How a Shining Letter ‘A’ Gave a City Its Identity

LDV United, Belgium

The Belgian city of Antwerp launched a single brand across all of its public services. It caught residents’ imagination and became a powerful symbol for a united, hopeful city. Harry Demey’s new book Zot van A tells the story of a shining letter ‘A’ that brought a city together.

After a decade of scandals and crises, the city of Antwerp decided in 2004 that it needed a new image and identity. The underlying issue was an ‘us and them’ mentality in the city. So LDV’s campaign focused on forging a positive sense of ‘we’ to create solidarity based on a shared connection to Antwerp. The goal was to change the city’s zeitgeist (spirit) to a more inclusive, optimistic identity.

The first critical move was to rebrand the city with a unified, single logo. A Shining ‘A’ replaced a chaotic array of 150 different concepts that existed. The Shining ‘A’ logo stands for the initial letter of the word Antwerp but is also a clever reference to local dialect. ‘A’ in Antwerp dialect means ‘you,’ so the message is you = Antwerp. The messages and tone of voice were designed to projected warmth, authority and familiarity – qualities essential to building trust.

Business leaders, city leaders and other key stakeholders were carefully briefed in advance – an important step to overcome resistance and build support. To avoid any perceived politicization of the campaign, the logo was not formally ‘launched’ but simply appeared across the city.

The logo did not stand alone – LDV and the city had a complete vision, strategy, brand identity and style guide for the campaign. The new identity was quickly rolled out across the city’s brochures, folders, nametags, and websites and newsletters.

More importantly, Antwerp citizens were able to get involved and ‘own’ the new brand. Free stickers of the shining ‘A’ were delivered to every home and business in the city. Suddenly, sayings with the double meaning of  ‘A’ were affixed to car windows and rucksacks. Antwerp became inundated with Shining As.

The campaign brought the city’s residents closer to each other and to their public services. The city government used the new approach to engage directly with citizens on policies to improve quality of life.

For example, many Antwerp residents did not know their neighbourhood police officer. This reduced trust in the police and burdened call centres with unnecessary calls. Using another clever play on words, LDV sent a postcard to every Antwerp resident which introduced their neighbourhood police offer with a name, photo and fridge magnet. The personal connection worked – 80% of respondents found it useful.

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