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Illustration by Alex Trochut
The beer of Barcelona - Estrella
'The beer of Barcelona'
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Barcelona chair home
The 'Barcelona' chair designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for the 1929 World Fair
Tourists, investors and idealists have long been drawn to Barcelona, a city that has become renowned for myriad cultural, commercial and artistic characteristics, but does there exist a single Barcelona ‘brand’? What does ‘Barcelona’ signify? Can it communicate the same fundamental concept to different groups and who benefits as a result of the promotion of this image?
The iconic Modernist ‘Barcelona chair’ designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for the 1929 World Exhibition evokes one image of the city. Advanced Micro Devices’s ‘Barcelona’ computer chip, conjures up another. And, in the athletic domain, one need look no further than FC Barcelona to see that a certain ‘style’ is represented by the team’s elegant play.
The founders of Custo Barcelona, the fashion brand known for its flamboyant casualwear, added ‘Barcelona’ to the brand’s name in order to avoid being mistaken for Italians. Their publicist, Eva Martín of XXL Comunicación, emphasised that there was no consultation with the Ajuntament regarding this decision—it was “emotional”. However, “it can now be said that Custo Barcelona…suggests a particular way of looking at life,” Martín explained.
Clothes retailer Mango, perhaps eyeing Custo’s success, began including ‘Barcelona’ on its labels as a result of a 2008 agreement with the Ajuntament. ‘Mango Barcelona’ is another example of how a fashion brand capitalises on the cachet of this city.
Another Barcelona product, Estrella Damm, one of the Damm Brewery’s line of beverages, is marketed abroad as distinctly ‘Barcelona’, though within Spain it is a ‘Mediterranean’ beer. According to Federico Segarra, Head of Damm’s Communications, a beer’s origin is an important factor to drinkers; therefore, Estrella is branded as ‘The Beer of Barcelona’ to aspirational young people who see Barcelona as a city that represents a certain trendiness. Segarra acted as an extra in Woody Allen’s film Vicky Cristina Barcelona, unloading cases of Estrella. Thus, a visual image of ‘The Beer of Barcelona’ became part of a film that many in the target demographic might see.
Indeed Vicky Cristina Barcelona provided Barcelona with significant visibility worldwide. For this publicity, the Ajuntament and Generalitat paid its makers €1.5 million (10 percent of the film’s production costs).
However, although Barcelona may have become more well-known to the movie-going public as a result of Allen’s film, the Ajuntament still struggles to define ‘Barcelona’. About a year ago, the Ajuntament conducted a survey of over 100 influential individuals in the city to better determine the city’s brand. ‘Integrative, pioneering, Mediterranean, social cohesion, lifestyle, frontier, climate, creative, Olympic, tolerant, diverse and egalitarian’ were some of the words and phrases that those who took part came up with to describe the Catalan capital.
“It is the sum of all these things that makes Barcelona, which also wants to be recognised by aspects such as social innovation and sustainability,” explained Eva Gloria Jodar of the Ajuntament’s 18-month-old ‘branding department’; this is part of the council’s communication department and doesn’t officially have its own name, although it prefers not to associate itself with the word ‘branding’.
Despite the creation of this Ajuntament section, there are doubts in some quarters regarding its attempt to brand Barcelona. One concern is money. A Horta resident and businessman, who preferred not to be named, asserted that the Ajuntament is spending “a lot of money on branding to cover up the fact that they are not providing essential social services.” In contrast, Jordi Cortés González, another lifelong Barcelona resident, disagrees with the idea that any money the Ajuntament spends on promotional efforts comes at the expense of such services, citing the central government’s inclination to promote Madrid.
Another worry is the image of the city that is being projected. Mar Pérez Unanue works for the European Union Film Industry Support programme, which works with local production companies to help them promote their films and encourages them to co-produce with European partners. Pérez concedes that while Pedro Almodóvar, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Woody Allen and Steven Soderbergh may enjoy using Barcelona as a backdrop for their films, the on-screen images she sees bear little resemblance to reality. Barcelona is selling a “set”, in Pérez’s view, but, she wonders, “what if we scratch the surface…to see what is underneath?”
The Ajuntament would say that branding the city is not in conflict with maintaining the city’s infrastructure or meeting the needs of citizens. For instance, the urban renewal project of 22@Barcelona, where two hundred hectares of industrial land in Poblenou has been changed into a district of innovation, is an attempt by the Ajuntament and others to develop the Barcelona brand as a symbol of the 21st-century knowledge economy. The district has attracted over 1,500 companies since 2001, Yahoo! R&D, Microsoft, Sanofi-Aventis and Indra amongst them, and the project includes a commitment to improve the neighbourhood through the construction of housing and green areas. Of course, not all residents of Poblenou are thrilled with the changes that are taking place. Some complain that what was traditionally a neighbourhood of fishermen and factory workers is becoming unrecognisable.
But, the Barcelona brand attracts companies. In fact, multinational Schneider Electric’s decision to establish its EMEAS—Europe, Middle East, Africa and South America—headquarters in 22@Barcelona, was made partially due to the city’s brand. The company’s Institutional Relations and Communications Director Francesc Corberó acknowledges that the company wouldn’t mind collaborating on the Barcelona brand going forward. “If there’s a fashion capital, like Milan, or a financial capital, like London, why not make Barcelona the worldwide capital of energy efficiency?” said Corberó. In line with this vision, the Ajuntament has entered Barcelona in a competition for the title of European Green Capital 2012 and 2013. Will ‘green’ become yet another adjective to define Barcelona?
Biocat, an organisation responsible for promoting biomedical and biotech enterprise in Cataluyna, is looking ahead, too. It is partnering with the Ajuntament to advance the ‘Barcelona Biotech brand’. According to Dr. Manel Balcells, president of the Executive Committee of Biocat, this brand emphasises “the capabilities of this location and the opportunities that [it] offers to foreign partners and investors.”
Meanwhile, the Ajuntament and other organisations with key interests in the city are still assessing just what ‘Barcelona’ represents to diverse audiences worldwide. Will a coherent ‘Barcelona brand’ be developed as a result of this process? Sources at the Ajuntament acknowledge that there has been a lack of coordination in the past with regard to the Barcelona brand, which has prompted this analysis.
Without a salient identity, the city risks losing investment. But, the delicate balance between economic interests and authenticity deserves careful attention: no one wants to live in a brand. And, if the city’s essence can actually be ‘branded’, will this be positive for residents? After all, nobody wants to wake up one day and discover that the soul of the city is anywhere and everywhere but here.
Other examples of brand Barcelona
- ‘Uneix-te al movement Barcelona’ has been the slogan of gym chain DiR since August 2009. ‘Join the Barcelona Movement’ reflects the personality of the gym’s more than 80,000 members who literally “move” Barcelona, according to Marketing Director, Cristina Elson.
- A satirical bi-weekly magazine in Argentina is called Barcelona: European solutions for the problems of the Argentines.
- The ‘Barcelona computer chip’ is produced by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a major semiconductor company based in California. According to CEO Hector Ruiz, speaking at the time of its launch in 2007, “‘Barcelona’ was designed to win in four key areas: performance, investment protection, virtualisation and energy efficiency.”