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January 27, 2014

‘Hartford Has It’: branding on a social shoestring

Photo | Contributed In October the “Hartford Has It” branding campaign launched a new video, shown below, that showcases the city's key assets, including its cultural diversity.
Photo | Contributed The city’s “Hartford Has It” marketing campaign largely uses social media, but investments were made in banners found around downtown.

Hartford's latest community branding campaign — “Hartford Has It” — may not have the marketing dollars of previous efforts, but the movement still is resonating around the city thanks to social media and a slogan that makes more sense to businesses and residents.

“Hartford Has It” officially replaced “Hartford: New England's Rising Star” as the community slogan last year. Rather than talk about how new developments like Adriaen's Landing will help Hartford, the new slogan pushes the notion that Hartford already is a cultural destination and not just a pit stop between Boston and New York.

“Hartford as a 'rising star' focused on what was coming to Hartford at the time. 'Hartford Has It' expresses the current assets already here,” said Oz Griebel, president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance.

“Rising Star” raised more than $1 million in public and private money in its first year to promote the city, but the “Hartford Has It” campaign has only a fraction of that financial support, Griebel said.

As a result, “Hartford Has It” is being run as a guerrilla marketing campaign, relying heavily on social media and buzz building from the city's movers and shakers, said Jordan Polon, the marketing director at the Hartford Business Improvement District, which is running the campaign.

The strategy hits the campaign's target audience — younger, more connected people, Polon said. Instead of large-scale advertising, social media outlets such as Twitter, Instagram and the website have taken center stage as platforms to promote the city's assets. Most recently, a new video has helped “Hartford Has It” surge forward with young professionals and college students.

Even though the decision to rely on social media was largely made for budgetary reasons, it allows the movement to remain authentic, Polon said. The marketing nuance has created a surge of free publicity over the campaign's three-year-old lifespan.

A quick scroll through Instagram's #HartfordHasIt brings up 933 pictures spanning from downtown spas and salons, to boutiques on Bartholomew Avenue, fireworks over Bushnell Park, and table-side guacamole at Agave.

“I'm constantly impressed to see 'Hartford Has It' popping up without having to purchase radio or traditional advertising methods,” Polon said.

The city began its rebranding efforts in 2011 when a consortium of business and civic organizations hired an outside consultant to develop a new marketing campaign. Three logos and campaign tag lines were developed and aired for public comment, but those rebranding efforts got sidetracked when the state decided to launch its own new marketing campaign in 2012.

The city wanted to see if it could coordinate its campaign with the state, but that didn't happen. City officials decided to move forward with “Hartford Has It” last year.

In October, uploaded a new video highlighting the city's people, places and events. The song, “Goin' to Hartford” by Brownbird Rudy Relic, gives viewers an upbeat foreground to depict the message of the campaign: going to Hartford for all it has to be celebrated.

The video, along with the rest of the campaign, aims to inspire a sense of pride in the state's capital, Polon said.

“City promotion is hard to do without city pride,” said Polon. “It's great to see it catch on organically, with flowing acceptance from residents.”

That city pride helps build a sense of identity around Hartford, made by the people who live in and enjoy the community, said Kristina Newman-Scott, the city's cultural affairs director. As the people living in the city believe in that identity, it will permeate to those outside the city, replacing negative perceptions they might have.

“I always hear people commenting on how they wished Hartford was more like New York — well guess what — we aren't and I wouldn't want us to be,” Newman-Scott said. “In New York you can fall out of your apartment into an event, but in Hartford we go to events because we truly want to be there not because we happen upon them. I think, in that way, we are more invested.”

The social media marketing aims to not only draw people to the city but encourage them to move there. That's why a primary target audience is college students and young professionals. With UConn moving its West Hartford campus to Hartford, and the city adding more than 700 new apartments in the next few years, there's a need to sell the city to young people, so they are willing to live in Hartford, officials say.

“Hartford Has It” is trying to “get people to take a fresh look at the city,” said Michael Zaleski, executive director of the Hartford Business Improvement District. “We're trying to change dated images and perspectives that are no longer relevant to the culture of Hartford.”

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