Selling the City – A Brand New Glasgow?


The People Make Glasgow (PMG) campaign was, in a lot of ways, like any other marketing approach. It was designed to sell something, an image, a brand, a product.

The process of ‘selling’ the city, besides being a mediocre pun and possible low budget future movie project, is not a novel concept in and of itself. In these modern times, there are marketing departments for just about everything you can think of, and selling an image of Glasgow has been a long drawn out process. Glasgow, you might say, has a bit of a reputation for being… tough. Though, I prefer to think of it as iron-willed, as resolute. We know our own minds here, (most of the time) and we are nothing if not creative.

Back in 2013, The Glasgow City Marketing Bureau decided that it was time to project a new Glasgow to the world. It was to be the evolution of a new historicism, one that would revive our antiquated reputation for being dangerous.

The thing about that ‘hard’ image of Glasgow is, it is pretty outdated, and to be honest, it’s usually indicative of someone who hasn’t visited in a while. Those of us who call Glasgow home can see through the grimace, we’re realists, we know that bad things happen here, they happen to us and to the people around us, just like they do anywhere else. But we try to look for the best in things, to lift the veil and see the real beauty of what’s underneath, and what’s really going on is that our city has changed, and it’s beginning to look a lot more like…us.

In 2004, the predecessor to the PMG campaign, Glasgow: Scotland with Style (GSWS) tried to shake the ‘tread lightly’ image of our city. It was an approach of a different kind. It focused heavily on aesthetics, and on attracting the ‘right’ demographic; business types who come to the city for a short time, and people looking for a short break or to shop till they drop on the style mile. It projected a fashionable noir style in its advertising, intended to show just how metropolitan and stylish we all are. It was relatively successful in its mission. The Evening Times reported that it had been responsible for securing £975million in money from conferences alone. The BBC also reported that 2014 tourism was worth a further £282million to the economy; not bad for a year’s work.



Catriona Stewart of the ET reflected on the GSWS campaign

“In its nine-year history, it has helped bring the Mobos to the city, the UEFA Cup Final 2007, World International Gymnastics and the European Cheerleading Championships.”

Yet, somehow, the campaign felt a little vacuous in telling the world to come here for only a day or two of hedonism. The story of our city should be told with an authenticity that doesn’t ignore the fact that we are a place full of colourful personalities, not just silhouettes of the select few. Glasgow’s former Lord Provost, Michael Kelly, when speaking to The Guardian, said of the GSWS campaign that “there is nothing in this for people to get behind”, and he had a point. The campaign felt a bit too rigid, too self-aggrandizing, and lacking in substance. It also didn’t speak to the city’s character, it’s personality or its famous sense of humour, and so, it was back to the drawing board once again to find the best way to communicate to the world what Glasgow life is all about. 

In 2013, almost a decade later, the people of Glasgow turned themselves into the unique selling point, and the city brand took an interesting turn. Those responsible for projecting an image of Glasgow to the rest of the world – Glasgow City Marketing Bureau – worked in tandem with Glasgow City Council to identify how and where to take the city brand next. Their concerted effort saw the development of postcards asking what comes to mind when you think of ‘Glasgow’, and collection boxes, posted all around the city, awaiting the responses. The creation of a dedicated website to handle online feedback of the same nature was put in place, with the hopes of engaging the city itself on what it is to be Glaswegian.

Statistics from Glasgow Life confirmed that 1500 people from across 42 countries posted in the boxes, and another 7000 visited the website. What resulted was a resounding, it’s the people who make Glasgow; like we didn’t already know

“Having been widely endorsed by Glaswegians, the media, industry and Scotland’s creative sector following its launch, PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW was catapulted onto the world stage in summer 2014 and became the heart of the city’s Games story” said a report commissioned by Glasgow Life, speaking about the Commonwealth Games, which Glasgow played host to. But was the media as receptive to the branding as it was made out to be? BBC Scotland’s Martin Geissler had some things to say on the matter.

“I’m not surprised that the city has been talked about in those terms. When I left Scotland almost 15 years ago, Glasgow was a different city than the one that I found when I came back. It’s really a rejuvenation, and it’s found its voice and it’s found its pride… in a way that Scotland has as well. Stuart Cosgrove used to bang on about how it was such a sin in the past that if you had ambition in Glasgow you had to get on a train to London; I don’t think that’s the case anymore. There are industries flourishing here, 21st-century industries that millennials are uniquely trained to work in. The media is moving in here, computing is moving in here, all those 21st-century industries are seeing Glasgow as a credible place to set up hubs; Glasgow and Scotland. Dundee is as well, the same thing happening in Edinburgh. If you’re a young ambitious Glaswegian, and you want to get on in life, don’t go near the train station, get out there and find a job here – there’s plenty happening.

