New York City Tourism’s Updated Look is Branding All Five Boroughs

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

NYC & Company has recently rebranded into New York City Tourism + Conventions, and the new name and brand identity better encapsulates the tourism of each of the City’s boroughs. The new system taps into visitors’ cravings for authentic experiences, unpretentious and passionate perspectives from a diverse mix of locals, and helps travelers have the best experience in NYC.

The organization’s creative partner for the redesign was local consultancy 2×4, who helped them specify a new name and brand strategy that adequately represent their goals for the travel industry and tourists while supporting New York City’s tourism economy. 

I recently had the opportunity to chat about the redesign with Elan Cole, Executive Vice President, Co-Lead, and Creative/Content for New York City Tourism + Conventions. We spoke about outside opinions effecting design, color theory, and of course, the impact of one-dollar pizza.

Can  you explain how you even begin a project as all-encompassing as this one? What was the first question you and your team asked yourself before you started? 

There are a couple of parts in this question that actually stumped me for a minute. It’s a good question. There are two parts to it. First, how do I approach it, and then how does the company approach it? 

I started with NYC tourism six years ago and have wanted to do this project for a long time. But with successful branding, it’s really about the moment in time, the context that’s going on, and then it’s about knowing if all the participants are ready. And all of those things have to be in harmony. Otherwise, the reasons and the success of doing it become more complicated. So for us, it was the right moment. 

We’re coming out of a moment where there is zero doubt about the impact of the tourism economy across the city. And we have been focused on the benefit of the tourism economy for all five boroughs, not just for certain parts of the boroughs. When your value and the value of what you represent is proven outside of your control— as it was through the pandemic— and the complete opposite: absence of tourism, it gave us a moment when we started to regroup early last year to go, you know what, we need to step forward in a big way, and we need to be unapologetic about the role tourism plays, because if people thought otherwise, we now know the true benefit of it.

And then we started to realize, while we’ve always done this, we crystallized this notion that if we start telling stories and pointing people towards the boroughs— all five boroughs, and all parts of all five boroughs— then we can play a role in helping to lift up all of the neighborhoods in New York City. And play a role in supporting small businesses and all kinds of companies. All of those things came forward, and then we were ready. 

One of the most fundamental things is the difference between a city or a place [versus] a destination. Some places are primarily destinations— if you look at Orlando, there’s Disney World and SeaWorld, and if you look at Las Vegas, there’s [the Strip]. Those are destinations. 

Then there are places like New York City, which are both, so the first question in doing this is: What do we need to be responsible for? And we must go in with a very humble and patient attitude. So the first question is the real immersion: Who are we doing this for? What are we doing, and how do we approach it? Are we doing it for us? Am I doing it for me? Or are we doing it for our members? We are a business membership organization as much as a creative and marketing PR group. And since we are representing the voices of the city of New York, understanding how we bring all those together is important. I don’t know if there’s a concise way to say that, but it starts with a “For whom?” and “To what purpose?”

New Yorkers are full of opinions (i.e., what’s the best, where’s the best, who’s the best). Did outside opinions sway the direction of the branding, or was it more beneficial to block out the external viewpoints?

We’re lucky in that we have a very fine focus, representing tourism and the tourism economy. We don’t represent the entire city of New York; that’s the government’s job, and everybody else’s job, from nongovernmental to civic organizations. 

We’re focused on bringing people into the city to stay overnight to spend money across the boroughs. So in that regard, it’s more about doing the right research. And we did. 

We surveyed thousands of people. We did open surveys, but we also spoke to our members and our board. So it starts with discovering what we need to change to be clear about our message. 

What was the problem that we needed? It started with our name and our need to be clear to the city who we are and what we do. So it wasn’t the opinions of the graphics or how it looked or anything. It starts with: Do we have the right problem?

Our obstacle was that we were NYC & Company, which didn’t speak to what we did. So it made it difficult for people even to know sometimes that there is a tourism board, and when we deal with government officials and elected officials, they must know who we are. 

