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A SIMPLE TRUTH: BRANDING (IN) BOSTON

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NOT LIKE THE MOVIES

IN A GLOBALIZED world, image is everything. When communicating across national lines and language barriers, imagery plays a crucial role in ensuring said communication is successful. Various forms of media—from advertising to entertainment, film to photography— and the visuals they present provide their consumers with material to develop a frame of reference on a particular product: whether the product is a household good, a new rock band, a university, or an entire geographic region.

Ben Affleck’s The Town and Christian Bale’s The Fighter (2010 films with eight Academy Award nominations between them) painted an image of a gritty, vulnerable city suffering from high levels of corruption and inhabited by a stoic, jaded populace. After a 10 month stint in the ‘happiest country on the planet’, yours truly was excited by the prospect of spending the summer in an underdog city, immersed in a sea of unsung heroes.

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With the next few months of my life designated to being an intern at Proverb, a branding and marketing agency in Boston’s South End neighbourhood, this author was ready for an adventure of Boston Legal proportions.

I was in for a rude awakening upon my arrival to The Cradle of Liberty. The first shock was that the people I encountered within the first few hours were surprisingly upbeat (taking into account that my flight landed at 12:30 am). The second was that you could walk fifty paces in any direction and end up in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts (seriously). With the MIT and Harvard campuses being only a ten minute subway ride from downtown Boston in the neighbouring city of Cambridge, it seemed as if every other young person was doing more in a week than I had done over the past year. Realizing my summer wouldn’t play out like a Martin Scorsese script, I readjusted my expectations and began my marketing and branding apprenticeship.

 

A MODERN RENAISSANCEIMG_20140707_100731

The city of Boston is currently experiencing what can best be described as a renaissance; culturally, economically, socially and spatially. From the historic Old State House in the city’s financial district to the futuristic, fifteen acre Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston’s quiet rebirth is slowly but surely re-establishing the city as an equal to the United States political, economic, and cultural heavyweights (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C. come to mind).

The city’s brain-gain of recent Ivy League graduates, financial industry explants, and artsy types whose natural instincts sensed the city’s reawakening—harmoniously living and working in the same spaces creates an authentically progressive, smart energy that is both infectious and inspiring. The aforementioned energy could not be any more apparent than within the Proverb office.

IMG_20140703_182758With less than fifteen full-time staff members from varying backgrounds, the open floor plan, multiple bookshelves, and strategically placed pieces of modern art accomplishes the rare feat of producing an environment in which one can breeze through a full-day’s work and leave the office with enough energy to make it home without collapsing on the subway platform.

Sarah Ali, a graphic designer from Karachi, joined the Proverb team this past April. Citing design’s powerful ability to influence people and “make a difference in the world”, Ali refocused her energy on branding and design instead of advertising—her previous field of study before graduating from university in 2007.

“I love it”, Ali said when speaking of her time at Proverb, “There’s a perfect mix of different kinds of projects, and I’m never bored. A lot of our projects are meaningful, too.” One meaningful project that Ali specifically mentions is Proverb’s current branding of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), a rapidly growing faith organization with its main headquarters in Boston. With a diversified arsenal of experience that is constantly expanding and evolving, Proverb is a microcosm of the transformative current that has engulfed the city of Boston.

 

A CITY OF PARADOXES

As revolutionary these sweeping changes may be, Boston is not without its failings.IMG_20140705_171321 The Boston Foundation, a manager of charitable assets and the primary philanthropic organization for the city of Boston, has dedicated the last 100 years towards bettering Boston and the lives of the people that call the greater region home. “Boston is a city of paradoxes— left and right”, says the Foundation’s Vice President for Program, Travis McCready.

Referencing the city’s rebellious beginnings, McCready coolly states that he doesn’t feel there is “a very high threshold [for ethnic diversity and political change] in Boston”. “By and large, the universities are doing what we ask them to do, which is educate high numbers of people of colour. Those people then leave the city. This city. They leave and go someplace else…That is significant in terms of wealth creation. This isn’t just brain drain; this is brain drain within a very narrow population.” Once more mentioning Boston’s beginnings, McCready posits that

the absence of a civically active group of educated minorities, in conjunction with a lack of distributed governance, is a major hindrance towards the region’s development. However, he is optimistic that the city’s younger residents have what it takes to look within and do what is necessary to usher in a new era for Boston.

ONE DAY AT A TIME

IMG_20140711_185325Whether it’s a day in the Proverb office, a weekend trip into the city with my eclectic roommates, or the gradual transition from vegetarianism to full-fledged carnivorism with my FIRST.BURGER.EVER, I am currently learning to love Boston for what it is: a city that deserves better than conjuring images of gangsters, guns, and misery. To be fair, I did confuse the Boston Massacre with the Boston Bombing, but history was never really a strong point of mine.

Boston has what it takes to be great. The past, the present, and the people have fused together, creating a trinity and inspiring all who believe in the city’s future. The foundation has been set, the materials are on hand, and people are eager to build—all that is needed is a bit of guidance; and with the way things are headed, it’s due to arrive at any moment.

                                                        Grae Minors

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