So the city of Portland’s new “brand system” was finally unveiled this week, and the public’s verdict was swift and blunt: epic fail.
An online poll conducted by the Portland Press Herald found that three out of four readers dislike the new slogan. My own informal poll of business owners and marketing folks indicates that closer to four out of four Portlanders hate it.
The Facebook crowd had a field day with the new slogan, posting comments expressing disbelief, mockery and more. “Do you know what would really bring this city together?” wrote Mark Usinger, one of the city’s most sharp-tongued critics. “A public lynching. I vote that we lynch the folks who came up with this pathetic slogan.” (For the record, Usinger was kidding — I think.) By mid-afternoon, the backlash against the slogan on Facebook had produced its own backlash from posters sick of seeing comments about how bad it is, which itself is a sign that the slogan is really, really bad.
I actually have something positive to say about the slogan, but let’s save that for the end and get right to the bashing, starting with the little stuff and moving on to the larger problems.
The slogan in question reads as follows: Portland, Maine. Yes. Life’s good here.
Three sentences. Three! Two of which, like the two you just read, are not really sentences so much as rhetorical devices. Slogans should consist of no more than one sentence, and even the use of commas within that sentence is frowned upon. A three-sentence slogan is practically a paragraph.
I ask you, why a period and not a colon after the city’s name? Granted, the term for that punctuation mark calls to mind a part of the digestive system we’d rather not discuss, but the symbol itself is harmless and can be quite useful in situations like this, when one would rather not create a separate sentence.
Let’s move on to that second “sentence”: Yes. This word brings to mind the fantastic English prog-rock band of the same name, but, sadly, the reference is certainly unintentional. (It also represents a missed opportunity. Given that Portland is the easternmost city of significant size in the country and thus the first major burg to be bathed in the rays of dawn each day, a better slogan would be “Portland, Maine: The Heart of the Sunrise.” See my May 2 column for more gems like this.)
This “yes” refers to the following sentence, “Life’s good here,” and its inclusion implies that someone has questioned whether that statement is true. A slogan should not infer that its message is doubtful — “Virginia might be for lovers,” “What happens in Vegas will probably stay in Vegas.”
This brings us to the concluding sentence, which calls to mind two things, the first being the substance contained in the colon: crap. Trite, forgettable and criminally uncreative, the phrase “life’s good here” is so vague as to be effectively meaningless. With a few notable exceptions (Kabul, Damascus, Lewiston), the denizens of any city on the planet could credibly make the same boast. To those, like myself, who have a deep affinity for Portland, it’s the understatement of the year. “Good” may be the weakest adjective one could apply to the experience of living in this city. The word’s synonyms include “fine,” “OK” and “not bad.” Worse, its use implies that life here is no better than good — which is to say, not great.
The other painfully obvious reference is to Life is good, the clothing company proudly headquartered in — gasp! — Boston. Portlanders have long been stung by snide remarks that our community is little more than a satellite of that famous city to the south. Now our slogan appears to have been lifted from an obnoxious brand based in Beantown. The apostrophe may shield us from a copyright suit, but it can’t take the stink off that phrase.
We subsequently learned that our slogan was inspired by the title of an essay penned by an obscure gay author who lived in Portland decades ago and wrote dirty books, the late John Preston. Preston was also apparently active in the gay and lesbian civil rights movement here, and some have suggested that his activism lends the shine of pride to this otherwise undistinguished drivel. If more than one in a million people who see the slogan think of Preston, that could be true. Unfortunately, it ain’t.
Oh, yeah, the good news about the slogan. By next week, no one will care about it. It will have approximately zero impact on our city’s identity or economy. As the head of a local marketing company remarked to me at a bar, “It could be worse.”