The first thing we needed to do with how we step forward regarding tourism and our role as this board for the city is clarity. We wanted to ensure everybody else saw the same issue, so we did the initial rounds of surveys and understanding, and they backed us up. And then, once we started to do the work, first came the brand positioning. 

Any brand is far more about action than it is about the visuals that you do. The visuals are built on the movement, so if you do the work right, do the research right, and correctly make the creative, there should be no big issue with the visuals you produce.

Still, we talked to people who represent the sectors of the city that we have worked very closely with and, by its nature, that was a representative group of the town. And what we were looking for was for them to respond to it and think it was an illustration of them and their borough. There were certain versions when we were looking through that that they brought up, like, oh, that’s elitist. That speaks to more of this area, or I need to find out who that is. 

So it’s not a campaign. It’s a brand. We did go into the nature that opinions are exactly what we do. We serve up views to the world, right? We curate and amplify the thoughts of New Yorkers who are more opinionated in the world than New Yorkers themselves.

The campaign has humor, culture, astute self-awareness, and diversity. How were you able to accomplish this massive feat?

This is a place where if you take yourself too seriously, you will get smacked in the face with an old $1 pizza. 

Can you explain how you determined the color story? The tones are hand-selected from beloved pieces of New York. Was it hard to narrow it down? 

I always had a side project notion about what happens when you stand in the middle of any given block or street in New York City, open your eyes for 10 seconds, and then close them. What are the colors that you remember?

I’ve been in Manhattan most of my life. And so, for me, those colors are a fire engine, a taxi, a traffic light, a stop sign, the coffee cups at the deli carts, and the slice of pizza. Because the city’s canvas is grain concrete, but there are so many colors on top of that canvas. 

We worked with 2×4, who I love, and I was so happy to merge our creative teams, and they came back to us with the initial color palette. They captured that this is one of those designer ideas that happens simultaneously at multiple points. 

In terms of picking the colors, the shades have to be vibrant, but they also have to work together. And then it’s about what these represent, rather than, hey, let’s put “lox” in there. The great thing about that is that it’s the beginning of a color story. 

Unlike other brands, some shades of ours can keep growing because our primary colors are black, and the city is endlessly diverse in its color mix, so we look forward to continuing to add and reflect the diversity in the colors over the years. What are the colors that are seen in Jackson Heights? What are the colors that are seen in the Little Caribbean? What are the colors that are seen in Mott Haven and Stapleton? They’re all different. They have a lot of different cultural backgrounds. And so I’m looking forward to being a year out and seeing what that quilt looks like.

Can you explain the logo’s design? Does New York’s grid inspire it? If so, why this direction? 

So, it was a really interesting thing that happened— in any process, you see all your options. You’re like, oh, that’s where this came from. And when we saw that, something about it felt familiar. And it had an energy to it. So the short answer is, yeah, it’s both the streets and the building escapes, but not a grid, because only one part of one borough is built on a grid, and that’s the business centers of Manhattan. We represent all five boroughs. 

What we loved about this was if you walk through downtown Brooklyn or a part of Queens, you can see the buildings interact like the logo’s shape. If you look at a map, you can see how the streets interact. And that is a byproduct of every piece of the logo being different. Even the only two letters that repeat the two y’s are different, and that means the intention to create this kind of compression and expansion through an illusion. 

Where will tourists and locals be able to see this new branding system? 

We’ve just started launching on social media— specifically on our channels— through stories. Our goal is to sort of see how these opinions come together, so people are seeing it there. We are launching a completely rebuilt and revamped website in May, and that will be the primary place where people will see the full environment when they see our stuff. 

Coming up later this year (which is traditionally when we start our tourism campaign, when we partner with airlines and other travel providers worldwide)— that’s when people will begin to see the out-of-home work, and more of the video work, more of the digital advertising. That’s when we talk about campaigns. We will advertise certain things, such as our local legends, a series of film series we’re rolling out that we’re excited about. We’ve already launched a couple of them. But really, it’s going to be digital first.