for Baltimore, the trademark no longer belongs to Marshalls Inc., the Massachusetts-based discount retailer that first registered it a decade ago.

Nancy Hinds, a BACVA spokeswoman, said the slogan will be unveiled during a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday at the Hippodrome Theatre. She said the slogan was just one element of the city’s overall new branding campaign.

“Whatever the tagline is, is only half the story,” Hinds said. “It’s far more than just a slogan.”

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was more diplomatic yesterday than his predecessor, Schaefer.

“Some will like it, and for others it will be an acquired taste,” he said. “It’s an appeal to a young, hip generation, or something like that, I’m assuming.”

Swartz, the branding specialist, declared that some of Baltimore’s previous slogan attempts – “The City That Reads,”"The Greatest City in America” and “Charm City” – are among the nation’s worst.

There has been a string of other nicknames along the way: Digital Harbor, Mobtown and Crab City. Then there are the less image-friendly labels: The Heroin Capital and The Murder Capital.

The convention and visitors association has kept a tight lid on the finalists for weeks and has made sure other booster groups do the same.Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership, “has been sworn to double secrecy,” said his spokesman, Mike Evitts. So, too, have BACVA board members.

But sources who have been briefed on the finalists said “Get In On It” was judged to be far better than the other finalists that the city’s consultant, Landor Associates, was paid $500,000 to produce over the past nine months.

Here are some of the finalists, according to sources who requested anonymity because of the secrecy:

“The City You Savor”

“Breeze Into Baltimore”

“All City, No Hurry”

“Enjoy The Pace”

Swartz said the city should be prepared for an initial backlash.

“Projects of this magnitude are usually accompanied by a fair amount of anguish and nagging doubts, especially when detractors start chomping at the bit. After all, a city’s pride and reputation are at stake,” Swartz wrote in an article, “Jumping on the Brandwagon,” on his Web site.

The branding strategy aims to create a positive perception that attracts tourists and conventions, which, in turn, can boost the local economy.

Experts consider Las Vegas’ slogan “What Happens Here Stays Here” to be among the most successful. An earlier attempt by Sin City to brand itself as a family-friendly destination led to a demonstrable drop-off in business.

“A slogan is a valuable ambassador,” Swartz wrote.

The city picked a respected and experienced brand-builder in Landor. The San Francisco-based firm has come up with slogans for such locations as Madrid, Spain; Florida; and Hong Kong, as well as brands such as Gatorade, Altoids and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In November, Landor’s director of brand strategy, Susan Palombo, told the Baltimore City Council and Mayor Martin O’Malley that “the perception [of Baltimore] is very bad.”

Her company’s survey found that David Simon’s television dramas about crime and drugs in Baltimore – The Wire, The Corner and Homicide: Life on the Street – were culprits for fostering the city’s bad image. Simon declined to comment yesterday.

Palombo also said at the time that Baltimore did not rank among travelers surveyed as a “dream destination.” When Baltimore was presented as an option in a Landor survey, travelers ranked it in the top 10 – behind New York, Washington, Boston, Atlantic City and Philadelphia.

In a Landor survey in which Baltimore was not mentioned, travelers did not volunteer the city as a place they wanted to visit.

Palombo said at the time that Baltimore had to build on the city’s unique character and should not try to “out-Disney” Orlando, “out-monument” Washington or “out-Broadway” New York.

Baltimore union leader Ron DeJuliis said he thought “Get In On It” is “catchy.”

“I like that,” he said.

Spector, the council’s longest-serving member, questioned whether “Get In On It” will do the trick.

“I don’t know; it doesn’t have a Baltimore ring to it,” Spector said. She said she knows the slogan is supposed to appeal to visitors and not longtime residents such as her.

Even so, she said, “I don’t associate anything Baltimore to it.”

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Baltimore Sun

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.

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