Rebranding Moscow with emoticons

Here’s looking at you Russia. As summer rolls on we’ve been quietly observing the seasonal marketing campaigns by airlines promising to whisk us away to paradise and destinations promising us said paradise. One that has piqued our interest as a rebranding agency is what seems to be an unofficial new brand created for the world’s 6th largest city (bit of trivia for you) – Moscow.

What we like about it, at least from what we can tell, is that it appears to be an initiative created by group of design professionals, no doubt residents of Moscow, who’ve managed to create an identity for the city bringing it to life in the form of posters, souvenirs and t-shirts. What we’re not so sure about is whether the narratives of Moscow they’re trying to sell to global visitors (ignoring local visitors, respectfully, for a moment) are the same narratives the visitors expect or even prefer of Moscow.

Titled ‘w_Ow Moscow’, according to the little information we’ve been able to glean from the campaign Facebook page and blogs as the campaign website doesn’t give too much away, the direction of the brand identity is…

“Idea is simple! Surprise + smile = be surprised smiling with a new Moscow Style!”

How to make Moscow one of the most attractive cities in the world for business or a living? How to attract into the capital of Russia the most talented people? How to change the perception of compatriots and foreigners in Moscow?

Our answer is – a large-scale project “Moscow – for you!” The project has already begun creating a new brand of Moscow – with new content and identity. The program of preserving historic and cultural heritage in Moscow has already been started, as well as a new modern space for human living and developing.

And what about common words? WOW Moscow! Moscow should become again a city with a comfortable living, where you can relax, work and smile wondering new discoveries.

Commendable and a good start but here’s what we’re not so crazy about:

1. The use of emoticons, playful and fun at first glance, seems a bit too present-day relying on the popular use of emoticons by youth today to convey certain emotions in short-form when mobile phone texting or chatting online. This doesn’t really translate into a long term identity and neither does it celebrate the rich history of Russia. And judging from some of the comments we’ve seen, we’re not alone in thinking this.

“@Tim’s: It’s a forced attempt at creating a youthful identity.”

2. The use of white font on a red background really reminds us of a little global telecom brand called Vodafone.

3. A few references have been made to the choice of typeface, Gil Sans. Understandably national feathers might be ruffled at the use of a British font for the Russian capital’s identity, although this was probably not the intention of the designers.

4. “w_Ow Moscow” is intended to convey the many feelings of surprised delight the city promises prospective visitors. However we can’t help but feel that this new brand, unofficial or not, qualifies as a clear case of shooting oneself in one’s Russian foot. Can you imagine the number of negative spoof campaigns wo_Ow Moscow could inspire? Imagine if ‘I love NY’ was “NY makes me feel…” Yes, a bit far-fetched but it leaves too much room for interpretation making it a somewhat vulnerable brand identity.

What do you think about this rebranding project? w_Ow Moscow or No Moscow?