What’s not to like about San Diego?
From a tourist’s perspective , a heat wave notwithstanding , the county’s sparkling beaches, hip Gaslamp Quarter, theme parks and attractions have vast appeal, as $6 billion in direct annual visitor spending would attest.
But a population that declined by 8,276 people between July 2004 and July 2005, tells a different story: one of median housing prices that are out of reach by the median family income.
Against this backdrop, you have politics as usual: City Hall continues to grapple with a huge municipal pension deficit and the feds continue to investigate.
Meanwhile, at least one man, George Mullen, a stockbroker by trade who bills himself as a “recognized oil painting artist from Southern California,” doesn’t like San Diego’s slogan, “America’s Finest City.” He thinks it’s audacious, and he’s been shopping a proposal to have it changed to “City of Life.”
A rose by any other name
Apparently, Mayor Jerry Sanders wasn’t too convinced about the Finest City slogan’s appropriateness either. In one of his first acts as mayor, Sanders, who inherited the pension problem, removed it from the municipal Web site. Then he restored it.
Mullen has a studio in the Gaslamp Quarter where he keeps drawings of whimsical stick figures he says could decorate the City of Life logo, which would incorporate the slogan. He envisions the theme carried out with the dancing, leaping figures emblazoned on bridges and various sites throughout the city.
On his Web site, www.cityoflife.com, which details the proposal, Lindbergh Field’s commuter terminal is pinpointed as a possible site where the stick figures would replace the existing larger-than-life mural of “Lucky Lindy.”
Mullen says the idea of the City of Life slogan crystallized when he was strolling in downtown one day five years ago.
“It’s a spectacular place to live,” he said. “Live being the key word. You can do anything you want to do here except snow ski, but that’s just an hour away. Life is really great here.
“It’s San Diego’s mind-set. I’m a native, and had just really stumbled on what the San Diego mind-set is.”
He said the current slogan was “well intentioned” when it was coined in 1972 after San Diego abruptly lost a commitment to host the Republican National Convention to Florida. Political flimflam was at the root of it.
But America’s Finest City just doesn’t click, he added. Not like the “Big Apple” clicks for New York City and the “City of Lights” clicks for Paris.
Mullen said he and some of the proposal’s backers, including Dave Nuffer, a veteran public relations practitioner and a principal in the Nuffer, Smith, Tucker agency, met with Sanders recently to tout the plan.
Changing slogan a low priority
Kevin Klein, the mayor’s spokesman, said, “This is not the time to focus on this as an issue.
“Therefore, he (the mayor) has no opinion on it (Mullen’s proposal) as of now. The mayor’s working to turn the city around, so he’d not put staff on it. He does not see it as a top priority at this time.”
George Mitrovich, the president of the City Club of San Diego, recalled an event not long ago when he summoned several of the city’s leaders to meet with some St. Louis politicians and bigwigs who’d come to town for a visit.
On that particular occasion, some of the local luminaries’ reference to San Diego as America’s Finest City embarrassed Mitrovich.
“On a personal level, people take exception to that,” he said. “San Diego is not America’s finest city. There are a lot of great cities in America, St. Louis included.”
Mitrovich, along with Nuffer and a host of others, is listed on Mullen’s Web site as endorsing his idea. Yet Mitrovich said that while he prefers City of Life to America’s Finest City, and he respects Mullen’s sincerity, he thinks San Diego should go sloganless. At least for now.
“We don’t need a slogan,” he stressed. “We don’t need to make claims. We need to solve problems. We should settle our differences with the Chargers, select Miramar as a site for a new airport and create affordable housing so that our children and grandchildren can afford to stay here.Maybe then we could adopt a slogan.”
Victoria Hamilton, the executive director for the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, agrees that it’s not a good time , when the city’s finances are in jeopardy , to concentrate on a new slogan.
She’s heard Mullen’s pitch, and she admires his zeal. However, she thinks that if the current slogan is ultimately scrapped, the method for selecting a new one should be a “competitive and open process.”
Veteran adman Tom DiZinno, who formerly spearheaded advertising for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, and who now runs Brainweave, an ideation company, disagrees.
“I think now when the city is getting tarred and feathered, and our reputation is damaged, is a good time to look for a more apt descriptor,” he said.
But DiZinno listed five key elements he says are essential in order to make any branding campaign, including a slogan and logo, work.
“It must be true, believable, desirable, unique and expendable enough to be able to use it in a lot of applications,” he said. “So given those tenets, America’s Finest City is off because the bar was set too high on believability. And furthermore, it’s completely tired.
“But I don’t see how Mullen’s slogan builds on truth or believability. City of Life is more like a goal or aspiration.”
Regardless, he doesn’t think that a public process would be the right way to change the slogan.
“God created the world in seven days,” he said. “If it had been done by committee, he’d still be working on it.”
Getting down to marketing basics
In Marketing 101, students are taught that a branding campaign is all about selling something, or more of something.
While sources are divided on whether a slogan change versus improvement in the city’s overall financial picture and affordable housing would better buoy the emotions of San Diegans, Pam Richardson, the general manager of downtown’s Hotel Solamar, probably summed up the hospitality industry’s point of view.
“Personally, I like America’s Finest City, and I don’t think there’s any reason to change it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to stop a tourist from coming.”
In other words, if it isn’t broken