“Glasgow’s got an image problem, still, in the minds of a lot of people, people of my generation in Britain were brought up to think of Glasgow as a pretty hard, menacing, but friendly city. I mean I grew up 45 miles along the road in Edinburgh – but, the reputation that I had of Glasgow was that it was a tough place, with friendly people; if that’s not a contradiction in terms.

“It was always a slight mystery. The city traded on that, Billy Connolly, a hard city that forged hard men. And now, it’s trying very hard to rebrand itself. All those industries that forged the hard people have gone, and new friendly industries are here, and that’s great but you’ve got to work hard to get that message out. Because there’s a new story to tell, and a new image to sell, people pay more attention; because there’s been a change, and it’ll register with the people of Glasgow. The way the media can help with that is to get that narrative out and to help people see what’s happening here.”

“It’s a long-term fix, you can’t change your reputation that was gathered – with some pride, I have to say, by the people of Glasgow – over a century or more, from being ‘no mean city, that was what Taggart was all about, that was the reputation that Glasgow was about, rightly or wrongly, that’s what Glasgow was associated with. To rebrand yourself as a happy, friendly, welcoming place is a big job. But do you know what, the only constant in the whole diametrically opposed narrative is the people. Even in the days it was seen as a hard violent, menacing, brooding dark grey place – ‘daddy, why’s the sky so low’, is what Billy Connolly said his children used to say when he brought them here – despite all that, the people always had a reputation for being friendly. It was always the city where people would ask you where you were from at a bus stop, and if you were from somewhere interesting they would want to know more.”

Martin’s comments are the perfect summation of the ways in which Glasgow has and hasn’t changed over the years. Many still believe in the old narrative, the depressed and dreary neighbourhood that once was. However, as Martin himself says, it’s no small job to highlight Glasgow’s development, it can’t be done overnight, but at least now there is a dialogue going on, and it’s inherently more positive than it was previously. 

The city-scape is constantly changing. While it once had a bad reputation for crime rates, a recent report from the Scottish Government showed that Glasgow has seen a 55% reduction in serious violent crime. Of course, there are many reasons why this could be, but I dare to say that with an improved quality of life, resulting from an increase in opportunities for young people – the city was recently voted the best for millennials to live and work – the investment into our city has dampened feelings of hopelessness and given rise to an aspirational place to be. It is still the same friendly, people-centric place it has always been, but a bit less combative, and a bit more creative. 

With the city’s reputation changing for the better, we have seen increased investment in technology and media production. Since the launch of the PMG campaign, we’ve seen the likes of  World War Z, and Fast and Furious 6 using Glasgow as a location, and recently, filming began production for Steven Spielberg’s First World War movie in Govan. We now have a dedicated BBC Scotland channel, and combined with STV, and many smaller but important institutions, we’re making the most of our Scottish identity, one that is finally on the ups. 

STV’s Angus Simpson, journalist and long-time tv personality, and now one of the producers of the What’s on Scotland tv show recalls his days as a news presenter, and what struck him about Glasgow was that famous banter

“When I was presenting I became very well aware that when I would go to the pub on a Friday night people would come up and talk to me about having watched the news. They’d remember my closing comments, but they wouldn’t remember the lead story that particular night. They remembered the weather forecast, and they remember the banter between the weather presenter and forecaster.

“That’s quite understandable, they were watching the news, they weren’t watching me, they switched on at six to watch the news, but the news is an expendable commodity, at half past, you can move on with your life, you can feed the baby, you can watch your soap opera, and you’ve ticked that box… but it was when I said something funny on the show or had a bit of banter with the presenter, that’s what they remembered, and it always struck me that that was because this was human contact; this was human beings interacting and communicating with each other, and the viewers became a fly on the wall and became a part of that process. That’s always been a big part of my approach to broadcasting.

“The person that came up with [the PMG campaign] was absolutely inspired. There are global traits that we all share, the same aspirations, the same grief, that’s all shared. What makes us stand out, is the people.”

The famous Glasgow banter is really something, but, as the campaign emphasises, it’s about the people who espouse that good nature. The people of Glasgow are the type who protest the selling of arms to such an extent that the PMG campaign logo was promptly removed from the website promoting the fair. Commonspace’s Ben Wray reported recently that “Glasgow City Council will not hold arms fairs in the future”; if that’s not indicative of the Glasgow spirit I don’t know what is, and it just goes to show what Glaswegians can achieve when we put our minds to it.

We’re the type, here in Glasgow who welcomed President Trump with a ‘Trump is a c**t’ sign, who burst onto streets, dressed as massive traffic cones just for kicks, who make sombreros out of cans of lager, who protest violence, and the attainment of weapons that promote violence. And as the city prepares for yet another run at a campaign, this time to ensure that Glasgow is, as Glasgow Life’s ‘tourism and visitor plan’ intends, “promoted internationally as a vibrant, welcoming and world-class destination which is open to visitors, students and business post Brexit”, we must not lose sight of what really sells the city; investing in our people.

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