PORTLAND, Maine — Yes. Life’s good here.
So are the lobsters, biking and art.
Moments after Portland officials announced the city’s new slogan at City Hall Tuesday, reaction on the street was largely lukewarm.
“My first impression was kind of, ‘That’s it?’ It wasn’t a good first impression,” said Portland resident Anna Flemke.
Mayor Michael Brennan and Creative Portland Corp. Executive Director Jennifer Hutchins led the announcement of the slogan “Yes. Life’s Good Here,” which they described as a Swiss Army knife of phrases that could be tweaked for any business, industry or marketing campaign.
Among the examples displayed during the Tuesday event:
“Portland. Yes. Art’s Good Here.”
“Portland. Yes. Biking’s Good Here.”
“Portland. Yes. Lobster’s Good Here.”
And so on. By the end of the news conference, city vehicles bearing variations of the slogan — such as a Portland Water District truck emblazoned with “Yes. Water’s Good Here” — were parked conspicuously outside City Hall. Across the city at Portland International Jetport, the new catchphrase was scrolling across a marquee near the baggage claim, according to handouts distributed to reporters at the event.
The branding effort, conducted on a volunteer basis by local stakeholders and marketing experts, cost little.
And that was welcome news to artist and musician Flemke. “Portland has a lot to offer — it’s a beautiful city, so I was expecting more. There are a lot of creative people in this city that could have been tapped for something like this. I was kind of taken aback at first. I just think they could have done a lot better,” she said.
Nancy Lawrence, owner of Portmanteau, an artisan clothing and accessories shop on Wharf Street, said she’s “embarrassed” by the new slogan. Brennan told reporters Tuesday that city attorneys cleared the slogan to make sure it didn’t infringe on any other trademarked phrase, but Lawrence believes it’s still too similar to the brand used by the Boston-based Life is Good clothing company.
“It’s knocking off an already branded company,” she said. “I hope the level of backlash this is getting will make them rethink it before they invest too much in putting it out there.”
Lawrence said she liked the “It’s a lot of fun for a little city” slogan Portland used in its marketing about two decades ago, and that she preferred an earlier Portland’s Downtown District proposal of “Portland: How Maine does a city” to the new moniker.
The slogan of “Yes. Life’s good here,” which will serve as a foundation for what Hutchins said would be “a complete brand system,” was developed over months of collaboration between local stakeholders from groups such as Creative Portland Corporation, Portland’s Downtown District, the Portland Community Chamber and the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“‘The Way Life Should Be’ started as an ad campaign years ago and has lasted,” said David Puelle, a designer who lent his expertise to developing the state’s slogan. “One of my favorites is ‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas’ — which was started as a one-season campaign, but hit the mark so well it really caught on.”
That’s the sort of ingrained association Portland leaders hope will take hold with “Yes. Life’s Good Here.”
“The more who use it, the better,” said Hutchins. “We’re giving it away.”
Puelle said the slogan is more than just an impersonal marketing gimmick. He said the phrase is derived from an essay by the late-author John Preston, who settled in Portland in 1979 and in one seminal writing answered colleagues who had been asking if he planned to ultimately move back to New York City.
After expressing his affection for his adopted home, Preston concluded his essay with the answer: “No. Life’s good here.”
Preston is described as “a pioneer in the early gay rights movement,” and his writing and advocacy for gay rights helped rally support behind the city’s 1992 Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Ordinance. The award-winning author died two years later, according to press material.
“We needed to find something that captured the spirit of Portland and could meet the needs of three important, yet distinct, groups: Residents, businesses and visitors,” Hutchins said in a statement. “Lucky for us, we were able to find inspiration from one of our own, John Preston.”
Such linkages are important branding experts say.
Leah Sommer, media supervisor with the Portland-based advertising and public relations firm Kemp Goldberg Partners, worked for the public affairs agency that coined Las Vegas’ “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” slogan about 11 years ago.
“People came to Las Vegas to get away from their ordinary lives, so what that brand did was capitalize on a connection that already existed,” Sommer said. “I think there’s definitely an audience that would not be compelled to visit Las Vegas based on what Las Vegas was known for, but [Las Vegas marketers] were OK with that. I think maybe that’s where the new Portland slogan falls a little bit short. They were trying to be too many things to too many people. That could be the slogan for half a dozen cities up the Eastern Seaboard or anywhere else.”
David Goldberg, co-founder of Kemp Goldberg Partners, said the Portland slogan does some things well.
“We do a lot of branding for Fortune 500 companies all the way down to small businesses,” Goldberg said. “One very important thing in developing a brand, which a slogan is an artifact of, is that it has to be authentic. The thing about Portland is that life is good in Portland. They’re on to something authentic there.”
But he said “Yes. Life’s good here” is “choppy.”
“I don’t know the value or the reason for the word ‘Yes,’” Goldberg said. “I’m not sure if they’re declaring something for emphasis, maybe they’re answering a question, or maybe they’re defensive. I don’t know what the benefit of that is.”
Got a better slogan idea for Portland? Tell us on BDN’s Portland Facebook page.