Downtown 'Branding' Continues

September 22, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the marketing campaign for downtown Grand Rapids continues to be developed, it appears to be taking on a little more depth and, possibly, a little more meaning. The Downtown Alliance intends to roll out its downtown Grand Rapids advertising campaign just before the start of the holidays.

“Whether you like or don’t like the “Keep It A Secret” tag line, it certainly generated some conversation and made us famous, I guess,” said Kurt Hassberger, chair of the Downtown Alliance, in reference to the downtown brand and logo created by local ad agency Hanon McKendry. “I think you’ll be pleased to see the advertising campaign that plays off of that.”

The Downtown Alliance, a program of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, carries out enhanced maintenance and beautification services funded by district-wide special assessments.

Jason VanderGround of Hanon McKendry gave a sneak preview of the campaign at the Downtown Alliance’s annual meeting Wednesday. The campaign will include outdoor billboards, light pole banners, posters, print ads, radio spots and other signage, as well as a merchant directory. He said the marketing campaign is targeted at accomplishing three key objectives.

“It’s all about getting greater top-of-mind awareness — not just to have people know about downtown but to have them thinking about downtown, especially when they’re making decisions about where they’re going to spend their time and money,” VanderGround said.

The next objective is to increase the relevancy of downtown and the appreciation for what downtown has to offer so people see there is something for them there, he said.

“Even people that live and work downtown, you become so ‘routinized’ that you don’t know everything that is available to you downtown. So increasing appreciation is a key element of the campaign.”

VanderGround said the ad agency also wanted to create something that was unique and “ownable” for downtown — “something that only Grand Rapids could say” — that would set it apart from all the other cities, malls and shopping areas.

The ultimate goal is to draw people downtown, and to a dedicated Web site that has a lot of information about the various entities downtown, VanderGround said.

He explained that the “Keep It A Secret” tagline of the downtown Grand Rapids brand was simply meant to be the “sign off,” or signature, of the campaign.

“It’s not the headline. It’s really the ending emotion that people take away. That’s the exact same way you’ll see ‘Keep It A Secret’ used in this campaign.”

The theme of the upcoming campaign is “Enjoy It Now.” A lot of the photographs used for the ads show the “romance” downtown, he said.

“The whole idea of ‘Enjoy It Now’ is for people to take advantage of downtown Grand Rapids now,” VanderGround explained. “It’s special; there’s something about it. But you can see with all the development and change that’s coming, it’s not going to be exactly this way forever. The thought is completed with the tagline ‘Keep It A Secret’ and leveraged with the Grand Rapids logo and color theme.”

Hassberger said prior to launching the campaign, the alliance will get its Web site up and running so people can access the site to check on downtown attractions and events. The site will also assist people in finding specific types of businesses or individual businesses located in the Downtown Improvement District. The site also is expected to improve information access and communication between residents and visitors, as well as Downtown Alliance members.

Hassberger pointed out that over the past year, the Downtown Alliance Maintenance & Beautification Committee, in conjunction with Progressive AE, took on the major task of developing streetscape design guidelines for downtown beautification that establish design standards and guidance for implementation.

Landscape Architect Bob Petko of Progressive AE spoke about the purpose of the streetscape guidelines and how a successful streetscape can tie together all the elements of the downtown.

“Everyone has said so far that there should be a real emphasis on green and real emphasis on art,” Petko said. “The way this should work is that these kinds of (landscaping) treatments are really the icing.”

Among other things, plans call for special treatments for eight gateways into the city, a pedestrian friendly environment throughout the downtown area, an urban garden, and a streetscape that supports a vide variety of uses, such as office, retail and entertainment. There would also be emphasis on downtown as a place to showcase public arts.

Meanwhile, the Downtown Alliance’s Merchant Council is working on development of a walking map of downtown. Hassberger also pointed out that the Downtown Alliance now has a 501(c)(3) status, which allows it to accept tax-deductible donations from foundations and members of the general public. He said a number of foundations have expressed interest in helping the Downtown Alliance with its efforts.

“The more money we can collect, the more flowers we can plant,” Hassberger said. “We’ve got a great thing going in downtown Grand Rapids. Our goal is to try to make it a little bit better and make it a little bit easier for people to navigate.”    

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