For some months now, Brisbane (or Newbane, Brisvegas, Brislantis, Gold Coast North, Australia’s Biggest Country Town) has been trying to sell the notion that it is Australia’s New World City. I’ve lived here for over ten years, which is longer than I lived in Sydney, and I don’t even know what that means.
Brisbane Marketing has one of the toughest jobs in the city. How do you market something that you can’t define? What does Brisbane have that makes it unique? What is the differential advantage? What attracts visitors to Brisbane in favour of other places? The great weather makes it a great place to live, but it needs more than that to bring in the tourists.For that matter, what images come to mind when prospective interstate and overseas visitors think about Brisbane (assuming they’ve heard of it)?
Promoting it as “Australia’s New World City” has a problem right out of the gate: no-one knows what it means, and few can be bothered finding out. Most of us who live here love Brisbane, although for many interstate transplants, it can take a while.
I find it challenging to explain why I love Brisbane – it’s where I live, and but it’s not my home. I have no emotional connection to the place, yet it’s far from unpleasant. It doesn’t have the natural beauty and Australian history that Sydney has, nor the sport-and-culture exhilaration of Melbourne. It doesn’t have a decent beach or an internationally recognisable landmark and it’s not really the gateway to anywhere. You don’t have to pass through Brisbane on your way to anywhere if you don’t want to.
It’s got lots of bits and pieces though: If you’re into Melbourne’s café culture or throbbing arts scene, just follow the trail of hipsters into the Valley or West End. If you like Sydney’s natural beauty and corporate sensibilities, we have a snaky brownish river that’s better known for it’s floods than for anything else, some really attention-grabbing cliffs at Kangaroo Point, some nice parks, a mangrove-ringed bay and an abundance of businesses where you can work for less money than you'd get in Sydney or Melbourne. Check out some of Australia's other major city tourist logos - was Brisbane's artist off sick the day that one was designed?
On the upside, Brisbane punches above her weight when it comes to sporting contests and bad driving.
And Brisbane does have really nice weather.
So where does this leave us?
As much as I hate to admit this, Brisbane has no appeal for tourists and holiday-makers. None. If you have business in Brisbane, if you’re attending a course or a symposium or an event of some kind, or if you have family and friends here to visit, you’ll come to Brisbane, do what you have to do, enjoy the weather, and perhaps nose around a bit. If you don’t have to come to Brisbane for a reason, Brisbane isn’t going to offer enough to lure you here.
We need to have something else, something more, something unique.
Or maybe not. Perhaps the one differential advantage we have is in not having one. Sometimes there is virtue in being who you are – we’re a working city with a suburban sprawl and generally nice weather.
(Note: the last two mockups are all my own work. I actually like the idea of Brisbane: Surprise! as a marketing campaign, but I'm claiming it right here and now as mine, and Brisbane Marketing is invited to pay me huge amounts of money for the rights.)