In the weeks since the Tampa Bay Times urged readers to send their ideas for a Tampa Bay "brand" that best identifies this region, we've received more than 200 responses from an often enthusiastic and, at times, playful range of folks. My takeaway? Nailing a sharp, memorable Tampa Bay brand is not easy. Even the creative marketing/advertising folks who do this stuff for a living admit this metro area's identity is a tough one to capture. If I had to distill the clever thinking of the submissions from more than 125 readers (some sent multiple responses), we'd end up with a catch-all brand like this:
Tampa Bay: Where swashbuckling, plank-walking, water-lovin', sun-seeking, business-savvy folks seize the day to work and play by the bay!
Pretty dreadful, eh?
Now some submitted brand entries were dead serious. Others more tongue in cheek.
We heard from a spectrum of retirees, doctors, architects, social media gurus, teachers, entrepreneurs, snowbirds, copy writers and even some branding specialists. A special shout-out goes to some boffo ideas submitted as class projects by the students at two area universities: the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's "Creativity and Innovation in Entrepreneurship" class taught by Nathan Schwagler; and instructor Margaret Ostrenko's public relations class "Principles in PR" at the University of Tampa. Well done!
The contest is now over. Hats off to a bunch of creative thinkers out there. And yes, I must admit to some head scratching here, as well, while trying to catch the meaning of more than a few eccentric brand entries that — let's put is this way — are examples of thinking waaay outside the box.
We received plenty of mainstream brand ideas that sound safe and predictable, like "Tampa: A nice town, we love it" and the singsong rhyming of "Work and play in Tampa Bay." But are those what a brand should be? Bland? Who wants to be called nice?
On the flip side, we received plenty of unorthodox brand ideas. Like "Tampa Bay: Where imagination tramples common sense." Or "Walk the plank, dive into fun." Or even "Tampa Bay: Too weird for words" — a nod, perhaps to the popular Texas town's "Keep Austin weird."
Many submitted brand ideas deserve applause. Catchy. To the point. Capturing something special about this area.
Some ideas stood out.
"Sunny with a chance of never leaving" was one offered up by Tampa's Rayna Lancaster. She explains: "This line addresses the pleasant and distinctive Tampa Bay area climate in familiar 'weather forecast' style while suggesting a lifestyle so wonderful you'll want stay forever."
Another submission from Bella Romain of Dunedin works on several levels: "Tampa Bay: Where life works." "This is a play on words," states Romain. "When things are in balance, life works."
Other brand submissions are just snarky, a sign that plenty of folks here have a sharp sense of humor about the quirky side of where they live.
Times graphic artist Don Morris grabbed several clever brand submissions and created four visual posters while taking a few artistic liberties along the way.
The "Sun, Fun and Guns" brand was offered up only half in jest by five USF St. Petersburg students. They explain: "Florida has the most concealed-carry permit holders in the nation, and this rhythmic slogan might attract others to come to Tampa Bay to further enjoy their Second Amendment right."
Stan Sofer's droll "Put your business where the sun shines" brand comes with the author's briefest elaboration: "Enough said … "
"Come for a lap dance. Stay for the real fun" is yet another idea submitted by Lancaster who, it turns out, is a professional copy writer. As she notes, many cities thoroughly embrace their unique qualities in lines like this one from Hershey, Pa.: "The sweetest place on earth" (warts and all, she adds).
And it's true, as we've seen as host metro area for past Super Bowls and the more recent Republican National Convention, the lap dance imagery is honest and, alas, does capture some of the area's national reputation.
But the brand, says Lancaster, "also makes clear that although you've heard about our nude bars, you don't have a clue how much else we have to offer."
That's exactly what local market researchers found to be true. Lap dances and strip joints persist in Tampa Bay's identity by default, they say, because this metro area has failed so far to present the bigger world a different message about the area.
So why do this branding contest in the first place?
The Times kicked off this branding contest in part because a formal regional branding effort is already under way.
Tampa Bay & Co., the Tampa/Hillsborough tourism marketing organization, hired a Tampa creative marketing and advertising firm called Spark to come up with a fresh regional brand. The mission: to help differentiate Tampa Bay from the pack of other Florida and Sunbelt metro areas.
I sat in on some of Spark's early presentations. Based on extensive research, Spark found "Tampa Bay" lacks a strong sense of identification to the nation and the world — unlike the more defined personalities of tourism-dominated Orlando and Latin-tropical Miami.
The opportunity remains to mold Tampa Bay's identity for the better.
Spark and Tampa Bay & Co. opted for a "positioning statement" — something broader than a final slogan based on this phrase: Seize life daily. A final branding strategy will be unveiled later this spring.
That effort makes crystal clear how tough it is for any brand to capture Tampa Bay's personality. We are a diverse and complex market to pin down, no matter how snappy the phrase.
The good news is that many readers who did send in their own brand ideas are pretty sharp. They recognize "Tampa Bay" is a jumble of unique images that involve water, bridges, pirates, culture, sports, a warm-weather balance of work and lifestyle, culture, beaches and sunshine.
But you can't just toss all those items into one phrase. That's word soup — not a brand.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.